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Preview Archive

1Up Preview #1

Previews: Wing Commander Arena
We test out EA's Live Arcade revival of the classic series.
By Mike Nelson 02/22/2007

We could spend countless words on how the Wing Commander series has impacted our lives. The sad fact is that it has taken the series nearly 10 years to find a way back into gamers' hearts. And although we're glad to see the franchise back, it's a pure arcade experience this time with Wing Commander Arena. Don't expect any in-cockpit viewpoints, escort missions or Mark Hamills.

The look of the game is inspired by the PC games of yore, and not the atrocious movie which starred an actor whose name we won't honor with mentioning. When cycling through the available ships -- a grand total of 18 ships -- a small tear showed up in our eye when the Broadsword and Arrow flashed across the screen. Ah, Wing Commander, how we missed you.

Gameplay is an easy jump-in arcade experience. You position the camera in one of three places: above, distant-behind or in front of your ship (so you can check your six) -- all pretty far back from your vehicle. At first, we were disappointed and wanted a nice up-close After Burner viewpoint to kick some furry Kilrathi butt. But once the action started up, and missiles, lasers and god knows what else starting flying across the screen, we were glad the camera was where it was so we could see where fire was coming from. Navigating the maps and finding power-ups to repair engines/shields or add an additional fighter for fire-support round out the arcade list of features.

Multiplayer consists of one-on-one, free-for-all and team battles. Of what we got to try, we really enjoyed the team based capital ship battles. Sorry, no Tiger's Claw in sight. They are set up like this: one team picks the Kilrathi while another picks the Confederation. As the two giant capital ships prepare to square off, it's up to each respective team to disable key hot zones -- turrets, shield generators -- on each capital ship to achieve victory.

The controls for each ship offer a fair amount of functionality. You can strafe, barrel roll and 180 degree turn, allowing you a bunch of options to shake enemy fire. Of course, what type of ship you arm yourself with before you jump into the fight has a lot to do with how effective the movements will be. Each ship is set to offer different amounts of firepower and maneuverability. The math would be as follows: fast ships + light weapons = fast to turn. You get the idea, so we're moving on.

It's hard to know how this game will catch on, as it's the strangest entry yet into the Wing Commander universe. And although this is no space combat simulator, it could be enough to jump-start the franchise once more. It feels like EA is testing the waters again, not only with today's announcement, but with the recent appearance of Wing Commander on PSP in EA Replay. As it stands, Wing Commander Arena is a decent Xbox Live Arcade experience that looks to be best played with friends.

1Up Preview #2

Previews: Wing Commander Arena
From space sim to shooter -- hands-on with the XBLA game.
By Emily Balistrieri 05/11/2007

Fans of the original Wing Commander games might be put off when first confronted by Wing Commander Arena for Xbox Live Arcade. It's not so much a space combat sim as an arcade shooter, and Mark Hamill is nowhere in sight. Instead, the focus here is on taking a part of the traditional Wing Commander experience -- the dogfights -- and making it into a pick-up-and-play shooter. At a press event earlier this week, we got some hands-on time with the sim-gone-shooter.

The space battles take place on a 2D plane that is only breached when you're doing barrel rolls or loops, keeping the action simple and focused while allowing for some handy dodging. There are two camera perspectives to choose from (either in front of the cockpit or behind your ship), and the controls are easy to get the hang of once you understand the special maneuvers, which are done with different flicks of the right analog stick.

Starting with four ships, including the familiar Terran Arrow and the Kilrathi Darket, you can unlock up to 18 ships, as well as improved armor, as you play. Each ship not only has its guns, missiles, and devices such as cloaked turrets or tractor beams, but its own intrinsic attributes as well. Bombers aren't as agile as Fighters, lacking the ability to make tight turns or use most special maneuvers, but they have the advantage of extra firepower -- especially useful in, for example, the multiplayer Capital Ship mode, where teams take on the task of destroying a huge ship layer-by-layer, from turrets to the bridge.

Satellite is another multiplayer mode, which is pretty much Capture the Flag with space ships. There are also environments for dueling, eight versus eight team matches (with TeamSpeak), and 16-player free-for-all. The multiplayer mode Bearpit sounds action-packed, consisting of an arena within an arena; a couple of players go in to duel while others can scuffle around the outer ring or rowdily observe the duel, shooting at the fighters in the pit.

Never-ending single-player defensive missions like Meteor Storm, where you defend a space station from rocks and the occasional bandit, seem to be great time killers. And scores from all missions, except Proving Grounds (a very basic never-ending bot fight), will be posted to the leaderboards. Part of EA's summer line-up, Arena seems to provide some decent fun, whether you're a Wing Commander fan or not.

Game Almighty Preview

WIng Commander Arena
Written by: Chris Jensen
Posted 05/10/07

It’s no secret around Almighty HQ that I’m a complete sucker for shoot ‘em ups, so when I heard that EA w Aas reincarnating Wing Commander as an Xbox Live Arcade game, my fingers began button-mashing in anticipation, even though I wasn’t holding a controller. It’s also no secret that Wing Commander and I go way back, so I’m looking at the potential of two loves combining into perfect unity.

Whether or not Wing Commander Arena will deliver the goods remains to be seen, but apprehension may have more to do with preconceived notions than anything else. Any time you hear the title Wing Commander, you immediately think of a first-person cockpit view while flying around 3D space in an attempt to wipe out those freakin’ Kilrathi. You might as well get that concept out of your head right now. Arena is no simulator.

Designed specifically for Xbox Live Arcade, Wing Commander Arena makes no pretense at being anything more than a top-down arcade shooter that will allow you to form a squad, outfit your ship and unleash holy hell against 16 other multiplayer opponents. For our anti-social readers out there, you’ll be happy to know that Arena will offer offline play, though the overall emphasis is definitely on multiplayer. Expect to join teams for squad-based battles as well as free-for-all deathmatches and even one-on-one combat. EA says that Wing Commander Arena will ship with 8 maps, each catering to a specific game type.

GamersInfo Preview

EA Summer Preview: Wing Commander Arena
Author: Vaelin, May 10, 2007

As a PC gamer that’s been around for the entire time that the PC even existed, old franchises coming back with a vengeance has always piqued my interest. Wing Commander, one of two extremely popular franchises from the now-defunct Origin Systems, was one of my favorites, the other franchise being the Ultima series. As a space opera and flight simulator rolled into one, the Wing Commander series always pushed the limits of my PC, and it was one of the first games that I played that utilized full-motion video as part of the storytelling in Wing Commander IV: Price of Freedom.

Electronic Arts acquired Origin Systems a while back, and are on the cusp of finally releasing a game set in the Wing Commander universe. Wing Commander: Arena isn’t what you would expect from the typical WC game. What used to be a PC space battle flight sim is now a Xbox 360 top-down view head-to-head arcade shooter… and EA did a darn good job.

I had the opportunity to preview the game during EA’s Summer Preview press event, and it has me excited. Set in the midst of the Human-Kilrathi conflict, you can choose to pilot ships from either side in single, team, free-for-all or duel multiplayer games. Each ship has different armaments, but many of the concepts from the previous Wing Commander games remain intact. Energy weapons take time to recharge, and you have a limited number of missiles. Shields regenerate over time, and afterburners are available for a quick boost as well as a kind of boost slide reminiscent of cars drifting.

The controls were relatively simple. A player can simply jump into a game and be able to ‘frag’ another person intuitively. Of course, if you want to take full advantage of the moves available, you would do wise to take a look at what was available. Some of the other players were performing barrel rolls, firing in reverse and doing all sorts of neat tricks, so it shouldn’t be too hard to pick up.

Graphics-wise, as this is a game built for the Xbox 360, you can rest assured they’re crisp and smooth. The individual ships are nicely detailed, and the glow of explosions light up a dark battlefield with nice effects. Capital ships going toe to toe while you’re caught in the middle; dog fighting an enemy is another situation where you’ll enjoy the graphics. Almost enough to distract you long enough to not see those missiles slamming into your ship. Almost.

Unfortunately, I was in a crowded room with a lot going on, so I wasn’t able to truly listen to the sound, so I can’t comment on it. I would venture to guess that since this is an Xbox Live Arcade game, you won’t be getting full two hour long dialog. But, that’s not the point of the game anyways.

Wing Commander: Arena picks up the franchise and moves it into a new direction, away from a space sim to a space shooter. EA did a great job in carefully including as much of the old as they move forward with the new, and in the end it looks like they succeeded. I know I’m eagerly anticipating the release of this game.

GamesDaily Preview

Preview : Wing Commander Arena
Pseudo space sequel flies far from the nest.
by Libe Goad

Some might call it a comeback; others might see it as a cheap cash-in on a memorable old-school video game. Say what you will -- EA's blowing the dust off the Wing Commander series -- taking out all the goofy plotlines and live action sequences (starring Mark Hamill, Malcolm McDowell and John Rhys-Davies -- those were the days) and delivering a straight-up space-themed third-person shooter available for download on Xbox Live.

Up to 16 space pilots can take to the stars and blast other ships in a number of ways -- single player, multi-team, multiplayer duel and multiplayer free for all. The single-player Meteor Storm, a modern-day Asteroids remake, requires players to protect a mothership from space debris and incoming enemies. Online multiplayer mode Capital Ship pits two teams against each other -- with the ultimate goal of taking down the other team's mothership. Duel pits two players, gladiator style, against each other in an arena. The winner of each match will take on other waiting in the queue until they achieve total victory or fall victim to a well placed laser blast.

A selection of ships keeps the game from turning into a one-note blast-fest. Each side can pilot up to eight ships, each with their own special assets. Lightweight ships can pull off 180-degree turns, barrel rolls and other nifty moves during combat, but won't be able to withstand as much firepower as the heavier ships, with their big guns and heavy armor.

During our brief hands-on session with the game, we noticed that occasional lag time in the controls left our ship wide-open to incoming enemies. The game could also use a little extra lift in the looks department -- simplistic graphics and a muted color palate could make this game a turn-off for anyone who's not riding the wave of Wing Commander nostalgia that EA seems to be banking on for this otherwise fun pick-up-and-play shooter, set to hit the Xbox 360 this summer.

GamesRadar Preview

Classic gameplay - just not the classic you're expecting
Words: Charlie Barratt

Flat space

Are you an old-school Wing Commander fan? Does mention of the Terran Confederation, the Kilrathi and Colonel Blair bring a nostalgic smile to your face? And when you heard about the upcoming Wing Commander Arena for Xbox Live Arcade, were you ecstatic to know one of your favorite franchises was coming back?

If so, you might want to temper your expectations. There are no new stories to be told and no familiar characters to revisit in this entry... heck, from what we saw, there are no stories or characters whatsoever. Based on our first impressions and what we've learned from the developers, this is a Wing Commander game in name only.

Being an arcade offering, Arena shares more similarities to classic space shooters like Space Invaders and Galaga. The gameplay is simple - you fly around a 2D arena, blasting wildly away at all the other ships. While the graphical layers and effects make the galaxy around you look three dimensional, as it always has been in previous Wing Commander games, you're never really breaking free from the flat axis. It's kind of like an invisible glass pane has been stuck in space and you're zipping around on it.

For what it is, though, Arena offers some nicely diverse options. You can perform limited evasive maneuvers like quick barrel rolls, loops and 180 degree turns. Weapons include everything from basic plasma cannons and heat-seeking missiles to more unusual tools like energy-sapping "vampire" rockets and sentry-like drop turrets. Our favorite, though, had to be the tractor beam, which enabled you to trap an enemy fighter and then sling him into other ships or asteroids for environmental damage.

Deep space

And welcome nods to the license do exist. The 18 available ships are based and named after Terran and Kilrathi models from the older games. Even better - they've kept their distinctive talents. For example, the ever-guerrilla Kilrathi ships can cloak themselves while the scrappy Terran ships can use flares to distract incoming fire.

Finally, Arena can be played in several different ways. Modes include 16-player free-for-alls, 8-on-8 teams and single player practice runs. A "Capital Ships" mode has teams attempting to take down the other side's carrier and all its turret guns. A unique "King of the Hill" mode puts one player in a "bear pit' and has him defend against one challenger after another. While the other 14 players wait their turn outside the pit, they can fight each other and collect power-ups that carry over into the central battle.

Wing Commander Arena may be an extremely downsized version of the epic 3D space shooters it took its name from... but it's an extremely upgraded version of the retro shooters we usually see on Xbox Live Arcade. The 16-player combat and wealth of options might win over even the most disgruntled of original Wing Commander fans. We'll find out this summer, when the game is scheduled to go online.

GameSpot Preview

Wing Commander Arena Hands-On
The heralded space combat game returns in a form you might not have expected. We go hands-on with this action-packed shooter for Xbox Live Arcade.
By Brian Ekberg, GameSpot
Posted Feb 22, 2007 6:37 pm PT

When we say "Wing Commander," what comes to mind? The epic struggle between the Terrans and the Kilrathi? Groundbreaking space combat? Mark Hamill? If EA Games and developer Gaia Industries have their way, the Wing Commander series will have a whole new meaning for a new generation of game fans with the upcoming release of Wing Commander Arena for Xbox Live Arcade. We had a chance to play the game today at EA headquarters and, while it is a departure from the traditional Wing Commander formula, the central "dogfights in space" components are still well intact.

Wing Commander returns, this time to Xbox Live Arcade with Wing Commander Arena.

First things first: Wing Commander Arena is not played from a first-person perspective like the old games in the series. Instead, you control your ship from the third-person point of view, dipping and dodging your craft as you pilot through outer space and battle it out with up to 15 other players online. While the game moving away from the traditional format might upset Wing Commander purists, it makes sense for this game, which, at its heart, is an action-packed shooting game that puts an emphasis on quick-and-dirty action.

The game is split between single-player and multiplayer. The single-player modes include melee, meteor storm, gauntlet, and proving grounds. Melee is a good introduction to the action in the game, as it's a standard free-for-all against a number of bots. Meteor storm is a bit like Asteroids; your goal is to protect a space station from wave after wave of meteors. Later on in the mode, you'll have to deal not just with huge chunks of rocks but with bandits intent on destroying your stations. In gauntlet mode, you take on multiple waves of enemies. Finally, in proving grounds, you take on different bots in wide-open environments with plenty of pickups to choose from.

While the single-player game serves as a good introduction to the action, you'll likely spend most of your time in Arena's online multiplayer modes. In addition to the standard free-for-all, duel, and team battle modes, there are a couple of interesting modes that add some welcome twists to the typical zero-gravity dogfighting. Our favorite was a mode known as team capital ship. Here, you team up with a number of teammates to take down your opponents' capital ship, while at the same time protecting your own.

As you might expect, the capital ships are much, much bigger than your tiny fighter (think Imperial Star Destroyer from Star Wars for a general idea) and, as a result, it takes a while to take them down. In fact, the capital ships have three levels of destruction, starting with the onboard turrets and weaponry and ending with the bridge. All the while, you'll have to deal with your foes who are intent not just on stopping you but taking down your capital ship as well. Thanks to the massive scale of the big ships and the wide-open feel of the environments, this was our favorite mode to play in the game, and one we think will be a favorite once the game is online.

Caption: See the big ship? Kill it. Team capital ship battles are among the most fun in the game.

In addition to large 16-player battles, Arena will include more up-close-and-personal matches for two players. One mode, known as the "bear pit," sounds like a lot of fun. Here, two players enter an arena to fight it out; the winner stays, and the loser goes, to be replaced by the next person in the queue. The idea here is to build up the longest winning streak you can by staying in the "pit" as long as possible.

Arena will include 18 ships to pilot, nine from the Terran side and nine from the Kilrathi. Longtime Wing Commander fans might recognize that this will be the first time players will be able to pilot the Kilrathi ships, some of which have a distinctively Battlestar Galactica Cylonlike design to them. The different ships will come in three different flavors: the light and nimble scouts, the powerful fighters, and the heavily armored bombers. Each will have its own strengths and weaknesses. Scouts, for example, are agile but don't have much in the way of armor. Similarly, heavy bombers can't easily evade enemies but hold more firepower and are tougher. This mix of ship types should prove especially important in modes such as the capital ship battles, where you'll want to find a nice mix between speed and firepower.

All the ships will include a variety of blaster and rocket weapons, as well as different devices you can use when in flight that will give you a leg up on the competition. These devices include things like cloaking devices, vampire torpedoes (which suck away the energy of a foe and add it to your ship), mines, heat-seeking missiles, and more. Finally, you'll run into various pickups. Among the pickups we saw were shield boosters, weapon refills, and even wingmen, which let you add up to two other "clones" of your ship flying in formation with you, essentially doubling or tripling your firepower.

We tried a couple of the eight maps in the game and found a good amount of variety to the environments. One, called the boneyard, featured a huge planetoid in the center of the map, filled with massive crystals jutting at every angle. In addition to fighting around the huge planetoid, you could actually pilot your little ship into the crevasses that ran through the middle of it, resulting in some truly tight squeezes. Another map took place within the confines of a Deep Space Nine-like circular space station. As mentioned before, the capital ships' battle maps were much more wide open and, as a result, it took a while to get from where you spawned to where the action was happening.

Caption: With 16 players online, things are sure to get hairy in a hurry.

Controls in Arena are simple enough to pick up, though not without their subtleties. You move your ship with the two analog sticks; the left stick controls your thruster, and the right stick, your steering. Your ship seems basically stuck on a single plane in the game, so you won't be able to approach an enemy from above or below. That said, there are some special maneuvers you can pull off with the right stick when the going gets tough, including barrel rolls, loops, and 180 degree turns, the latter of which is perhaps the most useful. All weapons are fired with the two triggers and the two bumpers on the Xbox 360 controller and while blasters are more or less unlimited (governed only by your ship's energy level), you have a finite amount of rockets. Even so, don't expect to live long in Arena battles--our typical tactic was to face down an opponent and then unload with every weapon we had until we died. You can choose a new type of ship in between spawns if your current ship isn't working out.

In all, Wing Commander Arena's new approach to the series might be a shock to longtime WC fans, but it seems as though the developers are doing their best to create a game that is both respectful to the Wing Commander legacy but also approachable to an entirely new generation of players. The game is due for release in late spring, and we'll be bringing you more as it becomes available.
-GameSpot

GameSpy Preview

Wing Commander Arena (X360)
By Miguel Lopez | May 9, 2007
Not since your planetarium stopped playing Laser Floyd has space felt this bright.

Spiffy: Very evocative of the classic Subspace, which is high praise indeed.
Iffy: Doesn't seem to utilize the Wing Commander legacy very thoughtfully.

While Geometry Wars may have single-handedly filled the demand for Xbox Live Arcade titles involving blowing things up with lasers, EA has apparently decided that the subcategory needs a bit more competition. Enter Wing Commander Arena.

The mammoth publishing house hopes to help you revisit the kicks you got from the freeware classic Subspace while you indulge their flirtation with one of PC gaming's most venerable franchises. In case you aren't familiar with it, picture Asteroids, but instead of blowing up rocks, you're flying through space mazes while eluding the assaults of enemy players. And if you're not familiar with Wing Commander, then you should pay an immediate visit to your local internets, and have Wikipedia give you the lowdown.

Fire All Guns!

Wing Commander Arena seems to evoke Subspace's hectic vibe brilliantly. While there is a single-player component, the game is all about the multiplayer. 16 players can battle it out on a variety of different maps -- some of which are wide-open, while others more "mazey" -- in either free-for-all battles, or team matches. The action takes place on a 2D plane, with a few key concessions that utilize the Z-axis, evasive maneuvers like loops and barrel rolls and. Attacks are mapped to your triggers and shoulder buttons, with each one deploying a different weapon.

The game really is this simple; it's all about getting into range of an enemy and spamming all four attacks at once. Whoever most effectively guides the stream of pyrotechnics will live, perhaps long enough for their shields to refresh (think Halo), and engage a new enemy. This is assuming, of course, that interference from a third party doesn't bring your reign of terror to a premature end. There are probably some deeper strategic elements to consider, but at EA's event earlier today, attendants couldn't be bothered to explore them. It was all about unleashing as thick a cloud of torpedoes, gravity bombs, and plasma as possible.

Though the matches that attendants got to play at today weren't anywhere near full -- four to six players at most, out of a possible 16 -- things did feel suitably harried. One of the cooler playmodes we got to sample centered around two large capital ships that would travel through the expansive map. Opposing teams would have to lay waste to the ships' armaments while preventing enemy fighters from damaging their own too badly. We got to play a two-on-two match with this mode, and even with the anemic numbers, its promise was readily evident. This is going to be a lot of fun with a full 16 players.

You're probably going to be disappointed if you're expecting Wing Commander Arena to further the mythology of the hallmark series on which it's based. It's simply not that kind of game. From the looks of it, the extent to which it utilizes its legacy can be boiled down to aesthetics and color; the opposing races are Terrans and Kilrathi, and their ship designs are evocative of the classic games. But that's about it.

It probably doesn't matter much, in the end. If you're going to download Wing Commander Arena, you'll likely know what you're getting into. The game is slated for release at some point this summer, and based on what we saw today, it looks pretty far along, so don't expect to have to wait all that long.

IGN Preview #1

Wing Commander Arena Hands-On
A classic is reborn on the XBLA.
by Erik Brudvig

February 23, 2007 - How do you create a new game for a franchise that has a hardcore following that pleases the fans and casual gamers alike? That is the question that EA is attempting to answer with Wing Commander, an online 16 player Xbox Live Arcade space shooter due out this summer. The result is an arcade-style game with simple goals that has a surprising amount of depth for a downloadable title.

Wing Commander dogfights take place in a three dimensional environment, though the ships are constrained to a 2D playing field. The camera is fixed behind your ship with two levels of zoom for you to survey the area. With the isometric view, controlling your ship and aiming is a bit unwieldy, though enough practice will likely make that a non-issue.

The controls were purposefully designed to make navigating a spaceship a simple affair. The left analog stick controls all of your basic movement, including steering, thrusting, and braking. The right analog stick is used for more advanced maneuvers such as barrel rolls, loops, and other dodging techniques. Guns and missiles are mapped to the shoulder buttons and triggers while more tactical weapons and powers are performed using the face buttons. Pushing in both analog sticks at the same time performs a boost to quickly blast your ship across open areas. As we said before, aiming is a bit odd at first and, as you're constricted to a 2D plane in a 3D world, you often feel that you should be using the second analog stick for more control rather than little trick moves.

Though there has been much talk about the 16 player online game in this short time since the game was announced, Wing Commander Arena has a full set of modes to play solo in the offline world. These include several practice and training modes, one of which has a huge similarity to Asteroids, as well as a free-for-all mode against AI controlled bots. We gave these a test run and found them to be a good way to learn the ropes before going online, but lacking a bit of the excitement found in the online game.

The depth of Wing Commander Arena comes from the list of 18 ships, 9 from both the Terrans and Kilrathi, that range from light scouts to heavy bombers. These ships are unique in their size, speed, and damage they can deliver, but they also have their own unique weapons and abilities to set them apart from their brethren. Some of the special abilities we saw were tractor beams, vampire missiles, cloaks, and stationary turrets. These add a level of depth to a game that would essentially just be a basic shooter without them.

To keep things fresh, there are more online play modes than just the standard arena combat, though you can do that in a free-for-all or team game. There's also a duel mode where up to 16 players can be connected, but only two players fight. Whoever wins stays in the ring to take on the next challenger. The mode we spent the most time on was a ship battle, where two teams of up to 8 players do their darndest to take down an enemy capital ship while defending their own.

There are nine environments in Wing Commander Arena for you to do battle in. The few that we saw had a nice mix of small arenas littered with obstacles and paths (some carved out of meteors) to dash down and around to large open spaces where team strategies can rule. Scattered throughout all of these are powerups including the standard shield or hull repair and added fire power, amongst others.

One of the nicest bits about Wing Commander is that you can hop into or out of a game at any time, regardless of how long it has been running. If the host drops, the game will automatically select a new host to keep the action going. For an online game with 16 players, this is a welcome touch.

The look and feel of this Wing Commander may be a bit off putting to fans of the classic games, though the finer details are sure to score some points. Although Wing Commander Arena is already up and running in a networked environment, there is still a lot of development time left before its summer release to fine tune the controls and feel of the game.

IGN Preview #2

Wing Commander Arena Hands-On
We blast Kilrathi scum, live to tell the tale.
by Charles Onyett

May 9, 2007 - Wing Commander Arena, set to release on the XBLA sometime this summer, takes the classic space combat simulation game in a much more action-oriented direction. This game sheds features like piloting complicated crafts, interacting with NPCs, and following a robust storyline, in favor of delivering a more simplistic arcade shooting experience. For its setup, The Terran Confederation and Kilrathi Assembly of Clans have eradicated Nephilim forces, but in the ensuing relative peace battles have broken out on the frontier. That's about all you get in terms of story here, visible only on the "How to Play" menu.

The game offers quite a few modes, including Melee, Meteor Storm, Gauntlet, and Proving Grounds for solo play and Capital Ship, Satellites CTF, Team Deathmatch, Free-for-all Deathmatch, and Duel for up to 16 players online. Meteor Storm plays a little bit like asteroids, charging you with protecting a space station from bandit ships and space rocks. As the stages advance, more stations requiring defending pop up and more bogeys enter the fray, so you'll want to keep your eyes peeled for power-ups that drop from enemies. Melee is a free-for-all deathmatch pitting you against AI opponents, Gauntlet sends ever increasing waves of enemies after you, and Proving Grounds gives you a map to practice flying and shooting maneuvers.

Online has a few more interesting modes, particularly Capital Ship and Duel. In the former, the game starts as two large capital ships float toward each other firing off weapon barrages. While defending your ship is necessary, you'll need to blow apart the enemy ship's bridge to win the game. You can't dart directly for it, however. Instead, you'll need to bust up the enemy ship's weapons and radar and then destroy the next tier of defenses to open up the bridge for assault. In Duel players enter a queue while two trade laser blasts in an arena. Instead of just waiting and watching, the queue is actually the outside of the dueling arena, letting you fly around and destroy other impatient starships as you wait your turn. The goal, of course, is to enter the arena and build up as much of a winning streak as possible by taking down consecutive opponents.

Ships are available in both Terran and Kilrathi flavors, from light scout ships to fighters craft to heavy assault craft. A total of nine ships from each side can be chosen for battle, three variations of six base hulls, and you'll have to unlock most of them by playing as each respective side. Unlocked ships will thereafter be usable for every other mode, preventing unnecessary ship grinding. Each ship's hull strength, velocity, thrust power, and turning radius vary depending on the model, as well as the weapon loadouts. Across the selectable field you'll get mass driver cannons, plasma guns, laser cannons, tractor beams, mines, and even guns that fire backwards on the heavy ships.

Your choice of craft also determines what types of special maneuvers are available. All can be piloted with the two thumbsticks, but the two lighter models are capable of performing forward and backward loops, hops, 180 degree turns, and barrel rolls. The heavier ships turn much more slowly and can't perform such acrobatics, instead relying on their thicker armor and more powerful weaponry and gadgets. The game maps all four of your ships weapons to the triggers and bumpers, all of which can be fired simultaneously. Assuming you can get on someone's tail, they go down pretty quickly. Pressing Y activates the more specialized gadgets, which include flares, cloaks, and sonar.

Views can be changed around with the B button, giving you two behind-the-ship view, one nearly first-person view, and one from in front of the ship. Most of the Achievements are of a standard kill so many opponents, play so much of one game type, or go a specific amount of time without dying. During our time playing, we found the controls to be rather floaty, leading to some imprecise battles. The action was fast and we haven't played the game all that much, so this impression could just be a result of our own inexperience, but we'll wait and see. We'll let you know as soon as a price point is announced.

Kotaku Preview

Wing Commander Arena Impressions

OK, let's get this out of the way: Wing Commander Arena isn't Wing Commander.

If you were hoping for cheesy graphics, cheesy cut scenes, a bit of Mark Hamill, maybe a cockpit view, you're going to be disappointed. If you can put all that behind you and try the game with an open mind, you might like what you see.

Wing Commander Arena is essentially an online only Xbox 360 game. Sure there are some single-player, off-line modes, but they're designed to just hone your skills for online play. While the game doesn't support split-screen gaming (a big disappointment to me), it does include a very robust online mode which can host up to 16 players at a time.

The game itself sort of plays like a super version of Galaga. You start the game by choosing your ship, each of which has it's own stats and weapon layouts, and then launch into space.

The left control lets you move right, left, forward and back, but nothing lets you move up or down, something that takes a big of getting used to. You use the right control to do things like barrel rolls, loops and strafing. The buttons let you fire weapons, drop bombs and change your views. But no matter how many times I pressed that view change button I couldn't get a view inside the cockpit.

I asked one of the EA guys about that and he told me that the cockpit view just didn't fit with this version of the game. Mostly, he said, because the game is so fast-paced and can have up to 15 others in the game dog-fighting with you. He also said it' a view that can make you motion sick... and I know what that's like.

I found the game fun to play, though it was hard to get over my initially disappointment that it was so very much not Wing Commander. It's fun to play, but I don't see why they bothered to attach that particular franchise to this game. Besides the look of the ships, there really wasn't much WIng Commander in Wing Commander. Brian Crecente

Mercury News Preview

EA’s Not So Hot Summer Night; Wing Commander Arena Is A Disappointment
By Dean Takahashi
Thursday, May 10th, 2007 at 11:40 pm

Like Nooch, I also attended Electronic Arts’ Hot Summer Night event in San Francisco. But frankly, I wasn’t impressed. I was most disappointed with Wing Commander Arena for Xbox Live Arcade. This game really shouldn’t carry the Wing Commander name at all. It’s an arcade-style spaceship combat game with as many as 16 players fighting online on the Xbox 360.

But it has none of the excitement of the aerial space dogfights of the old series that kicked off my life as a gaming adult. Nothing is the same. You control the ship from a third-person view, not a first-person view. Wing Commander was a cool 3-D flight simulation in space with lots of action and a series of missions wrapped around a suspenseful plot. This new EA game is merely an attempt to capitalize on the brand. It’s a two-dimensional flying game, where you can’t truly control your up-and-down movement. That design limitation was made to make it simpler to control the game. But it made it harder for me because I was expecting to be able to fly in three dimensions.

I played a couple of the eight maps. In one battle, you have to fight with enemy fighters and try to take out a capital ship at the same time. You could select from a variety of space combat ships, from fighters to heavy bombers. Each had varying levels of armaments, armor, and speed. But it wasn’t immediately obvious, in this supposedly simple arcade title, how to do damage to the capital ships. Usually there’s a target for you to hit. In this case, you shoot at the guns and weapons on the capital ship. But when you do so, there appears to be no visible impact. Clearly I didn’t spend much time learning this game. But it was a dull, unintuitive experience. Shooting down enemy fighters was fairly random. You just hold down your weapon button and sooner or later you’ll hit something. You can refill your weapons by picking up power-ups, but you have to be careful about enemies on your six. The left analog stick controls the thrust and the right analog stick your steering. You can do 180 degree turns or loops but it’s all on a single plane. The bumpers and triggers fire your weapons, which include guns, missiles, and torpedoes.

I didn’t play this title for very long since I was quite annoyed with the different direction this game took. I thought it was a dud.

ShackNews Preview

Wing Commander Arena Hands On Preview
-- February 23, 2007 by: Chris Remo

Electronic Arts, which has its hand in just about every gaming genre and platform out there, was surprisingly slow to hit Xbox 360's Xbox Live Arcade, having never released a game on Microsoft's successful console game download service. Now, the publisher has announced two games for the platform and, surprisingly, neither is a port or remake. First up will be Bizarre Creations' rhythm game Boom Boom Rocket, which is due out this spring--check back next week for a hands on preview. Announced just yesterday was Wing Commander Arena, a spinoff of Origin Systems' acclaimed PC flight combat sim franchise. It has been coming up on nine years since there was an actual new game released in the Wing Commander universe, so yesterday's announcement quickly set the hearts of longtime PC gamers aflutter.

Some words of warning, however: those pining for a new sweeping space epic structured around in-cockpit dogfighting are unlikely to find Arena the game about which they have been dreaming for the better part of a decade. Co-developers EA and Gaia Industries (creator of the upcoming Live Arcade game Street Trace NYC) have taken a different path with this title, one more suited to the Live Arcade environment. Arena is not a first-person 3D space combat sim framed by live-acted cutscenes, it is a third-person 2D arcade-ish space melee game heavily focused on multiplayer. This week I had the chance to get some hands on time with Wing Commander Arena and chat with producer Sean Penney about the team's goals for the game.

For those familiar with Wing Commander lore, Arena picks up with the Nephilim invasion repelled but with the Kilrathi in poor shape, the Confederacy having been knocked back to a somewhat primitive state, and the core worlds in the process of being rebuilt. Arena takes place in out in the frontier, where things are a bit rougher. Unlike prior games in the franchise, players can pilot either human or Kilrathi vessels, and in free for all or head to head modes it is possible for humans to go up against humans or Kilrathi to go up against Kilrathi. Penney noted that early in development, EA sought out input from original Wing Commander contributors such as creator Chris Roberts, and since then the company has solicited opinions from the online Wing Commander community, which remains remarkably strong. "We looked at [the space combat] area and said we want to dominate it," said Penney. "There are a lot of titles that haven't lived up to what that space can be. We wanted to innovate there."

Wing Commander Arena is played on a 2D plane from a top down perspective. On a basic level, it is somewhat reminiscent of the Melee mode from Toys for Bob's classic Star Control series, which Penney said he recently loaded up again while in development on Arena. The game's 3D environments, however, allow more intricate control. The left analog stick controls thrust and steering, while the right analog stick is used to perform a variety of special maneuvers including strafing, forward and backward loops, and 180 degree flips. Plus, you can do a barrel roll. Weapons, up to four per ship, are fired with the shoulder buttons and triggers. There is a straightforward HUD containing recharging meters for weapon power, shield strength, and fuel (consumed when using afterburners). The hull meter does not recharge. Maps frequently contain pickups corresponding to the various ship stats.

Series fans will recognize all of the ship classes in Arena. Each of the two races has nine available craft across three classes: light fighters, heavy fighters, and bombers. Each class consists of three ships based on classic Wing Commander models, with a basic version and then two bulked up versions piling on progressively more armor and armament. Out in the low-tech frontier, more heavily armed ships don't have stronger armor, they simply have more plating. This creates a trade-off between armor and maneuverability, so while it might seem attractive to immediately go for the ship with the most equipment, depending on the game type it may frequently be more appropriate to exercise restraint and go for something more agile and quick. The gulf between the maneuverability of the lightest-armored light fighter and the most heavily armored bomber is immense, and the seven ships in between fill in the spectrum.

On the human side, the light fighters are variants on the F-27 Arrow, heavy fighters are models of the F-44A Rapier II, and bombers are based on the A-17 Broadsword. Kilrathi light fighters are modelled off of the Darket, heavy fighters off of the Dralthi, and bombers off of the Paktahn. Weapons too will be familiar, and as in past Wing Commander games the weaponry of the two races largely overlaps. Ships are armed with guns such as the laser cannon, meson blaster, tachyon gun, neutron gun, ionic pulse cannon, plasma gun, and mass driver cannon; heavier weapons include the dart DF (dumbfire, i.e. unguided), javelin HS (heat-seeking), vampire HS, porcupine mines, and lance torpedo.

Turn the page to read about Wing Commander Arena's various game types.

Up to 16 players are supported in multiplayer, a first for Xbox Live Arcade. There numerous game types, team based and otherwise. Most straightforward is the free for all mode, which simply thrusts up to 16 players into an arena and has them duke it out to see who can achieve the highest kill count. Duel mode is similar, but is limited to one on one. Blending the two is the Bear Pit, which accepts up to 16 players in the game but allows only two to face off at any given time. Once that duel has been completed, the winner stays in the pit and a new challenger is thrown in. The objective, of course, is to keep as long a winning streak as possible. Meanwhile, the observers can watch the game or participate in various mini-game activities. In a Bomberman-like twist, they even occasionally get the chance take potshots at the contestants from the sidelines.

There are three team games, the first being a simple team deathmatch. I was able to check out a deathmatch map, entitled Boneyard, used in both free for all and team versus battles. It is littered with derelict ships, planetoids, large colorful crystals, alien artifacts, jump gates, and other sci-fi trappings. "It's just a really wild space environment," offered Penney. The next team game is called Satellites, similar to a control points game type in a first person shooter. Each team has its own zone containing three satellites, with a neutral area containing four satellites in between. Docking with a satellite will change its color to that of your team and put it under your control, granting benefits such as fuel and ammunition replenishment. To win the game, one team must acquire and hold eight of the ten satellites, meaning at least one must be held in enemy territory. Finally, there is a mode that sees a Condfederate capital ship and a Kilrathi capital ship facing off in a broadside battle. Each team endeavors to take out the opposing capital ship by attacking it and stripping it of its outer hull, then its inner hull, and finally its bridge.

There is no single-player narrative in Wing Commander Arena, though there is a text prologue as well as various bits of flavor text scattered throughout the game to provide context and color for the setting. Despite the lack of a campaign component, there are four single-player gameplay modes. The straightforward Melee puts the player into a bot-filled space station for all arena with a time limit, attempting to achieve as many kills as possible before the clock ticks down. The Proving Ground is a free for all set in a more spacious arena, and does not have any goal or end; it is simply an open ended practice mode. Meteor Storm is essentially Wing Commander Arena's take on Asteroids. The player must protect a space station from wandering asteroids, which break into progressively smaller chunks when destroyed. As the player completes more waves, more hostile elements such as enemy ships are introduced. Finally, the Gauntlet tasks the player with protecting the capital ship Midway (sure to be a familiar name to series fans) against increasingly powerful waves of enemies. With the exception of the Proving Ground, these modes feature online leaderboards ranking those who last the longest or kill most efficiently.

There are of course a number of Achievements corresponding to various feats. Some are more about overall endurance than anything else--"Paladin" requires players to shoot down 1000 pilots in Xbox Live games--while some will likely require some serious chops--"Gunfighter" is awarded to players who have won a ranked head to head duel using every ship. Then there are the requisite completionist Achievements: recipients of "Navigator" have traveled through every teleporting jump gate in the game.

All in all, Wing Commander Arena does not particularly feel like a Wing Commander game, but it does feel well suited to Xbox Live Arcade. It is more ambitious than most recent Live Arcade releases, and it is encouraging to see a newly developed title in a segment that has gotten little attention of late. Asked to sum up the game, Penney said, "It's a great space fighter building on one of the greatest IPs the games industry has ever produced." Could the investment into Wing Commander Arena indicate that Electronic Arts is considering further plans for the long dormant franchise? Penney seems hopeful. "We all loved Wing Commander back in the day," he said. "If it does well, [EA] publishing might say, 'Wow, there's all this interest in this IP? Really?' You never know."

Electronic Arts plans to ship Gaia Industries' Wing Commander Arena for Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade this summer. Pricing details have not yet been announced.

Team Xbox Preview #1

Wing Commander Arena Hands-On Preview (Xbox 360)
By: Andy Eddy - "Vidgames"
February 23rd, 2007

The news that Electronic Arts is introducing a fresh game in the Wing Commander series for Xbox Live Arcade will be welcome to hard-core fans. However, after getting some hands-on time with the title, we’re confident that even players who’ve never heard of Wing Commander before will have no trouble getting right into it.

According to Sean Penney, the game’s associate producer at EA Canada, when the publisher set out to create Wing Commander Arena, a primary objective was to make it accessible and much more arcade-like than any previous WC releases. While that won’t be the only attraction, as you’ll soon find out, having it be easy to pick up and play was essential.

For those not familiar with the WC franchise, here’s a brief introduction: The initial release came out in 1990, an ambitious effort out of Origin Systems spearheaded by game maker Chris Roberts. It was, simply put, a sci-fi flight-combat game that pitted the human Terran against the cat-like Kilrathi, but it took the genre in a direction that emphasized its depth and movie-like stylings. In fact, Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films) became the voice of lead character Christopher Blair in later installments.

Caption: Meteor Storm mode has you protecting satellites from space rocks.

While Wing Commander Arena may not have depth of story and characters, its depth is in the gameplay. Single-player action consists of four modes: Melee, which is a free-for-all against bot ships; Meteor Storm, in which you save satellites from meteors; Gauntlet, where you face off against waves of attacking planes; and Proving Grounds, which is billed as a place where you can practice and become more familiar with the controls, but which includes a fair amount of foes trying to take you out of the sky.

We suspect the real attraction will be the multiplayer contests, which will offer frantic sorties of up to 16 players. The action can be an every-player-for-himself deathmatch or with the pilots broken into us-versus-them teams—naturally, Terran against Kilrathi. The one-on-one duels were particularly engaging, and a good test of each person’s flying, gunner and evasion skills.

Control mechanics are fairly simple, with the left stick controlling your heading and forward/reverse thrust, while the right stick handles special maneuvers, such as evasive barrel rolls and 180-degree flip turns. To make sure the firefights aren’t wimpy, there are up to four weapons on each craft—mostly forward-firing missiles and bullets, though some offering mines you can drop in space, as well as slower bombers being able to fire to the rear—with the shoulders and bumpers serving as triggers. In fact, I found that putting the index and middle finger of each hand on the buttons at the same time created particularly deadly waves comprised of multiple shots.

The game provides you with a selection of 18 different ships, each with varying armor, speed, maneuverability and weapon banks. Some of the ships, such as the Arrows, are speedy gunners that can deftly dart through foes and space debris, while the slower Broadswords are bulkier and harder to pilot amid the combat, but which pack a punch and sustain an attack better.

There are also powerups scattered around the playfield, so you can recharge weapons, refill shields and enhance damage by simply running over them, though the drifty navigation through space can have you circling a powerup for more time than you wanted to spend. There are also space stations you can dock with, to recharge your ship at the cost of being something of a sitting duck while you’re waiting.

To keep the combat level high, the environments we saw were somewhat close quarters—contained within a small area ringed by mountainous terrain and massive metal space bases. Floating rings enabled warping to other sections of the map, where you could get away from the battle for a bit and find some powerups, though with the thought that others will probably be doing the same. With weapons and shield dropping as you use them and recharging when you’re not, any break you can get from the firefight proves to be a benefit.

Caption: Narrow corridors can clog with enemies and missiles.

Of course, as with any XBLA title, there’ll be 200 points available through a selection of achievements—and spread across the gameplay modes. Among the ones we noted were points for 15 kills in Melee; taking out five others in a ranked match without dying; reaching Level 10 without taking hull damage; and for shooting down the first pilot in an Xbox Live battle.

In the course of a couple of hours, we were able to try out a number of the single-player and multiplayer modes. Most of the action was smooth, despite many of the battles comprised of a dozen people in a confined area, all firing missiles at each other. Frame-rate glitches and camera foibles occurred, but EA Canada’s Penney explained that there’s still time in the development cycle for these to be cleaned up before the game becomes publicly available. While EA hasn’t offered a firm release date, a person close to the project told TeamXbox that it’s being groomed for posting to Marketplace around May. Similarly, no pricing was indicated other than the standard statement that it’ll be in line with other XBLA offerings.

We’ll certainly keep our eye on this high-profile title and bring you any new details that we discover.

Team Xbox Preview #2

Wing Commander Arena Updated Hands-On Impressions (Xbox 360)
By: Andy Eddy - "Vidgames"
May 18th, 2007

Electronic Arts recently gave us another chance to take flight with Wing Commander Arena, the forthcoming Xbox Live Arcade title based on the long-running space-shooter franchise. Since our last hands-on preview back in February, it seems that the developers have been busy tightening things up as they get the game ready for release.

The first thing we noticed was smoother navigation of the various ships that are offered. In our last look, the movement of a craft in space came with a lot of momentum, which made grabbing power-ups and lining up shots a challenge when your ship was not standing still. While there’s still an amount of that in this latest playthrough - as you’d expect with a ship in outer space - it seems to have been lessened a bit to make piloting more comfortable.

Caption: The damage indicator shows you’re close to being taken out.

We were also able to immerse ourselves more in the various single-player gameplay modes that are being offered. In addition to the "Proving Grounds" - which is listed as a "great place to practice your skills and become familiar with all the features of the wing commander arena world" - we spent some time in these three modes:

* "Melee" is billed as a "timed Free-for-All with bots," in which you take on the AI ships deathmatch-style for the most kills in a ten-minute session.

* "Meteor Storm" has you clearing meteors from the playfield, while keeping your three space stations (and your own ship) intact as long as possible. This plays out like a 3-D version of Asteroids, with multiple fragments flying off when you shoot a bigger meteor. Also, after the first couple of waves, AI ships start trying to take you and the space stations out.

* Gauntlet pits you against waves of adversary ships, trying to stay alive as long as you can. It’s a simple premise that gradually becomes harder to do, because with each increasing wave, there are more foes and they’re more determined to take you out.

The AI in this build seemed somewhat timid - until it was fired upon, at which point it became more evasive to the player’s shots and more offensive in trying to line up the player’s craft. When enemies get in your grill, it’s a good time to work the right stick for some of the special moves, such as the 180-degree flip turn (which you get by tapping back twice quickly on the stick). Also, by pushing down on both analog sticks, you kick in your afterburner, which helps you hightail it out of trouble temporarily or gets you to a needed power-up that much faster.

When it comes to multiplayer, we’re looking forward to gigantic battles, because Wing Commander Arena will support matches with up to 16 combatants. The action will surely be frenzied, as players shoot it out, battle to get a key power-up before anyone else and warp through jump gate portals across the playfield.

While we didn’t get into any multiplayer time with this latest build, we did get a breakdown of the gameplay modes that’ll be available from the game’s own descriptions:

* Capital Ship: "A clash of titans! Destroy the opposition’s capital ship while ensuring the safety of your own. Capital ships have 3 levels. Target the specially lit turrets, radar, batteries, missiles and the bridge. Destroy all targets on a level and it will drop down to reveal more targets."

* Satellites: "Capture the other team’s satellites in a perilous asteroid belt. Dock with satellites to claim them for your team, but if you leave them undefended, the other side can claim them back. A good mix of ships, tactics and team play is needed to be successful here."

* Team Boneyard: "The boneyard is a large map with a ship graveyard, dangerous terrain and a unique planetoid in which one might find hidden treasures."

* Team Space Station: "This massive space station has room enough for all. Lure your foes into dead ends, spring ambushes from around corners."

* Free-for-All Boneyard: "The boneyard is a large map with a ship graveyard, poisonous cloud, asteroid fields and a unique planetoid in which one might find hidden treasures."

* Free-for-All Space Station: "This massive space station has room enough for all. Lure your foes into dead ends, spring ambushes from around corners."

* Bearpit: "Special duelling environment where you take on all comers and winning streaks rule the day. What makes this duel special is the arena within an arena, and spectators can get in on the action."

* Duel: "1-on-1, mano-a-mano, ship vs. ship - two go in, one comes out. Pit your skills against another player in this head-to-head mode. Best three out of five to win.

Such a large palette of multiplayer formats should enable Wing Commander Arena players to enjoy rich online competition for quite a while. Though no release date has been announced, we’re expecting to see it hit XBLA soon, at which point we’ll give you a fuller rundown on how the whole game plays.

Caption: It’s a face-off of the Capital Ships.

Finally, for those who are in it for the Gamerscore, here’s a list of the achievements (again, the standard 12 milestones for 200 total points) that Wing Commander Arena will be offering:

Hot Dog: Complete each Ring Game difficulty level. (20 points)

Commando: Earned Commando Tattoo (15 Frags in a Melee Match). (10 points)

Dogfight: Shot down first pilot in an Xbox Live game. (10 points)

Ace: Defeat 5 ships in a Ranked Xbox Live match without respawning. (20 points)

Untouchable: Reach wave 10 in Gauntlet without ever taking damage to your hull. (20 points)

TCS Tiger’s Claw: Compete in a 16-player Capital Ship game. (10 points)

Hibernation: Reach a streak of 5 in a Bearpit game. (20 points)

Gunfighter: Win a Ranked Duel with each ship type. (20 points)

Navigator: Travel through every gold jump gate in the game. (10 points)

Retro: Reach wave 20 in Meteor Storm. (10 points)

Paladin: Shoot down 1000 pilots on Xbox Live. (30 points)

Deathstroke: Finish in first place in any Ranked Free-for-All match. (20 points)

Worth Playing Preview

Xbox 360 Xbox 360 Preview - 'Wing Commander Arena'
Posted on Sunday, June 03 @ 05:55:33 PDT
Wing Commander Arena is a fast-paced arcade-styled space combat game where gamers can team up with 16 players online to attack other teams of ships. Propel your customized ship through space, fire torpedoes and unleash deadly gravity bombs as they try to climb the leader board.

Genre: Shooter
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Gaia Industries
Release Date: Q3 2007

Wing Commander commands a devoted fan following with an intensity few other franchises can muster, and with good reason. Wing Commander wasn't just a pioneering space combat simulator, but popularized a lot of the storytelling techniques that modern gamers take for granted in their titles. Most notably, Wing Commander popularized the use of cinematic cut scenes for storytelling purposes. The live-action cut scenes used in later games in the series never quite caught on, but probably paved the way for the trend of Hollywood actors lending voices to today's CG cut scenes. At the time, getting the likes of John Rhys-Davis or Mark Hamill to show up in a video game was a very big deal.

The basic narrative of the Wing Commander franchise was the saga of humanity's battles against the Kilrathi in a space-faring future. The Kilrathi were bipedal felines, but more importantly, had awesome space fighters that could dogfight spectacularly with Terran designs. The various Wing Commander games traced the war between Terrans and Kilrathi to its climax, and then began to falter when the Kilrathi allied with Terrans against a new enemy called the Nephilim.

Wing Commander Arena attempts to revisit Wing Commander's glory days, leaping ahead to 20 years after the final defeat of the Nephilim. Arena takes place in a distant part of the galaxy where tensions between human and Kilrathi have begun to rise again. In this remote area, forces use whatever technology they can lay hands on in order to assault enemies. This means ships from several differential historical eras — that is, Wing Commander games — rub shoulders as squads of pilots fly into battle against Kilrathi enemies.

Arena is an online multiplayer arcade-style shooter, so players can opt to fight as Kilrathi or Terran. There are nine ships for each side to choose from, and up to 16 players can participate in a single match. In keeping with the theme of classic Wing Commander, the emphasis of Arena's gameplay is on squad-based combat. So, the 16 players in a match can form up into two squads of eight, one Terran and Kilrathi. Once combat begins, the gameplay is a mixture of pure arcade action and tactical action.

Winning a battle involves shooting down the enemy's carrier as well as the enemy fighters, and shooting down carriers is a methodical process that involves taking out certain blocks of the enemy ship in sequence. There's also a Satellite mode that plays essentially like Capture the Flag, one-on-one duels, and a "Bearpit" mode, where spectators can watch the action and take potshots at the competitors. Wing Commander's multiplayer possesses the full array of features players might expect from any 360 multiplayer title, including TeamSpeak support that allows only your teammates to hear your voice when speaking. In total, players can expect eight different online modes.

There are some offline single-player content, although probably not enough to justify a download by itself. Playing through the single-player campaign modes unlock various ships for a player to use in online multiplayer, and players can also play an amusing variant of Asteroids. There's also a Training mode to let players work to improve their skills when not online. Gaia Industries hints at a fourth online mode, but what that mode might be is unrevealed at this time.

Visually, Wing Commander Arena is almost an unbelievably beautiful game to be an Xbox Live Arcade release. The 3D graphics are exquisitely detailed and have a crisp, bright quality to them that seems almost like cel-shading. The levels on display were the carrier battles, which actually present your fighters to proper scale. The ship you controlled in the fight was absolutely tiny, with most models agile and maneuverable to a fault. Weapon arrays vary from ship to ship, but usually include some form of blaster and missiles. Adjusting to the loadout of each ship takes a while, and some are much harder to use effectively (or more powerful) than others.

Still, weaving your ship between waves of fire from an enemy carrier while countering with your own attacks was impressively thrilling, as were dogfights with other players' ships. There appeared to be no voice acting or story segments, in deference to the game's purely multiplayer nature, but the Wing Commander feel was definitely there. The ship designs were authentic, as was the feeling of tension as you battled rival squads of ships to win a particular mission.

Gaia Industries currrently claims that Wing Commander Arena is the apex of Xbox Live Arcade titles to date, with better graphics, more depth, and more features. In terms of original titles, this is probably the case. Even accounting for classic XBLA titles, only Symphony of the Night offers serious competition for depth. The game is scheduled to appear sometime this June, so fans can shortly expect to judge Wing Commander Arena's merits for itself. Purists may complain that it's "not really" a Wing Commander title, but head producer Sean Penney is a longtime Wing Commander fan who eagerly sought out input from Wing Commander's original creators. Clearly, the hope behind this project is a renaissance for the Wing Commander franchise despite the nearly 10 years it's been left to sit fallow. Arena's gameplay is solid, so there's no reason to doubt that it may be the game to bring back Wing Commander.

Yahoo Preview

Wing Commander: Arena

Xbox Live Arcade gets thrust into hyperspace with Wing Commander Arena. The famous space dogfighting series has morphed into a fast-paced multiplayer action game focused on team play.

Why it's hot: Older gamers will note the pedigree - the Wing Commander games set the bar for interstellar dogfighting. Over 18 ships with different abilities promise some nice variety. We watched 16 players go at it simultaneously, the most for any Xbox Live Arcade title.

Why it's not: Call it what you want, but this ain't Wing Commander. Where are the furry Kilrathi? Where's the awesomely cheesy FMV? Where's the Z-axis? We have a hard time swallowing a space game that doesn't let us fly around freely, even if it's a relatively cheap digital download.


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Academy on DVD
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Wing Commander on Sony PSP
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