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Review by: Chris Harding
Published: December 29, 1998
Origin Systems, while well known for a number of high profile properties, is probably most revered for the space combat games known as the Wing Commander series. The five-episode epic has sold millions, and nurtured space combat fans all over the world for over eight years. The launch of Prophecy — the fifth game — last year, assured fans that the design team dubbed Maverick is committed to taking the Wing Commander universe into the next century, while still preserving the nuances that have made the series the success it is.
Like all the Wing Commanders before it, I played Prophecy from start to finish, only leaving my cockpit, uh chair, for the occasional restroom and pizza break. It was a phenomenal experience. The new blazing 3D engine supported translucent and colored lighting, and made for the fastest, most intense space combat ever played on a computer. The game must have been on my hard drive for over six months.
However, even the best of games are not immune to the effects of time, and Prophecy’s legacy was cut short and the ante upped when Interplay’s Descent Freespace landed in stores in mid-July. It was superior in every way, and even included a very sophisticated multiplayer feature, that for the record has still not appeared as promised in Prophecy. This past fall Origin added its flair for innovative to distribution, by releasing Wing Commander Prophecy: Secret Missions for free over the Internet. A series of fifty-six missions released over a seven week span, fully playable with no need to buy anything — sound like something too good to be true? Well you know what they say; if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.
For those without an Internet connection, or without the time it takes to download the full 125MB game, Origin has packaged a full product together available through normal retail channels, and thus we have Wing Commander Prophecy Gold. The four-CD product is really two games in one, with the first three CDs making up Prophecy, unaltered from its original form, and the last CD being Secret Missions. Because we reviewed Prophecy last year, which you can read right here, the basis for this review will be the Secret Missions.
What can be wrong with a free game, you ask? A lot! For starters the missions are just plain bad, poorly designed with very little variety and mundane objectives. It’s understandable that the Internet-only version is missing the standard Wing Commander movies that tie the story together, but I expected more in the Gold version. However, they haven’t added anything to the Gold version over what is still available for free over the net.
Another big problem about the Secret Missions is that there’s nothing secret about them. The add-on picks up just after the alien jump portal was destroyed: Confed is celebrating the launch of a new speedy attack carrier called the Cerebus, and you’ve been chosen to escort it on her maiden voyage. With no fanfare or setup you and your fellow escorts run into more aliens for the next 56 missions, supposedly uncovering the beginnings of a much larger alien ploy to take over the whole galaxy…yawn!
There hasn’t been anything new added in terms of graphics either, and while the Prophecy engine was top dog last year, it lacks a certain polish and luster this year. The sound effects have been dumbed down and this is all too evident with the pilot-to-pilot communication. If you had complaints about this with the previous Wing Commanders, you’re likely to go ballistic with this one, as the game repeats the same asinine remarks over and over again, and will jade even the most patient gamer. There are a couple of new weapons to try out, but like the missions they’ve just been randomly thrown into the mix. The Secret Missions don’t allow for ship configuration options either. I guess if you’ve spent all your money, have tons of Internet free time to waste, and are looking for a mindless alien slugfest in space downloading the Secret Missions wouldn’t be that bad of an idea. But paying for it in the Gold edition, is simply not worth it.
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