That's where Origin's breakthroughs in presentation came in. What made advancing through Wing Commander worthwhile was the feeling of being there, achieved through a strong fictional background, plenty of visual detail, and a multitude of transitional cinemas to maintain the feeling of immersion. The game world had a distinct personality, and so did each of the characters, in their dialogue and their piloting style -- nearly everyone who played the game remembers flying next to the suicidal Maniac. ...The full article can be found here. It makes a pretty good read.
In their time, the Wing Commander games were supremely compelling flight combat sims, breakthroughs in presentation and the use of cutting-edge technology. Plenty of gamers bought a 386 and a Sound Blaster to play them, and even more gamers wished they had the money to do the same. The series also represented some of the brighter lights of the oft-derided "interactive movie" phenomenon.