Brave new world.
I remember buying the CD-ROM edition of the game back in the 90s, being one of the first CD-ROM games I ever bought. And boy, it blew me away. I had always had a thing for flying simulators, but I always wished for one of them that allowed me to skip right until the action started. With this one, I got that and much more.
Like wonderful graphics (now they look a bit too low-res, and the drawing distance too near, but they still do the trick), a compelling, if not too original, cinematic plot and plenty of stuff to shoot down and blow up.
Also, despite its reputation of being too simplified to be considered a real sim, there are many options you can adjust to solve it. Sun glares an G blackouts can be switched on and off, together with infinite ammo (for your gun only), easy landings, enemy AI and many other things. Being the wimpy pilot type, I always played on rookie, but I'm pretty sure there are enough options out there to satisfy anyone.
As for the combat itself, I still have to find a sim which has dogfights as intense as this one. They are a regular occurrence too, you'll be flying towards your target only to be sighted by enemy patrols. And then the fun begins, coordinating with your wingman you'll start playing cat and mouse with your foe until one of you can get a clear shot.
The bombing runs are terrific fun too, they ended up being my favourite part of the game. They're challenging on their own right (ever tried to aim bombs while being shot at from many different places at the same time?), and the variety of targets is very wide, from rag tag guerrilla bases to bridges, tank columns or enemy vessels.
But the biggest thing about the game is its universe. Chris Roberts et al. created a brave new world where countries you know no longer exist and others are in turmoil, and populated it with an assortment of mercs, low-lifes, lawyers and corrupt military. Everything is new, exciting and, more often than not, brutal.
The weakest point of the game is often mentioned in reviews: for its time and age, SC was a extremely demanding game. Despite surpassing the minimum requirements, my old 486/66 often showed slowdowns during intense dogfights. Only when I upgraded to a Pentium I could play flawlessly.
But there are other issues. SC would sometimes crash during missions for no apparent reason (my guess is the DOS4GW memory manager was quite buggy), and other times showed glaring continuity errors. Unlike in "Wing Commander", you can shoot down your allies, going as far as shooting down their parachutes as well. And yet they will re-appear unscathed in the next cutscene, showing no distress at all in helping their murderer.
Oh, and I can't believe such an ambitious game wasn't translated. Ever. Many missions depend on delicate instructions delivered during the briefing, such as "bomb the T-80 tanks, but don't attack the M1, they're allies". I kept failing missions not knowing why until I activated the subtitles. But not everybody out there understands written English.
The Bottom Line
Not only "Strike Commander" is a masterpiece and one of the finest and most accessible flying simulators ever produced. It's also one of the most absorbing and fun games I've ever played on a PC. As I mentioned above, it is not without flaws, but if you can ignore them and concentrate on its positive aspects, you are in for a treat.