Wing Commander: Darkest Dawn, Fan-Made Goodness

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Missions and Storyline, Conclusion

I haven't finished the game yet, so I can't give an opinion on the entire story, but the first 10-12 missions of the 55 mission arc are quite encouraging. You play as Sandman, a rookie pilot assigned to the TCS Hermes. The story opens just before the events of Wing Commander III, at a time when the war with the Terran Confederation and feline Kilrathi Empire has both sides staggering. The Terran Confederation is on the defensive, abandoning systems and rushing older vessels to the front the lines.

Sandman joins the Hermes in the Vega Sector, a location instantly familiar to any Wing Commander fan. It's a good choice, as it anchors the new game in the nostalgic turf of the original game. Early victories are challenged by a massive influx of Kilrathi forces, until you find yourself fighting just to safeguard fleeing colonists without any chance of stemming the Kilrathi onslaught. Initially, I thought the game's lack of a branching mission tree would be a weakness, but the mission objectives are varied sufficiently that there's a real sense of challenge.

The in-game mission chatter, meanwhile, is actually much better than its counterparts in previous Wing Commander games or even in the single expansion pack Origin released for Wing Commander Prophecy. If the voice acting is occasionally wooden, it's never bad.

Wing Commander Saga is a fan-made game that's good enough to be worth paying for; if there was a "Donate" button on the website I'd have used it already. Not only is it better than a lot of schlock companies expect you to pay for, it pays homage to its source material while improving on Wing Commander's classic gameplay and graphics. Playing it makes me wonder if the team ever dared ask Mark Hamil to help out with a few Christopher Blair lines for a mission, or talked to any of the other actors / developers associated with Wing Commander; but Darkest Dawn doesn't rely on cheap tricks or cameos to generate appeal.

Returning from a bombing run and landing on the Hermes

The only downside to Wing Commander Saga is that it highlights the sad state of space combat games in general. If a group of fans can build a game this great and see over 50,000 downloads in 24 hours, you'd think a commercial team could actually build a game that people would pay for. Hopefully Darkest Dawn's success will encourage game developers to take a look at this segment and possibly do something with it.

Until they do, I'll be flying the Vega Sector. Hope to see you there.

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