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SummaryBetter than most are willing to admit.
The GoodAs most Wing Commander games, this one makes a technological quantum leap in comparison with it's predecessors. Better sound, graphics (notably the ground missions, which are no longer fought on dull deserts), fmv, faster gameplay, etc...
Better mission design with creative touches that range from good to great, such as tailing enemy ships, sneaking on an enemy base, detaining convoys, etc. completely overshadowing those of WC3.
And most notably of all: the story. WC4 has the best story in all the series, succesfully tackling the "what now?" question made evident after the end of WC3 without the need to resort to another typical bad-alien invasion. WC1 was the typical kill-the-little-green-men affair, WC2 used the same concept but darkened the whole game by adding more character development, and personal crisis to the mix, while WC3 simply was "dark" because the good guys were losing the fight. WC4 takes even more of the character development and personal crisis mantra and adds to that a story filled with conspiracies, political backstabbings, and shows us the fanatical minds of the so-called "heroes". Were do you draw the line between doing the right thing and fanatically following orders? The consequences to your actions become even more somber than in the previous installments, as there is no clear enemy to fight this time, and your opponents cease to be the bad aliens and become either opressed farmers, or unknowing soldiers.
Granted, it's no masterpiece of literary fiction, but it's still a great story and makes a great allegory, certainly raising the stakes when compared to other WC games, after all in which other WC game the final battle is waged not in space, but in a senate hearing?. WC4 was all about making a statement, and bringing a more mature and serious closure to the sci-fi series. The question behind every great struggle: We won...now what? is answered perfectly in this game. And it's that why it's the most memorable WC I've played.
The BadThere are a lot of flaws in this game, but first of all let me clarify why so many bash this game. WC4 is the most ambitious, over-glorified, expensive and extensive WC ever. No other WC (and very few other games indeed) so proudly presents itself as the "Biggest, baddest interactive movie ever". And tough those last words once meant something good, the shameless exploitation of FMV has brought a karma to anything labeling itself as an interactive movie equal only to the leper or pox. WC4 would have certainly benefited from a more humble aproach, but the reason why most people hate this game is because "it's the most expensive game ever" and "it's on 6 stupid cds" etc.etc.etc. Reasons which are just as legitimate as saying "because!"
Having said that, let's now look at the REAL bad points in the game:
While there are some really good and imaginative missions, the game is filled with what seems to be filler material, the same crappy "patrol/ kill all baddies" missions that plagued WC3 (but somehow nobody ever mentions) are back with a vengueance, and of the 50+ missions, 15-20 are the good ones, tops.
The game balancing is all screwed up, sure we all know that Blair is the super-duper Heart of the Tiger and whatever, and he chooses his own ship, his weapons, wingmen, underwear, etc. But given WC4's ridiculously unimaginative weapons and ships they should have added some sort of restrictions concerning what you get to choose. There's no fun if you always go out with the Dragon stocked with nothing but IR missiles and with the same wingman over and over. Also I've heard complaints (see other reviews) that the game is too hard for newbies. Personally I had no problem playing trough the game, and found WC3's final missions way harder than anything in here, but who the hell am I, right?
Maniac's character is completely over-used. The reason he was so popular in WC3 was because he contrasted so much with Blair, and added a nice color to every sequence he was in. In here Maniac's portrayed as Blair's irreverent buddy, providing comedy relief, and being nothing short of a sidekick while, in order to spice up his character, taken on philosophical trips of epic proportions... essentially, nothing like the guy seen on WC3, or Prophecy, were he mercilessly is seen tormenting your character. I guess I should take this as an opportunity to mention that the story, as good as it is, still falls into the occasional cliché pitfalls, and there are many inconsistencies (ie. why in the hell does Maniac, or Blair, release Tolwyn???) which are just way too convenient.
Last but not least, it's not necesary to see the WC movie to see how bad Chris Roberts is at directing. Somebody should have told Chris that lingering for 10-20 seconds with each character after they have said their thing gives no dramatic effect at all (see Eisen's briefings for example). Thus he regularly kills potentially good cutscenes by making them boring, uninspired affairs. I'm not asking Kurosawa here, but you needn't go so far for comparisons, the average Babylon 5 episode would sufice when it comes to the camera work, etc. especially since this time they had real sets and all.