An incredible thing happened a few weeks ago, an event that represented another example of the best parts of video gaming. This event was the March 22, 2012 release of Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Dawn, a community-made game that took 10 years to develop.
Within 24 hours, there were over 50,000 downloads of The Darkest Dawn, proving that gamers still dig space sims, a genre that dominated gaming PCs throughout the ’90s then practically vanished over the last two generations of consoles.
Not only is this Wing Commander sequel free, and not only did the most passionate of fans put 10 years of work into crafting it, but The Darkest Dawn includes 55 missions, 70 cinematics, and 11,000 lines of dialogue. That’s more than most modern day triple-A releases.
Previously, the last “full” release from the series was with Wing Commander: Prophecy in 1997 and its Secret Ops expansion that came packaged with the Gold edition the following year. Outside of a few spin-offs the series was dead and EA killed Origin (the developer) in 2004.
With no more Allegiance, Starlancer, Freelancer, or X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter games on the way, most major space sim franchises had disappeared. We had Rogue Squadron on the Nintendo 64 and GameCube and a few lesser known PC and mobile games, but the genre had completely lost its relevance. The Wing Commander: Prohecy sequels and in-development Babylon 5 games were canned and never came to fruition, at least not in the way they were initially intended.
Skip forward to present and not only do we have fans doing what major publishers couldn’t with Wing Commander, but other developers are attempting to bring back the space combat sim and space trading genres as well (we’re not talking slow-paced MMOs like EVE Online).
First, there’s Starlight Inception, by Garry Gaber, one of the creators of Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds. He’s a big fan of Wing Commander/X-Wing/Tie Fighter and aims to offer that sort of gameplay with a modern spin for the PC and PS Vita.
To do this, he’s created a Kickstarter page with the goal of raising $150,000 to fund the project (there are still a few weeks left to support it!). Here are the game details:
Our goal is to create a descendant of the space combat genre – it’s a game about flying space fighters, bombers and other spacecraft, but it’s also about managing the ship’s power usage between shields and stealth generators, engines, and weapons. Plus, as you get further in the game, you amass quite an arsenal to pick from for missions. The game’s art style is photoreal and gritty – you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of a big battle amongst the planets, moons and asteroids, making decisions that affect your life and the life of your wingmen, whether human or autonomous drones.
- DRM-free digital download on PC or digital download through the Playstation Store for Sony Playstation Vita
- Dramatic and realistic storyline: Players will experience an enveloping space saga with a deep and involving story that spans the solar system.
- Richly detailed: Rich detail will show from the capital ships, environments, space fighters, transports to explosions.
- Space action: Action in space and over the surface of planets and moons. Fly over a planet’s atmosphere then swoop down over surface vehicles and troops for a visceral experience both at high and low altitudes.
- Camera perspective: Switchable 1st and 3rd person cameras let the player tailor the game experience to their own liking.
- Lots of stuff to do: Blow up stuff with the most advanced fighters known to man, salvage destroyed vessels for cool stuff, defend your ship against incoming marauders, locate and destroy ground targets, blow up more stuff…
Another game, although not addressing the need of console/PC space sims is Rogue Star, coming from James Duncan, a former developer on Fable. He and two others at RedBreast are developing a space combat and trading game for iOS. Details are scarce on this one but it’s a retro-styled, colorful affair.
With BioWare deciding not to bring a legitimate space sim experience with Star Wars: The Old Republic, no new Rogue Squadron or Battlefront in sight, we’re left hoping that someone, somewhere will make a kick-ass high-quality Star Wars title or other space combat game, like the good old days – One that earns the high-profile attention it deserves.
Find out more on Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Dawn, Starlight Inception & Rogue Star:
Please, someone bring back X-Wing/Tie Fighter next!
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.