So it's finally here. The fourth and most video intensive of the Wing Commander series has made its way to the PlayStation. Too bad it's taken about two years to get here. Although Wing Commander IV boasts an excellent storyline and solid gameplay, the delay in release should ensure that just about every player who would be interested in the game has probably already played it on the PC. But for those who haven't...
The storyline of Wing Commander IV is one of the best ever put together for a video game. Mark Hamill (of Corvette Summer and The Guyver fame) plays Colonel Blair, a retired fighter pilot who has just been forcibly recalled to active duty, this time to fight (or not) a band of rebels called the Border Worlders. As if this weren't bad enough, Blair is also forced to renew his acquaintanceship with his psychotic crewmate Maniac, played by the always entertaining Tom Wilson (of That Darn Cat and Camp Nowhere). Hamill and Wilson, along with a cast of character actors (which includes John Rhys-Davies and Malcolm McDowell), perform their scenes with surprising realism and grace, especially for a video game, and even those who hate FMV sequences in their games will probably be surprised to find themselves captivated by the footage. Although it's nearly impossible to describe any details without ruining the plot, it should suffice to say that Wing Commander IV features the kind of acting and writing that could bring video game cinematography the same level of respect as that earned by feature films.
Although it's not earth-shattering, Wing Commander IV's gameplay is still fairly solid - surprising when you consider the fact that it's based on an engine that is already a couple of years old. As in earlier installments of the series, you'll spend most of your time on patrol, moving from waypoint to waypoint, wiping out any enemies that you may encounter along the way. As you progress, you'll be given access to different ships that range from the simplistic Hellcat V to the blisteringly powerful Banshee. The missions are well balanced and get progressively harder as the game goes on. Basically, the game is just like its PC counterpart in every way but one: the controls.
Wing Commander IV was just not designed for a PlayStation joypad. Without about two weeks' worth of practice, every slight little push on the D pad sends your ship careening out of control. Even after you've built up a little skill, making fine adjustments in your heading is often impossible. Although the game is still winnable, it definitely takes a great deal more time to master the skills necessary, and it will most likely frustrate you to the point of screaming more than once. The solution we found to this little problem was to use the Sony analog joystick, a controller that will not be available in the US until August. Although steering is a little harder to get used to with this gem, once you've mastered the basics, you wonder how you ever played the game without it.
In the end, Wing Commander IV is a game that every action or adventure fan should think about purchasing just for its brilliant storyline and tried and true gameplay. Even so, if you tend toward frustration and psychotic episodes when playing a game that doesn't control well, you may want to purchase a barrel of Thorazine before loading it up.