I don’t think there has ever been a game that has frustrated me in quite the way that Wing Commander II did. I loved it to be sure. Though I have always been mainly a console gamer, it was one of the few PC games that really wowed in me such a way as to make me envious of those with the time and money to maintain a proper, powerful gaming computer. When I first got to play Wing Commander, the fourth game was on its way out. As was generally the case in my younger years, I was woefully stuck playing catch up to a gaming scene that I could dream of.
I’m still to an extent playing catch up today. Look at my backlog post and you’ll note that many of the game’s I need to finish are retro games that I never got the chance to play in the past. It was only last year that I finally managed to get my hands on Wing Commander IV, a game which I had been building up in my mind for more than a decade.
Wing Commander II though, is the game that hangs large in my memory. Some of this is because I’ve never played the original Wing Commander to completion. More so, it’s because I just find it to be the best game in its franchise. The third and fourth games are both great in their own right, but their flaws show more readily with age. The 3D graphics of their time are rough at best, and while the live action sequences of the latter two still rank as some of the best done in any video game, the overall level of cheese that permeates them is a bit cringe worthy atvtimes. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mark Hammil, Malcolm McDowell, and Biff as much as the next guy. That said, something about the 2D animations (both in game and during cutscenes) of the first two games just appeals to me more.
Moreover, where back in its day the gameplay of Wing Commander II was still relatively fresh, when III and IV hit the market its rough edges were visibly apparent. Many fans of the series will readily admit they found the games’ stories far more interesting than their gameplay. In my case it doesn’t help that I played Wing Commander II on a PC and III and IV on the PlayStation and PSP. While the PS1 ports of the game are respectable, I’d be lying if I said the gameplay was anything less than clumsy. The Dual Shock controller was woefully ill-equipped for thek and even if they made it work, it doesn’t mean it worked well.
In short, I loved Wing Commander II. I am a huge space war junkie. I can’t how many times I’ve skipped ahead just to watch the big battles at the end of the Star Wars films, or Youtubed the more flashy moments in Battlestar Galactica. Wing Commander succeeded in fulfilling that geeky side of me that as a child wanted nothing more than to be flying in interstellar dogfights, battling aliens and destroying the Death Star.
And yet it was also so damned difficult! It is also the only game that has made angry enough to destroy it. After beating the main game, I set myself to the task of taking down the Special Ops portions of it. It’s a hard game to begin with, but there was one mission in Secret Ops that was just absolutely insane. You and your wingman are flying slow, cumbersome bombers and are tasked with bringing down several squadrons of fighters as well as a menagerie of capital ships. I couldn’t do it.
I spent hours, days trying to beat it. I would load the mission, get blown up and load it again. It was almost masochistic looking back on it. Every time I started the mission I was almost certain I would die, but hanging on to some insane hope I always believed I might somehow win. But no, it never happened and finally I snapped. Consumed with rage I popped the game out of the computer and snapped it in half in the palm of my hand.
Afterward, I felt stupid. By this point the game was ancient, a relic of an earlier era of gaming. There was no way I would be able to find a reasonably priced replacement, and as much as I had hated the game in that instant, I knew it was going to be something I regretted.
Years have passed, and the internet has provided me with ways to play my beloved Wing Commander II. Having learned my lesson though, I stay away from Secret Ops. There’s no more disc to break and I can’t afford a new laptop.