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SummaryGameplay's revenge! Die space-opera! DIE!!
The GoodFollowing Origin's tradition of setting tech standards this game had the most beautiful graphics of its time (this was the first WC to support 3d acceleration), and it's still pretty hot by today's standards, also the sound and video and pretty much everything is once again above and beyond everything know in space sims (altough the apparition of Freespace would but a serious thorn in the series technical supremacy). And lest I forget: I didn't realize how much I missed a cockpit since the last two games until I jumped on my first ship. The designers found a way to make attractive, dynamic cockpits that don't block your view and it is this simple addition which solves one of the WC series most persistent problems: the lack of in-game immersion. At best, you always felt as if you were commanding a bubble in space, at worst you were watching events played at a screen far, faaar away. No more!
Speaking of the game however, this one tries to recapture the spirit of the original WCs instead of trying to be another epic space opera, so fmv haters will be glad to know that this game comes on 3 (gasp! that's even less than WC3!) cds and you spend much more time in the cockpit than watching movies (tough you still get them). The whole Blair saga is left behind and you are now a new character, a rookie, which means that you are back to taking orders instead of giving them. Despite of what you have to endure as you play this new character I found it to be a much more enjoyable role to take on than old Blair. There's just something much more appealing about working your way from rookie to war hero, than being a war hero and just...save the known universe once again...Speaking of which, the threat this time has nothing to do with political agendas or ethical delusions, a race of bad-bad aliens (because they are always bad, right? ;D) comes to kick ass and it's up to you to stop them. Sure, the story is coated with the seriousness we have come to expect from the WC series, but it boils down to that, so if WC4's story gave you headaches this baby's for you! -Bad alien! sit! sit! play dead! BANG!, BANG! good alien!...
On the game play side things are more balanced than in previous games. You don't have any say on what equipment you get to take until the later missions, which can frustrate some, but done right (like in here) can be lots of fun. Also the time-honored tradition of "the ultimate fighter" is back with the original spirit, you get a ship which simply maneuvers better, moves faster and is harder to shoot down than the others instead of the "cheater" ships the last couple of games offered. In fact if you consider that the Dragon had unlimited afterburner, auto-aiming, cloaking capability and a super weapon, the all-new Vampire doesn't look "ultimate" at all.
Both the new ships as well as the new enemies provide some interesting new game play concepts and I generally had a blast playing trough most of the missions.
The BadEssentially, everything that has improved in the game play side of things was at the expense of the story, characters, ambience...etc. It's still good by any standards but to those of us who got into the epic space-opera thing, it is a sad loss. I cannot help thinking how good a game it would have been if it had combined both aspects. Something that really hurts is the acting too. The WC videos had been considered the best of the best in terms of quality and acting and the acting/writing in some of the scenes in this game will leave you either weeping or laughing hysterically, if you know what I mean. This is probably because they hired a lot more 20-something MAWs (models/actors/wathevers) for this one than before but well...
Enough with that. Because that's not everything that's bad with this baby. If you thought this was the holy grail of game play when you read the "Good" then sorry to disappoint you, but once again there are a LOT of kill-kill-kill shooting gallery missions, which gets boring pretty soon. In fact if on WC4 you found a couple of exceptional missions lost in a sea of crap, in here you'll find that everything is more..."average" there were truly fewer "memorable" missions, but then again the crap missions are not so prominent.
It is also a shame to see a lot of really good concepts completely wasted. Take the Wasp ship for example: it is the single most original ship in the game and it is used in what... 6 missions? and lets not even talk of the swarmer missiles.