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Wing Commander Saga Review (PC)

Wing Commander is a franchise that may not be familiar to some of our younger site members, but to those who know what the Kilrathi are, remember voodoo 3D accelerator cards and know Mark Hamill as more than just the modern voice of The Joker, Wing Commander is an all time sci-fi classic. Remembered as fondly for its story and cut scenes filled with sci-fi spectacle as its solid space-based gameplay, Wing Commander is a genuine classic and one of those rare titles you can confidently describe as great.

You don’t need to look far to see how active and enthusiastic the Wing Commander fan base are to this day. Forums, Facebook groups and whole sites are still dedicated to the series. Amazingly, there are more people talking and enthusing about Wing Commander today than for most major modern games. Its astounding considering how long its been since the last major game in the series came out. At one point, in an article about bad game cartoons, I jokingly included the Wing Commander animated series, and the ire and hatred I received from its fans was both baffling and amusing. That same community has now banded together to make something more positive than threats on my life; they have created a fan made, free to play Wing Commander game. And its really good.

At this point the game contains two campaigns. The first of these is the original “Prologue” campaign, but a great deal of additions and changes have been made. The story has been expanded, more characters have been added and a number of other little tweaks have been made. Most of these changes make the game better or represent clever little twists on the formula to modernise it without changing the core game content. For example, the Wing Commander style autopilot sequences are shortened and have animations and story rather than the long, time accelerated autopilot sequences used in the original prologue.

The games graphics have also been updated significantly. Despite not quite looking like a modern PC title, the game still looks far better than if you went back to the old games and ran them on Dos Box, and there’s some nice touches throughout. Based on the Freespace 2 engine (which is now free), the game isn’t exactly cutting edge, but it stays true to the spirit of the games and showcases the great design of the ships which has been there from the very start.

Not all of the games content is well presented. In places, menu items look rough and cut scenes are hit and miss. There are also some staggeringly long pages of story text that even the most hardcore Wing Commander fan would struggle to get through. The music and sound effects are all competently handled though, and crucially the actual handling of the ships and the combat is tough but satisfying and well balanced. Its definitely a game you should dust off your old flight stick for.

There’s a lot of content here. A five mission campaign set aboard the main ship (the TCS Wellington) shows the player how to play the game and sets the scene for the main campaign. I confess I hadn’t played any of the Wing Commander games before this one, and this curious omission from my gaming history keen to see how interesting the campaign would be to me. It most closely reminded me of Tie Fighter, which I DID play a lot of back in the day. The games structure, made up of story interspersed with missions, and the depiction of the menus as interactive parts of the ships interior that you can click on were all very reminiscent to me of games of the period. There’s something satisfying about seeing the interior of the ship between missions – complete with little animated details – that really draws the player in and heightens immersion.

Its hard to review Wing Commander Saga. For those who aren’t a fan to start with, its interesting but not exactly essential. Meanwhile, if you’re a fan of the series then you’ve already downloaded this and sunk hundreds of hours in already. At the end of the day, as a free title I can only review it based on whether its worth your time…. and it is. Made with care, integrity and a genuine love of the source material, its a great project that has generated a good game. If you’re a Wing Commander fan, feel free to add 3 points onto this score.

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