Wing Commander: Privateer A Review

Hello all and welcome to another installment in my video game review series! Today, I will be tackling an old (and I mean really old) favorite, a special installment in the Wing Commander series known as Privateer. Falling in between Wing Commander II, one of the best selling space combat simulators of all time, and WCIII, this game was a diversion for the series in that it dealt with the dark underside of the WC universe. Rather than delving into the Kilrathi War, which was central to the series, this game addressed the lifestyle of merchants, mercenaries and pirates.

And that’s what makes this game so cool. In fact, each game in the series had its own particular appeal, choosing to do things a little differently than the last. In the first, you flew missions and were promoted in rank and to new squadrons based on your performance. Over time, your success was mirrored in the course of the war and the theaters of operation you were sent to. In game two, much the same was true, except that you did not move in rank and the entire game was story-driven rather than based on your personal progress.

This time around, players were entirely independent, flying missions for private contractors or government payees, building up their savings, and using that money to buy new ships, new weapons, and new equipment. There was a story within the game, but you could either follow that or play entirely on your own. Naturally, the best approach was to combine both elements, playing freelance until you had a descent arsenal, and then taking on the storyline missions. And once it was all over, you had the feeling that a pretty damn good gaming experience had just occurred.

Plot Synopsis:
The game opens with the player’s character – Burrows, a privateer – being introduced aboard a mining station in the Achilles system. As you play your first missions and attempt to make your bones, rumors begin to spread that a mysterious ship is attacking shipping in the system. Eventually, you find your way to the New Detroit system, where a private contractor named Sandoval hires you to take an artifact off his hands. After running a mission for him and returning to the planet, you discover that the man is dead.

You are left with his artifact in your hands, and a lady named Tayla who offers answers, in exchange for a few missions. These take you to and from a Pirate base located out on the rim, where you run a series of missions hauling Brilliance (the designer drug of the day). Once complete, Tayla indicates that Sandoval was not the original owner, and sends you to the station of New Constantinople to meet Mr. Lynch, the notorious mob boss who will take you further.

wcprivateer_ndOnce again, you are contracted to fly a series of missions in exchange for information. After confirming that the artifact is of alien origin, he double-crosses you and sends his body guard Miggs to kill you. After beating him, you head for Oxford where the University and Archives are located to conduct research on the artifact yourself. Upon landing there, you work out an agreement with Masterson, the dean of the university. In exchange for running missions, he will allow you access.

Once you’re finished scanning the artifact, it concludes that it was uncovered by an archaeological dig in a far-flung system, led by a doctor named Monkhouse. Apparently, the doctor was investigating an ancient civilization known as the Steltek, a super-advanced species that is believed to have died out. Monkhouse was last seen in the Palan system at the edge of known space, so its off to Palan you go…

To find Monkhouse who is looking to get out of the system as soon as possible. There is a standoff between bounty hunters who have the world blockaded, and they must be defeated before he can be evacuated. After fighting with Lynn Murphy, the woman who is running a resistance against the bounty hunters, you are able to fly Monkhouse out of the system and learn that the artifact comes in two pieces, and he gives you the other half.

wcprivateer_derelictIt seems that the two form an ancient star map, and the coordinates they give indicate a system just beyond the fringes of charted space. To find the indicated system, you have to travel to the Rygannon system where you find Taryn Cross of Exploratory Services. She contracts you to investigate the rim and this eventually leads you to a Derelict at the edge of known space. Once you land, you find the ship is deserted and adrift, and an inoperative fighter with a weapon you are able to take.

wcprivateer_steltekAs soon as you leave though, the Steltek ship – the alien one that has been causing all the trouble – shows up and begins pursuing you. Once you find your way to a mining base (any mining base in the game), you are met by a woman named Sandra Goodin, the attache to Admiral Terrell, the supreme commander of all Confederation Forces in the sector. She tells you the Steltek ship has been on a path of destruction since it was woken up, and seems to have been following you all along.

wcprivateer_perryYou are persuaded to go to Perry Navy Base and meet with Terrell, who contracts you to lure the enemy ship into a trap. On your way there, you are met by another Steltek ship, an ambassador ship that explains to you that the vessel that’s been marauding the sector is an automated drone left over from the old days. It was designed to destroy advanced tech since it was this very thing that did the Steltek civilization in. They want to stop it, since it is a remnant of their old ways, and agree to help you.

wcprivateer_gemini_gold_14After getting your weapon supercharged, you meet with the Confed fleet and engage the Steltek ship. After a pitch battle, the ship is destroyed and you report back to Perry Naval Base to get your reward. Admiral Terrell offers you a position with the fleet, but you turn it down so you can continue to be what you always have – a Privateer!

Summary:
Pound for pound, this game is one of my oldest favorites. I loved the Wing Commander series ever since I got my hands on the first game, and this installment was especially cool in that it delved into the seemy underbelly of it all. What’s more, there were aspects of the universe which didn’t make it into the main series of games, not to mention some themes and motifs which seemed very much inspired.

For one, you have a number of locations located in the fictitious Gemini Sector, a place which is involved in the war but not featured in the other games. Here, you have such planets and installations as New Detroit*, Oxford, Perry, New Constantinople, mining installations, pirate bases, agricultural colonies, and pleasure bases. Each has its own character, feel, and these determine the nature of trading you can conduct.

Wing_Commander_privateer_01Then there are the factions featured in the game. In addition to the familiar warring parties – the Terran Confederation and the Kilrathi Empire – you also have a number of interesting parties that play their own role in the game. For example, there are the traders and mercs that are basically like you – privateers who are just doing there business and who’s guilds you can join.

And then there the perennially hostile parties such as the pirates, the ones engaged in illegal trade who will prey on you if you’re a merchant or merc, but can easily become friends, assuming you’re willing to embrace a life of crime. Then there are bounty hunters who just may be trying to fulfill a contract on your head. And then there are the Retros, a fanatic religious sect that is determined to force humanity to abandon its addiction to technology and embrace a simpler existence.

wcprivateer_shipupgradeAnd on top of that, there is the added benefit of being able to buy and upgrade your own ships. In other games, you fly increasingly advanced vessels as you increase in rank or move farther along with your missions. And by the third installment, you even get to customize your loadouts. But it is only in Privateer where you have total freedom to arm, equip, and outfit yourself. As long as you can afford it, you can make it happen.

And last, there was the storyline, which I really enjoyed the first time I played it. I was still in my teen years at the time, and this was one of the first franchises that introduced me to the concept of ancient aliens. And having been able to play it again years later, when my understanding of science fiction and classic motifs has matured considerably, I think they did a pretty good job of it.

wcprivateer_tarsusIn fact, the mission where you land aboard the derelict Steltek ship remains with me as a spine-tingling moment in gaming history! And the fact that the entire story is set against the backdrop of the war, an ongoing affair which really isn’t going so well for humanity, gives everything a dark and somewhat desperate feel. It’s like the universe is coming to an end, but you got your bills to pay and in the midst of all that, there’s an even more urgent menace making the rounds.

Gemini Gold Edition:
I should also mention that given the cult status of this game, a fan-made version was released in 2003 which boasted updated graphics and gameplay. In fact, it was one of several fan-made products released over the years by enthusiasts who were looking to introduce subsequent generations of gamers to its glory. Having played it, I can attest that it is certainly more fluid and visually impressive, but it just didn’t feel the same.

Yeah, we’ve all come to be pretty pampered with modern gaming, so much so that we think those DOS games that were once visually stunning are pretty laughable now. But if you want to appreciate a classic, appreciate it as is. As Billy Joel once sung, “Don’t go changing to try and please me!”

*I should also mention that the idea of this planet seemed so inspired to me that I felt obliged, years later, to borrow the name for my own science fiction series (titled Legacies). In fact, there were several details of this game and others in the franchise that crept into my consciousness and stayed with me through the years, forming the basis of my appreciation for science fiction and influencing my writing today.

Worlds of the Legacies Universe

Aquinas:
The chief colony world of the Altair system, located 16.73 light years away from Sol. Colonized in 2205, this colony was named in honor of its founders greatest hero, Saint Thomas Aquinas. After a century of growth, this colony grew to become a major trading hub and tourist draw, due in large part to its vast oceanfront vistas and fertile stretches of land.

Because of its location relative to Sol, Aquinas is also a gateway to many inner colony worlds and trade routes. As a result, its capital of Roccasecca and its moons of Lucca and New Venice are major hubs, with large spaceports, extensive shipping facilities and a large service industry. However, this does not alter the overall feel of the colony, which observers describe as “kindly”, “tolerant” and “reverential”.

However, its main attraction is known as the Council of Altair, an interstellar organization dedicated to the exchange of spiritual and religious ideas. Established in 2267, this establishment became a meeting place for representatives of every faith to commune with each other and send their messages into deep space.  In time, the institute even drafted a declaration of principles, known as “Transcendental Philosophy”, which it hoped would form the basis of a universal religion.

Attica:
The colony world of Alpha/Beta Centauri, and one of the largest population centers outside of Sol. Beginning in 2165, almost thirty years after the development of FTL, the colony was the first to be settled using advanced terraforming technology. In keeping with its classical theme, most major cities are named in honor of Greek mythology and history – such as the capital city of Piraeus and the colony moons of Mycenae and Ilium.

This is further demonstrated in the cities’ architecture, all major buildings having been designed in a neo-classical, contemporary motif. Though there are numerous underdeveloped regions that are considered eyesores by comparison, the inner regions of every major city are renowned for their appealing sense of aesthetics.

Attica has been the center of some controversy over the years. Within a generation of the first settlers arriving, stories began to circulate about the formation of a new religious sect. These believers claimed that artifacts which proved that Jesus had arrived and died on Attica were found in the mountain chain just outside of Piraeus. Investigations were mounted by the Vatican and other religious authorities, but the results were declared fraudulent and the matter dropped.

Nevertheless, this new breed of worship began to spread amongst the original colonists and gave rise to the Colonial Mennonite culture. Their impenetrable belief structure often proved to be a cultural barrier as new waves of colonists arrived and attempts at achieving consensus and conformity faltered. In time, this gave rise to the first of several conflicts which would later be known as the “Sectarian Wars”. On Attica, this involved the militarization of Mennonite settlements after a series of incidents were perpetrated against them by neighboring factions.

After years of conflict and escalation between rival militias and government forces, the TDF was eventually called in to put and end to the dispute. This and the nature of the conflict left deep scars on Attican society, especially between the major cities and the outlying settlements where the population remains largely Mennonite. Regardless, Attica remains the spiritual home of the Mennonite population and its beliefs attained recognition under interstellar law.

In addition, this world was also the sight of what would appropriately be named the “Attican Incident” by historians. This took place on the night of April 23rd, 2278, standard calendar, when a paramilitary group attacked the gubernatorial palace in Piraeus, killing dozens of civil service workers, guards and even Governor Kirin himself who was working late into the night. In response, TDF forces were dispatched to the system to dispatch this paramilitary group and restore order.

But of course, the local population did not respond well to the occupation, largely because many suspected the incident had been perpetrated by Earth itself to crush the independence movement which had been mobilizing in recent years. Due to ongoing tensions between TDF forces and the local, martial law was never rescinded and the occupying forces were not withdrawn.

These  events touched off many more “incidents’ that eventually culminated in the Terran Civil War. It would take roughly twenty years for the occupation to end, by which time forces loyal to the Alliance entered the system and dispatched the TDF forces. Governor Namguhng, an Earth appointee, was quick to welcome the Alliance as liberators. Thereafter, he made several positive moves which would see Attica integrated into the new interstellar government as a fully-represented member.

Hephaestus:
As one of two colony worlds in the Arcturus system, Haphaestus is renowned for being the industrial capital of the inner colonies and a haven for tourists looking to spend their hard earned credits. At least that’s the official story. Unofficially, Hephaestus is notorious for its high level of organized crime, its lucrative drug trade, and for being the murder capital of the quadrant, rivaled only by Rostov.

But of course, much of these seedier aspects of the planet are confined to the inner regions of New Detroit. And in all fairness, the capitol itself is a major center for technological innovation, trade, culture and the arts. In addition to its many public theaters, festivals and performing arts centers, it is also home to the Interstellar Museum of Colonization, an institution dedicated to the preservation of historical artifacts and from three centuries of space travel and settlement.

The planet’s industrial capacities also extend into orbit. The Chimaeras Installation, one of the few major space installations in the quadrant, resides here. Not far from Chimaeras is the Aberdeen Shipyards, a major ship-building facility that sits in a wider orbit and its defended by  many remote platforms. Between these TDF assets and the planet, there is a veritable cloud of service platforms and stations as well as countless  communications and navigation satellites.

Hephaestus is also home to the Akuma, one of the most brutal and ruthless crime syndicates in the known universe. Garnering its power from the sale and transport of illegal narcotics, particularly Shine and various psychotropic substances, the Akuma has insinuated itself into just about every aspect of Hephaestus’ society. This reach extends beyond this system, reaching even into worlds nominally controlled by other syndicates.

Hephaestus is orbited by two moon colonies, New Luzon and Gloucester, both of which are major shipping hubs, a stopover for travelers, and even high-end real estate for Hephaestus’ elite. Gloucester is a particularly popular destination for those with money who are seeking an off-world place to relax. Literally all members of Hephaestus upper crust have property on this moon, including many of its mayors and council members. While New Luzon also remains a popular destination, its terrestrial domes are dedicated more towards family-friendly tourism, which stands in distinction to the kinds of entertainment people can get planetside!

Khalafa:
The sixth planet of the Sirius binary star system, located approximately 8.6 light years away from Sol. Settled in 2182, the planet was quickly terraformed due to the presence of rich nitrogen soils and a relatively breathable atmosphere. In time, it became the known universe’s largest agricultural colony and even expanded to become the largest population center outside of Sol.

Settled predominantly by West and Central Asian families, the planet was named Khalafa in honor of the majority Sunni population. Though it has become an incredibly diverse colony in terms of its demographics, nationalities and faiths, the overall character of the planet has remained largely consistent. In terms of its art, architecture, and culture, Khalafa is a beacon of Islamic culture combined with modern technology.

In orbit around Khalafa rest the two colonies of Akheton and Memphis, which in turn are home to much of the planet’s heavy industry and mining operations. Regularly, drone ships coming to and from the system’s asteroid belt travel to these moons to dump ore for processing.

The system is also home to the Trinity Installation, one of the largest and most important installations in all of known space. It was here that representatives from every colonized system met after the end of the Civil War to draft the Interstellar Terran Alliance into existence. It is neighbored by the Riga Shipyards, one of the largest ship-building assets in Terran space.

Logos:
The fifth planet of the 61 Cygni binary system, this jungle world was colonized in 2191, and quickly gave rise to one of the most successful social experiments in human history. Settled in large part by a select group of artists, scientists and intelligentsia, the world quickly earned the name Logos because of its commitment to learning and the empirical tradition.

This commitment only grew as time went on and the colony attracted more and more settlers, eventually achieving its truest expression with the creation of the Academician Institute of Higher Thought (aka. The Academy) in 2201. Initially an institute for higher education, it soon expanded to include elementary and early childhood development too. These programs were augmented thanks to the advent of cybernetic technology and virtual interfacing.

A further indication of the Logosian commitment to learning is reflected in the name of the planet’s capital, Alma Mater. Other major cities include New Oxford, Takshashila, Nalanda, al-Azar, Alexandria, and Niẓāmiyyah, all named in honor of centers of higher learning from various respective cultures, which also reflects the planets demographic diversity. And while each city has its own educational facilities, each maintains a chapter associated with the Academy in Alma Mater.

Through its extensive education programs and research facilities, The Academy went on to produce some of the greatest minds the universe ever knew, not to mention many technologies. Academy officials were also wise enough to ensure that every technology, process, or innovation to come out of their facilities was patented and licensed to ensure them a steady stream of profits. It is widely rumored that the Logos is able to sustain itself on this source of revenue alone.

Pasaragad:
Chief colony of the Vega system, located on the eight planet, roughly 25 light years from Sol. Settled in 2183 by a largely Shia population from Central Asia, the planet was named in honor of the ancient Persian capital. Though much of the planet is dry and inhospitable, the planets exposure to solar radiation and vast supplies of aquifers made it a prime location for large scale hydroponics operations. In time, this drew a significant number of settlers to the planet, who were also able to turn their talents to small-scale terraforming.

Within a few generations, Pasaragad began to boast natural forests and lakes. Underground sources of water were also liberated to create large-scale bodies of water which further served agricultural operations. As a result, Pasaragad became a major producer of off-world delicacies such as dates, citrus fruits,palm oil, palm sugar, saffron, and other assorted fruits and spices. It’s strategic location close to Sol also made it a major trading hub once colonization efforts expanded beyond the inner worlds.

Pasaragad has also been the source of a great deal of controversy over the years. For example, a short-lived conflict between the settlers and the colonial government took place in 2223. This incident was the first in a series that would later come to be known as the “Sectarian Wars”, and proved to be one of the most bloody. It began after a self-declared prophet named Azan declared that the colonial government was a group of pretenders who were running the colony through graft and corruption. After his arrest by authorities, clashes began between his supporters and security forces, culminating in the intervention of the TDF.

The arrival of Terran Marines led to a short-lived peace, but soon, fighting was underway again as the occupation forces found themselves becoming the new target of Azan’s condemnation and his supporters anger. Not wanting the situation to spiral out of control, the Terran government arrived at a compromise with the settlers. In exchange for the removal of the current administration and several reforms, most of which were in tune with Azan’s religiously-inspired demands, the matter was settled and all TDF forces removed. Azan went on to become a prophet to the people of Pasaragad, the city of Azanabad being built in in his honor shortly after his death. Later generations would also call him the “Fourth Prophet”, claiming he had led a reinterpretation of Islam for the age of colonization.

During the Civil War, Pasaragad would also be a major hotspot for resistance and TDF forces. After the Attican incident led to the imposition of martial law on that planet, the people of Vega began to stage widespread protests against Terran authority. With the escalation of tensions in other systems, the TDF was dispatched here as well to keep the peace, but instead became embroiled in war. For years, resistance forces on Pasaragad and the moon colony of Kurosh were engaged in a series of back and forth with local forces. The situation became extremely bloody and led to widespread death and crimes committed by both sides.

This led to the rise of many popular sayings and quips. For example, after the Civil War period, the word Vegan was often associated with fanaticism or extreme dedication, “crazy like a Vegan” being the popular usage. It was also widely rumored that during the war, officers would threaten to send unruly or insubordinate soldiers to Vega as punishment. The heat, hatred of the locals, and likelihood of being shot at was usually enough to put anybody in line!

It was perhaps for this reason, or just in keeping with the fierce spirit of independence on the Vegan people, that it became the focal point for the independence movement once the war was over. Contrary to the Alliance’s platform of a better arrangement between Earth and its colonies, this movement demanded that all colonies be entitled to independence now and forever. Luckily, Alliance leader Jessica Freidman was able to win over the leader of the independence movement – Lev Parva – by insisting he form the opposition party in the first Alliance cabinet.

Rostov:
The seventh planet and second colony world of the 61 Cygni binary system. Named in honor of its cool climate, thriving industrial base, and predominantly Eastern EU population, the planet was named Rostov. And much like other industrial centers – i.e. Hephaestus – it has a reputation for many things, both positive and negative.

On the plus side, Rostov has been a major manufacturing center for the centuries, the home of the labor movement for the sector, and the source of many key technological innovations, often working in collaboration with Logosian scientists. On the minus side, it has also been the home of ruthless crime syndicates (the foremost being the Sadruzhestva and Lumbre cartels), labor disputes, drugs, and violent crime.

And yet, despite its reputation for hard living, the Rostovian people are amongst the most proud and nostalgic people in the known universe. Apparently, it is this very essence of hard life that makes them feel proud to be where they are from. The logic being that if life were easy on their world, anyone could live there.

And of course there are several features about this planet that deserve mention. It’s rugged landscapes remain some of the most beautiful and inspiring in the galaxy. It’s capital of New Petrograd contains some of the most beautiful architecture in the quadrant. And it’s artistic and literary scene remains one of the most inspired. In short, Rostov may be a cold and ruthless world, but its inhabitants have found ways to turn that to their advantage.

And that’s my universe, in a nutshell. Hope you enj0yed the little tour, because most of it remains relatively undeveloped in terms of putting it into book form. I intend to remedy that, in time, which seems to be the one thing I don’t have enough of! But there’s only so many hours in the day right, and right now I got multiple projects vying for my attention. More to follow from this and other universe. See you soon!

Robocop Speaks to Detroit

robocopHilarious, yet somehow socially relevant. Recently, Peter Weller joined the people at funnyordie.com to make a public announcement. Apparently, several citizens of the Motor City announced that they want to erect a statue of Robocop to commemorate their city and how it was the setting for that franchise. However, Mayor Bing shot the idea down, referring to it as “silly”. In response, Weller went online to call the mayor out and lend his support to the idea.

Through a series of comical displays and a cheeky speech, he indicated how the themes of Robocop are in fact appropriate for a city which is suffering from rampant unemployment, a decimated manufacturing sector and corporate greed. After all, these were all central to the story of the movie, so it makes sense to Weller and others that his trademark character get a statue.

And it does, if you think about it. Robocop was all about a good cop who sacrificed his life, only to be turned into an icon for corporate control over a once fair and proud city. He turned the tables by becoming a popular hero, taking on the very corporate moguls who made him what he was.

Follow the link below to watch the full video. I would have embedded, but the damn folks at Youtube disabled it. Dorks!