Wing Commander 3 – 30 Years Ago, Mark Hamill Kicked Ass as a Sci-Fi Hero Pilot

RETRO – In the ’90s, the world of PC gaming was swept up by a phenomenon known as FMV (Full Motion Video). Game developers seized the potential of CDs not just to create games, but to craft interactive movies. Released 30 years ago, Wing Commander 3 stands out as one of the rare examples where this ambitious vision truly succeeded.


Wing Commander 3 was one of the few successful ventures into the realm of interactive film. The series always had a cinematic flair, boasting a huge cast and animated sequences that covered everything from launching off a fleet carrier to receiving a medal of bravery after surviving an ejection into space. With a then-massive budget of four million dollars, headlined by Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamill, an epic branching storyline, and—crucially—stunning space battles, it was a landmark in gaming.



Mark Hamill Takes on a New Galactic Role


Even today, despite the outdated effects, chunky FMV, and aged space combat, Wing Commander 3 retains a surprising amount of dignity. The opening chords of the soundtrack are powerful and bombastic. The first scene shows the Kilrathi, the series’ main antagonists, in triumph—not just over any group, but over Angel, Colonel Blair’s love interest and one of the series’ most notable pilots. Every detail conveys one clear message: Wing Commander 3 means business.

What’s particularly interesting now is how it tells its story. Scene by scene, it’s a collection of familiar sci-fi clichés interwoven with space battles. Rarely has a game with such a cinematic approach delivered such a deliberately somber tone. Earth is losing the war. Blair, though heroic and committed to the fight, is visibly exhausted after a lifetime of unending war, fully aware that all his heroism and sacrifices have only bought humanity a bit more time to ponder its inevitable doom.

It’s no coincidence that we first see him staring at the wreckage of the Concordia, the carrier from Wing Commander 2, or that his new assignment is on a rusting, tradition-bound ship.



The Dark Side of Interactive Drama


The game’s somber atmosphere works beautifully, contrasting sharply with its uplifting moments. While the acting is often over-the-top (the captain’s enthusiastic declaration, “God, I love that boy’s spunk!” became an official soundcard test by Origin), it still has its charm. Blair’s growing bond with the crew of the Victory, helped by the ability to walk around the ship between missions and feel at home, stands in stark contrast to games like X-Wing and Freespace 2, which focused solely on combat.

Here, both sides of the experience matter. You can be reprimanded for being antisocial and not engaging with the crew, and even accused of favoritism if you consistently fly with the same wingman. In one memorable moment, Blair can even succumb to depression and go on a drinking binge before being forced into action by an enemy attack—one of the toughest fights in the game, even if you’re sober. This makes for excellent content, far more advanced than most interactive movies.



Space Combat Has Aged Worse Than Mark Hamill


The space combat itself has aged poorly. This isn’t new: even during the Wing Commander’s heyday, fans of the X-Wing series loudly claimed their space battles were superior. In a post-Freespace 2 world, it’s especially hard to go back to this outdated form of space combat. The enemy AI is terrible, the once-amazing graphics are no longer impressive, and only a few details, like the visible cockpit, in-mission videos, and the fact that your wingmen can actually die, remain noteworthy.

The best parts are when the plot becomes more interactive, like choosing between dogfighting a Kilrathi ace or returning to your rapidly fleeing carrier, but these moments are too rare. Worse still, the further you get, the harder it becomes to recover from defeat. Early on, you often get a second chance, but by the second half, you’re just a spectator watching the Kilrathi curb-stomp Earth.



The Magic of Nostalgia


Yet, Wing Commander 3 could have aged much worse. The fact that you can turn on invincibility in the options menu without any penalty means you shouldn’t let its difficulty deter you. At the very least, it’s a great way to understand why people once believed interactive movies were the future—from its cinematic style to its ambition and the way it used FMV to create a world rather than mask a lack of substance. It was a remarkable game for its time, and it remains a film worth starring in.

-Gergely Herpai “BadSector”-

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines - including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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