SummaryProved that interactive movies could also be kickass games.
The GoodAh.... the famed Wing Commander 3, surely one of the most eagerly anticipated games ever, and for good reason too! The series may have waded into the void by now, but at it's time, before the proliferation of the fps genre and multiplayer gaming, Wing Commander was THE action game for pcs, nothing even came closer to it's stellar combination of sci-fi dogfighting, it's engaging space-opera plots and it's killer production values... However times radically changed since the last incarnation of the series, and with the advent of cd-rom drives, fmv technology, and newer, more powerful pcs, the new Wing Commander was gonna have a hard time trying to keep up with it's time-honored tradition of being the benchmark for technology upgrades (playing the latest Origin game, and especially the Wing Commanders, was the prime reason to upgrade your pc in the early 90's) and killer gameplay, in short, WC3 needed to be a MAJOR quantum leap, and boy, oh boy, that's exactly what it was.
The first and most recognizable aspect in which WC3 towered over it's predecessors was by it's use of fmv in order to tell it's plot instead of resorting to barely animated bitmaps or small animated sequences. The combination of live actors, pre-rendered imagery and even special effects such as the animatronic Kilrathis worked especially well, even if the video standards for those days where pretty muddy and choppy. Furthermore, Chris Roberts went the Interactive-movie route with this game so he didn't just slap some fmv around the game, he made the videos an integral part of the game, complete with the often imitated "decision time" moments that branch the plot in different ways.
The storyline itself has plenty of interesting moments and manages to become an engaging war-drama that won't win any screenwriting award, but is sure to be an entertaining joyride for sci-fi fans. The video itself suffers from the already mentioned technology problems, and the use of blue screen photography seriously cramps up the action, but the high-end production values and the fantastic performances make up for anything that the already solid storyline doesn't cover up. Mark Hamill does a decent job of portraying the main character and proves once and for all that he is the true king of trench runs. Malcom McDowell as well as John Rhys-Davies give some outstanding performances even if they don't get as much screentime as in WC4, and the late Jason Bernard is perfect as your main CO in the game. Even minor roles are carefuly casted and realistically portrayed, with some surprise performances by people like ex-pornstar (uh... or so I'm told... ermm... riiiight...) Ginger Lynn Allen as one of your possible romantic interests!
The one who completely steals the show however, is Back to The Future's own Tom Wilson, who portrays your long time buddy/rival Maniac, a hot-headed pilot that is a rude, annoying, extroverted lout and that'll bring the most joys when watching the cinematics. Really, Wilson plays his role with such gusto that he sets a new standard for videogame acting and provides one of the most memorable characters in all of videogaming history.
Moving back to the game itself, the new technologies also make their appearances here, with a brand new fully polygonal engine that essentially proves to be the same quantum leap that Quake was to Doom. There's no turning back anymore to bitmaps boys and girls, and once you fired up this baby you realized why: The textured ships had an amazing level of detail, and didn't explode into a sea of pixels whenever you would get close to them, laser fire, wingman communication, shield hits, and all other sorts of graphical gimmicks became completely overhauled and these things did have an effect on gameplay as opposed to being just eye-candy. The action was much faster and nerve-wrecking, and no longer would you be able to do things like scoring hits by hitting around a sprite's square collision detection area, now you either hitted your target dead on or you didn't (laser blasts would, for instance, be lost between a fighter's wings instead of hitting some invisible thing), but hands down the most impressive improvement was the treatment given to the capital ships. These monsters now had a believable sense of mass and you could for the first time get lost flying around them, or even inside them!! To the point that one could fly into a carrier's hangar and shoot the behemoth from inside-out!!
The BadFew things really, but considerable ones. The mission design is seriously lackluster in this game, being the prime example of the Chris Roberts "filler" mission design school. And the gameplay progression seems pretty archaic when you consider that this was the third game in the series (work your way up in rank, going from crappy ships, to better ones until you get to the WC-patented Ultimate Fighter (tm), and face the WC-patented Ultimate Challenge (tm))
Furthermore, the ground missions are very lackluster, and am I the only one who didn't like the BLUE space??? What the hell's up with that?
...Oh, and there's the "Hobbes issue" concerning the interactive movie part... A major, and I do mean MAJOR plot point is completely absent from the game!!! (see trivia section for more details).
The Bottom LineThe first really good interactive movie and still one of the landmarks in the genre, one that proves that fmv does not mean CRAP when you remember to merge it with a good game (or at least a slightly dated and repetitive, but still very entertaining and well produced one). This is really a game from a time long lost, when pc games where a true event and not just another marketing ploy, a time when games (and particularly those that were made by Origin) had to be the absolute best in everything. And you know what? Wing Commander 3 may not technically be the best in eeeeeeverything but dammit, it still wins by majority!!