Here we go again. I always get a bit teary when it comes to Retro Day, especially on a week when it’s my birthday and I realize that we’ve seen out yet another year of spectacular titles.
But enough of that soppy crap, let’s get stuck into some juicy retro morsels. This week I’ll be taking you back in time to the good old days of FMV, with a game that was – at the time – the most expensive video game ever produced.
So strap yourself in, keep those fidgeting digits away from the eject button, and prepare yourself for a trip back to Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger.
When it was released in 1994, Heart of the Tiger was dubbed “the world’s first interactive movie”. While most gamers would scoff at such a claim today, by all accounts it was very much what the media hyped it to be. With a 10-minute intro clip, and no main menu, players knew straight away what they were in for.
At the time, I was infatuated with Star Wars (well, I still am), and as soon as I saw the dreamy face of Mark Hamill adorning a pre-owned PlayStation cover, I knew that I had to buy it.
I probably missed the boat by about four years since its release date, but I was still gobsmacked by the technology utilized to create such stunning visuals. As one of the first video games – or films for that matter – to shoot everything in front of a green screen, and then digitally add backgrounds and sets during post-production, Heart of the Tiger, and its designer, Chris Roberts, were way ahead of their time.
Fans of previous Wing Commander iterations will be pleased to see old faces like Hobbes and Maniac returning for duty, with your Kilrathi friend playing an integral role in the storyline.
One of the reasons that the Wing Commander series was so successful was for exactly that reason: the storyline. Every game played out like a movie, even more so in the third and fourth instalments, and gamers were able to feel a true sense of connection to the protagonist, Blair.
The developers were also smart enough to realize that you shouldn’t fiddle with a near-perfect product. Origin Systems may have revamped the look and feel of the game, but they left the elements that made the first two games so enjoyable alone. Playing as Luke Skywalker Colonel Christopher Blair, you are still able to choose your ship before most missions, mess around with it’s weapons, and call on your fellow shipmates to be your wingmen.
In an era of gaming when linearity was almost scripture, Heart of the Tiger broke away from the mould and offered gamers a level of freedom rarely seen in the space combat genre. Mixing up RPG elements, and hiring some wonderful actors to star alongside Mark Hamill (John Rhy-Davies, and Malcolm MacDowell to name a few), Wing Commander III turned into a game that you simply couldn’t put down.
As the game progresses and the story becomes more immersive, Blair’s choices begin to reap consequences. I don’t want to spoil the game for anyone who hasn’t played it (so look away now) but when Hobbes is revealed to be a sleeper agent for the Kilrathi, you are given the option to be headstrong and follow the hairy bastard, or be the sensible one – albeit cowardly – and stay to protect your ship.
Heart of the Tiger is certainly nothing like what Heavy Rain intends to be, but it gives players the feeling that they are having a direct influence on the course of history. While many games can claim to do the same thing, not many are able to do it in such a stirring way; I still have a powerful, decade-old image in my head of Hobbes murdering Cobra.
Technology may have moved on in the last 16 years, but storytelling such as this is a rarity in games today. If you have never played a Wing Commander game, do yourself a favor and pick up Heart of the Tiger. I guarantee that you will be entertained, if nothing else.