Great game, just not the perfect homerun Origin had us used to.
Ridding hot at the top of the wave, Origin decided to do what most groundbreaking and innovative developing houses do at their peak of popularity: Repeat the key to their success ad-infinitum (see Westwood, Id, etc.)... Ah yes... the almighty buck can accomplish anything, and this time it managed to bring the action and adventure of games like Wing Commander to a more down-to-earth level. The result is Strike Commander, a simplistic action-sim that is heavy on the action and light on the "sim", perfect recipe for hours of entertainment.
The game puts you as the leader of a mercenary fighter squadron based on Istambul, from where you take on contracts to fly and complete a series of mini-campaigns of 3-4 missions all over the world. However, as opposed to standard flight sims, the reward for success on SC comes in the form of cash instead of promotions or personal glory, you see, the game also incorporates a light touch of the gameplay premise behind Privateer, so you really are a mercenary squadron that depends on money to maintain it's operations and buy ordnance, replace fighters, etc. And on top of that you have a Chris RobertsTM space-opera (or air opera?) main plot to hold everything together that involves romance, betrayal and revenge in a very Hollywood-like way.
Rip off?? Sure, but it sure is a damn cool one! You'll contact fixers and have conversations with your wingmen just like on Privateer and Wing Commander, while taking to the skies on a sleek F-16 and rain hell over military bases, cities, warships, and anything that gets in your way! As mentioned above, the sim side of things is pretty forgiving, so the game puts all its chips on action, and believe me, it delivers its share of dogfighting fun!
Also to be noted is the excellent level of presentation this game has. Remember, this was a game from the original Origin, you know, the one that did more things than just updates to Ultima Online. So you have a great soundtrack, a streamlined interface, great documentation, and to top it all off, the hallmark of every Origin game from the early 90s: A groundbreaking graphics engine. As pretty much every Origin sim, Strike Commander made a quantum leap in what regards graphics, and uses an engine that's capable of handling textured polygons, gourad shading and plenty of other cool gimmicks while keeping everything going fast and furious.
Believe you me, this baby was breed from the beginning to be a winner.
Unfortunately not everything in the game is afterburner-hot. This game had the misfortune of being so ahead of its time that it literally couldn't be played on any computer. Had this game been Wing Commander 27, then everyone would have shelled out the bucks to be able to run it. But being a "brand new" Origin product, whose premise had so little in common with the developing house's track record is another thing.
However the really bad thing this game has is the lack of variety and balance. This is what knocks SC down from the "neglected classic" category. You see, this game suffers from the dreaded Chris Robert's mission design syndrome. Each mission plays just like the other twenty ones you played before, only with more enemies to shoot down. Go shoot down enemies, bomb base, return, rinse and repeat... The cool movie-like plot of the game keeps the tempo up every now and then, but when it comes to flying it is the same thing oooover and ooover again....
And the thing that could have saved a repetitive game design was removed completely. A design that focused more on the Privateer free-form design would have been much more effective for a game of this type, and would have made things much more bearable. But you are only allowed to buy the ordnance, and can fly nothing but the F-16 (or the F-22, but that's at the end of the game), plus the game is completely linear, you only have the choice of deciding which campaign you take first, but you'll have to take them all to move along.
As for the ordnance, the game gives you a completely unbalanced arsenal. With weapons that are too specific and serve only one purpose in the game (ie. the Durandals only work for runways, the AMRAAMs only for Hercs or AWACS, etc.) The only versatile weapons are the LAUs, the MK80s and the sidewinders, which makes the whole thing much more boring than you initially thought when they advertised that you could "buy your own equipment!"
The Bottom Line
This is an overall cool game. A flight sim designed for those of us that want to be one of those flight jocks and fly one of those F-something planes with the added touch of a much more romantic mercenary touch as opposed to the typical "fight to save democracy" crap. Tough it is marred by a severe case of un-originality, it is still a title worthy of checking out. Long live Stern's Wildcats!!