Escapist Reviews Wing Command Prophecy

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
Neat, it's fun to see a fresh review for an old WC game.

It's an interesting point he makes about the been-there-done-that feel of the Nephilim plot. Reasonable to comment about it in a present day review, buuut it probably would have been worth pointing out that when the game first came out, the plot did not feel this way. The late nineties were a time of scary new alien races, it seems like every sci-fi TV series and every sci-fi game had them. All of these seem pretty lousy when we look back on them today, because from our perspective, they are neither well-developed nor original, but this is from today's perspective. On the one hand, it definitely is fair criticism, because the story simply has not stood the test of time. On the other hand, had more games come out, we probably would look on Prophecy differently today, in the same way that no one ever mentions the WC1 Kilrathi being poorly-developed or generic (which, of course, they were).
 

Dyret

Super Carrot!
The Nephilim might have been screwed over by the whole 'aligned peoples'-idea in any event. i.e. the sequel treating them as generic swarming bug aliens and niche-filling friends rather than fleshing out any of them. Also the Kilrathi were kind of unique, if simplistic in being samurai space cats, while the Nephilim were just, you know, bug aliens.
 

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
Well, there was a time when bug aliens weren't just, you know, bug aliens :). It's hard to imagine, but back then, the idea of the alien bug swarm wasn't overdone at all.

More than that, there was something timely about it. Science fiction (and not the sophisticated, Phillip K. Dick or Arthur C. Clarke kind of sci-fi, but the pulpy kind) always had a tendency to reflect the "big" worries of the day. You had dozens of "body snatchers" flicks in the 1950s, when the big fear was communist infiltration. You had all those "mutated creature" films in the 1960s, and so on. As I look back on the late 1990s now, I get the impression that the big thing playing out in sci-fi at the time was the fear of an unknown future. The Cold War was over, there were literally political scientists proclaiming that "haha, democracy has won, it's the best system ever, no one will ever try to fight it, so history must be over" - but on the other hand, common sense told people that... you know, history is never over. So, what's lurking around the corner? And this played out in a great many films - and games. While the first three WC games were busy with the whole "WWII in space" thing, the later games certainly seem to fit the "fear of the unknown evil" concept. But on September 11th 2001, that whole notion expired - and again, you can see this in sci-fi. For example, Steven Spielberg's version of War of the Worlds could only make sense in a post-9/11 world: the aliens who strike New York were already there? They were hidden inflitrators? Compare that to Independence Day from a decade earlier. It's the exact same plot, virtually a very loose adaptation of the same novel, but how different the feel of the story, with an emphasis on the aliens unexpectedly coming out of nowhere and on America stepping up to the bat to defend the world...

This, I am certain, is why WCP feels much weaker now than it did back then - and rightly so, but let's give credit where credit is due. It didn't seem so naive and predictable back then, because it was in tune with the times. Today...? Well, let's just say that when StarCraft II finally came out and continued exactly from where the first game had ended, I had a hard time taking the plot seriously: it just felt sooo 1990s (not to mention being a total ripoff of WarCraft III...).
 

ChrisReid

Super Soaker Collector / Administrator
Also the Kilrathi were kind of unique, if simplistic in being samurai space cats, while the Nephilim were just, you know, bug aliens.

In case you weren't aware, the Kilrathi bear more than a passing resemblance to the Kzinti cat-like aliens.. and they even share much of the same backstory. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kzin :) Origin acknowledged this in WC2 by naming a star system after author Larry Niven.

The Kzin civilization was at an iron-age technological level when an alien race called the Jotok landed and made stealthy first contact with a tribe of primitive hunter/gatherer Kzinti. The Jotok were interstellar merchants looking for a species they could use as mercenaries.

Once the Jotok had taught the Kzinti how to use high-technology weapons and other devices (including spacecraft), the Kzin rebelled and made their former masters into slaves, as well as the occasional meal. The crest of the Riit (Royal) family appears to be a bite mark, but is in fact a dentate leaf, with the words "From mercenary to master." written around it in Kzinti script.
 

Ilanin

Captain
It's hard to imagine, but back then, the idea of the alien bug swarm wasn't overdone at all.

I distinctly remember feeling at the time "oh look, it's another insectoid swarm race. How original." As you say, scary new extremely hostile races, usually with exoskeletons and multiple legs and often with hive-like social constructs (the Borg Collective are actually social insects, they just look like bipeds) were popping up all of the time in the mid-to-late 1990s. By 1997 they were already passé, in my opinion; the major problem in my book, though, was the disconnect between a story about a terrifying alien menace and a game that was really very easy.

But on September 11th 2001, that whole notion expired - and again, you can see this in sci-fi. For example, Steven Spielberg's version of War of the Worlds could only make sense in a post-9/11 world: the aliens who strike New York were already there? They were hidden inflitrators? Compare that to Independence Day from a decade earlier. It's the exact same plot, virtually a very loose adaptation of the same novel, but how different the feel of the story, with an emphasis on the aliens unexpectedly coming out of nowhere and on America stepping up to the bat to defend the world...

The more cynical amongst us might comment that Wing Commander IV, with its themes of "The Price of Freedom" and the clash between the doctrine of eternal conflict on one hand and liberty and decentralisation on the other, has the best post 9/11 storyline in any game that's yet been written. In 1996 (of course, it's also a "we won, now what?" story, which ties back in to your theme of the political situation at the time). You could do the entire game again now (though if you did, you bet the Black Lance would use drones....)
 
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Quarto

Unknown Enemy
I distinctly remember feeling at the time "oh look, it's another insectoid swarm race. How original." As you say, scary new extremely hostile races, usually with exoskeletons and multiple legs and often with hive-like social constructs (the Borg Collective are actually social insects, they just look like bipeds) were popping up all of the time in the mid-to-late 1990s. By 1997 they were already passé, in my opinion; the major problem in my book, though, was the disconnect between a story about a terrifying alien menace and a game that was really very easy.
I guess it depends on your exposure to this kind of thing - somehow, I managed not to see anything like that before WCP, so to me they felt original. But yeah, I suppose someone who is a bigger sci-fi fan than I, may well have had this problem. The question is, what did the average audience member feel? I mean, I don't recall any reviews complaining about the bug aliens (though many did complain about the plot kinda evaporating in the later part of the game).

And yeah, there was definitely a big disconnect between the story and the difficulty - Prophecy was too big a title to risk alienating the more casual players with hardcore gameplay. As a consequence, Freespace fans love to poke us with that particular stick :).

The more cynical amongst us might comment that Wing Commander IV, with its themes of "The Price of Freedom" and the clash between the doctrine of eternal conflict on one hand and liberty and decentralisation on the other, has the best post 9/11 storyline in any game that's yet been written. In 1996 (of course, it's also a "we won, now what?" story, which ties back in to your theme of the political situation at the time). You could do the entire game again now (though if you did, you bet the Black Lance would use drones....)
True, but IMO, that's how real sci-fi works, not how pulp sci-fi works. Great writers often used sci-fi to criticise some aspect of society/government that was more or less commonly accepted - Philip K. Dick was especially brilliant with that. Pulp sci-fi, it seems to me, has usually been not about social critique, but about social catharsis - putting the "unspeakable" fear on the screen/page, letting the audience worry a bit about it and then resolving the fear in a satisfactory manner.
 

Dyret

Super Carrot!
Well, there was a time when bug aliens weren't just, you know, bug aliens :). It's hard to imagine, but back then, the idea of the alien bug swarm wasn't overdone at all.

Heh, I didn't get around to playing WCP until the early 2000's, so I missed the narrow window of these things being new and interesting, but I could have sworn the whole 'hive-minded-insects'-thing was older than the late ninties. No idea why, though. I remember there being some taking over dudes on the Enterprise-D, but they were sort of different.

More than that, there was something timely about it. Science fiction (and not the sophisticated, Phillip K. Dick or Arthur C. Clarke kind of sci-fi, but the pulpy kind) always had a tendency to reflect the "big" worries of the day. You had dozens of "body snatchers" flicks in the 1950s, when the big fear was communist infiltration. You had all those "mutated creature" films in the 1960s, and so on. As I look back on the late 1990s now, I get the impression that the big thing playing out in sci-fi at the time was the fear of an unknown future. The Cold War was over, there were literally political scientists proclaiming that "haha, democracy has won, it's the best system ever, no one will ever try to fight it, so history must be over" - but on the other hand, common sense told people that... you know, history is never over. So, what's lurking around the corner? And this played out in a great many films - and games. While the first three WC games were busy with the whole "WWII in space" thing, the later games certainly seem to fit the "fear of the unknown evil" concept. But on September 11th 2001, that whole notion expired - and again, you can see this in sci-fi. For example, Steven Spielberg's version of War of the Worlds could only make sense in a post-9/11 world: the aliens who strike New York were already there? They were hidden inflitrators? Compare that to Independence Day from a decade earlier. It's the exact same plot, virtually a very loose adaptation of the same novel, but how different the feel of the story, with an emphasis on the aliens unexpectedly coming out of nowhere and on America stepping up to the bat to defend the world...

I've never even thought about that on that scale before, but I think you're absolutely right. I imagine things like the ever-popular post-apocalyptic and hollywood-disaster settings are still around for the same reason, due to more consistent fears. (well, that and the whole clean slate back to basics thing.)

This, I am certain, is why WCP feels much weaker now than it did back then - and rightly so, but let's give credit where credit is due. It didn't seem so naive and predictable back then, because it was in tune with the times. Today...? Well, let's just say that when StarCraft II finally came out and continued exactly from where the first game had ended, I had a hard time taking the plot seriously: it just felt sooo 1990s (not to mention being a total ripoff of WarCraft III...).

In all fairness, SC2 story is awful on its own premise. I won't say the original was clever, it used the same big stupid (but not always bad) tropes Blizzard rehash in every game, but I liked some of the political and personal stuff in there. Raynor as the genuinely well-meaning guy caught up in, well everything, Kerrigan as the girl fed up with being horribly abused and taken advantage of by everyone biting back on the cosmic scale, Mengsk's revolution ending up being the exact same government he replaced, even inheriting several of its key personnel. You could even see where some of the excuse-factions came from, like the generic religious fanatics in the Protoss original campaign. Starcraft II was mostly about Space-Satan wanting to nomm everyone, then got worse in HOTS.

In case you weren't aware, the Kilrathi bear more than a passing resemblance to the Kzinti cat-like aliens.. and they even share much of the same backstory. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kzin :) Origin acknowledged this in WC2 by naming a star system after author Larry Niven.

Thanks. I was aware of the Kzin, but not just how similar the Kilrathi actually were to them.
 

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
Heh, I didn't get around to playing WCP until the early 2000's, so I missed the narrow window of these things being new and interesting, but I could have sworn the whole 'hive-minded-insects'-thing was older than the late ninties. No idea why, though. I remember there being some taking over dudes on the Enterprise-D, but they were sort of different.
I'm sure these things appear time and again, but with different emphases. In particular, hive-minded insect races are an excellent foil for stories that explore some aspect of human society - for instance, if you want war in the background, it's handy to have a ruthless enemy whose ruthlessness you don't have to justify because it simply stems from biology. Otherwise, you run the risk of the war becoming too interesting to the reader/viewer, who starts wondering how it all started, whose fault it was, and so on. I've never read the original Starship Troopers, but if the movie is anything to judge by, this is exactly what happened there. Similarly, the second Alien movie obviously had a kind of alien hive in there, but again the emphasis was not on the aliens themselves, but on those evil corporate dudes who had sent Ripley out there.

I've never even thought about that on that scale before, but I think you're absolutely right. I imagine things like the ever-popular post-apocalyptic and hollywood-disaster settings are still around for the same reason, due to more consistent fears. (well, that and the whole clean slate back to basics thing.)
Yeah, the end of the world is definitely a popular one. Although I would argue that these can't be looked on as a single set of stories - look closely, you'll notice that the cause of the end of the world is usually very timely and different. People are always scared of their world collapsing, but it's the cause of the collapse that's really being hashed out.

In all fairness, SC2 story is awful on its own premise. I won't say the original was clever, it used the same big stupid (but not always bad) tropes Blizzard rehash in every game, but I liked some of the political and personal stuff in there. Raynor as the genuinely well-meaning guy caught up in, well everything, Kerrigan as the girl fed up with being horribly abused and taken advantage of by everyone biting back on the cosmic scale, Mengsk's revolution ending up being the exact same government he replaced, even inheriting several of its key personnel. You could even see where some of the excuse-factions came from, like the generic religious fanatics in the Protoss original campaign. Starcraft II was mostly about Space-Satan wanting to nomm everyone, then got worse in HOTS.
I think I liked the original for pretty much the reasons you mention. Additionally, I remember rather liking the ending of the game - essentially, every main faction in the game had gotten a severe beating, and nobody really seemed to be a winner. But I also remember something else - in the expansion, there was a hidden level where you encounter the Protoss/Zerg hybrid for the first time. At the time, this seemed to me like a pretty interesting and foreboding thing to base the sequel story on. Well, that's exactly what they did - but ten years on, boy, does that premise stink. Even worse is the fact that another worn-out 1990s trope is used - that all these aliens are either biologically or culturally related, linked to some ancient civilisation that may or may not be out there still. Again, in 1997, it seemed pretty neat how the Protoss and the Zerg were created by the same people, but a decade later, it's just the most ridiculous notion ever. What was that all about, anyway? Was it somehow related to the tensions around the theory of evolution, intelligent design and all that? No idea...
 

Dyret

Super Carrot!
Similarly, the second Alien movie obviously had a kind of alien hive in there, but again the emphasis was not on the aliens themselves, but on those evil corporate dudes who had sent Ripley out there.

That was definitely were I had the idea from, but you're right, they weren't really the antagonists, or really 'evil space aliens' in the conventional sense, more like scary earth wildlife (ants, I suppose) taken up to eleven.

I think I liked the original for pretty much the reasons you mention. Additionally, I remember rather liking the ending of the game - essentially, every main faction in the game had gotten a severe beating, and nobody really seemed to be a winner.

Yeah, the balance between the sides was one of the strengths all the way through the game. Everyone were sort of believably assholish, and that was what kept the conflict and ambiguity going, then by the end they'd all killed themselves and each other into attrition. It's difficult to see how they would actually bring that over into the sequel though, with the Protoss having their messianic character and leaving to rebuild in the promised land and there only being one significant Terran faction left.

But I also remember something else - in the expansion, there was a hidden level where you encounter the Protoss/Zerg hybrid for the first time. At the time, this seemed to me like a pretty interesting and foreboding thing to base the sequel story on. Well, that's exactly what they did - but ten years on, boy, does that premise stink. Even worse is the fact that another worn-out 1990s trope is used - that all these aliens are either biologically or culturally related, linked to some ancient civilisation that may or may not be out there still. Again, in 1997, it seemed pretty neat how the Protoss and the Zerg were created by the same people, but a decade later, it's just the most ridiculous notion ever.

Then again, the new XCOM went all the way with all the silly 90s tropes, and was probably better for it. Not just because it's a remake, but also because it's perfectly aware of it and revels in what it is. Starcraft 2 seems to genuinely feel Dark Voice (yeah) is intimidating and interesting, which is especially odd considering how it lampshades other things, like using the ultimate artifact of forgotten-tech doom to reset Kerrigan. Speaking of Alien(s) I sort of feel the same way about Aliens versus Predator and Prometheus. It's okay for the Predators to be our ancient gods in the first because it's ultimately a stupid action film about cool space monsters killing each other and the pyramid scene is awesome, Prometheus just wasn't nearly as clever as it wanted to be, and ended up being offensive and forgettable more than anything. Not that XCOM was really stupid, I thought parts of it was interesting and wished some of the alien activities on Earth would have been fleshed out more, but it definitely had the whole over the top government conspiracy and 'Earth, fuck yeah!' themes you'd expect.

What was that all about, anyway? Was it somehow related to the tensions around the theory of evolution, intelligent design and all that? No idea...

Probably the whole Science bad/people are too stupid to play god thing (which they probably are, if not to the degree seen in media).
 

Delance

Victory, you say?
"the awkward 2D ship animations and anemic audio utterly fail to generate any sense of excitement"

I wonder if he even proprely played Wing Commander III at all, considering that the game is in full 3D and has (like all Wing Commander games) a great soundtrack. Oh well.
 

ChrisReid

Super Soaker Collector / Administrator
Man, if he hates WC3/4 so much, I can't even imagine what he'll say about Armada!
 

Dyret

Super Carrot!
If he had complained about the gameplay I'd say he'd probably enjoy the more kinetic feel, but I really don't know what 'awkward 2D/3D ship animation' is supposed to mean. Armada used the same graphics engine, if i recall.
 

Owyn_Merrilin

Chief Petty Officer
I'm a regular poster on The Escapist forums who decided to fire the games back up after reading these reviews, and I thought I'd let you guys know they've already reviewed Armada, but focused entirely on the gameplay, and gave it a mediocre only-buy-if-you're-a-fan review. The weird thing is the biggest complaint was actually the /lack/ of a story -- in a review written by the same guy who bashed 3 and 4 for being too focused on the plot, no less. He barely even mentioned sound or graphics this time -- I'd like to think he felt a bit cowed after several of us jumped on him for bashing the technical side of an old game the way he would a modern game, instead of in the context of a game of its time :p

Incidentally, the reviews of 1, 2, and Prophecy were done by a different writer, which may be why they were so much more positive.
 
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Whistler

Commodore
What a heaping lump of douche-baggery. The 3&4 games brought a very much more "human" and immersive experience IMO with the live casting. I consider these games two of VERY few FMV games to do it right. The cast was first-rate and rose well above their dialogue. I still consider TPoF to be Chris Roberts' masterpiece of the series.

I've seen godawful FMV acting in a Space-Sci-Fi...Shockwave comes to mind. Another of my old 3DO titles. WC does not factor.

I shudder to think of what he'll think of Armada. The hate just doesn't feel justified.

His commenters don't very well agree with him either. They're an older series of games sure but hell, I still feel entertained by old NES titles. Maybe I'm too bias?
 

LeHah

212 Squadron - "The Old Man's Eyes And Ears"
Escapist is a pretty terrible website. Nevermind this one person's opinion of Wing Commander - some of the other articles are even worse. Theres what (I assume) passes for an op-ed about the Force Unleashed series (something I'm neither here nor there on) which has the sentence - "It makes one wonder why Darth Vader was so impressed by Luke Skywalker when he'd been knocking around with this motherfucker a scant few years previously."

This is not a group of people who deserve our attention or respect.
 

LeoCeballos

Chief Petty Officer
What bugs me the most about the WC3 & 4 review how openly hostile he was to the FMV craze in general. He specifically mentions skipping them all those years ago because of some ill-considered grudge against casting Mark Hamill. Its pretty clear he'd thoroughly pre-judged the games before even booting them up, which is not how you approach an objective review.
 
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