So, as I alluded to in my recent postings in Celebration of FS, I found WCS to be somewhat off the mark in terms of being an enjoyable game. I also promised to expand on this, which I shall do now.
Before I go into the criticism though, let me say that while there are many things WCS gets wrong, there is one thing it absolutely nails, and that is graphics. Even though the models show their age (And a lack of artistic bravery regarding reinterpretations of the existing designs), it's still remarkably pretty, and some of the comm anis are really really good.
That being said however, this game is let down by lackluster efforts in most other areas, most importantly in terms of gameplay, campaign design, and writing.
Let's look at these points individually.
Playing through the prologue and the first few main campaign missions, it became apparent that the writers and designers never really had any intentions to abandon the rigid structure exhibited there, with each mission starting and ending at a hangar deck with varying numbers of waypoints in between. While this technically is closer to the reality of carrier-based combat, its only function in this game is to bring the pacing of a mission to a screeching halt while waiting for everyone to leave the hangar and the autopilot allowing you to proceed to the next waypoint. There are several instances where this time goes by unused; This could have been useful if there were story stuff happening here, but it doesn't.
Once you're on patrol, things don't really get better. Once you've reached the mission area, you're forced to fight through various waves of enemies (And may I just say how incredibly irritating the "waves" mechanic is?), until you're again told to go to the next waypoint, with either doing more combat, or doing nothing at all.
FS2 understood that, while a few seconds of dead time at the beginning of a mission are probably a good idea (only to shake it up to great effect later on), it shouldn't get in the way of enjoyment. WCS is filled with filler material that doesn't need to be there, similar to its source material.
There is also a distinct lack of player agency. The problems WCS tells you to solve rarely offer you the opportunity to choose different approaches; it doesn't even give you a choice of which tools to use to tackle a mission. When a modern jet pilot is heavily engaged during a patrol and manages to fight his way out, but sustains damage in the process and has to expend a significant portion of his main armament, he is expected to use his own judgment on whether or not to continue the patrol, but this is a choice we aren't given. Missions proceed linearly from start to finish, and what you do does not shape the narrative in any significant way.
This, of course, is something that would have been fine 5, or 10 years ago, but I figure that we can demand more now.
A lot of what I said above also ties into this. Not only is WCS incredibly linear on a mission-to-mission basis, it's the same on the macro level. There's a really nice concept in modern game design called "Differences in kind", short segments in which gameplay is completely transformed to break up the monotony and allow for different perspectives on the story and the world. WCS, of course, never does this (At least as far as I can work out).
Oh my god the writing. When it's not bland, it's atrocious, and when it's not atrocious, the line delivery is cringeworthy. The characters we're introduced to after the prologue are completely unlikable, and the protagonist still being called "rookie" even after single-handedly killing dozens upon dozens of Cat fighters is jarring, to say the least.
So what are we going to do about it?
It is my firm belief that we can tell a good, engaging story using the bare bones of the concept WCS was working on. I envision a much shorter, sharper game that uses the foundations of WCS' work, but does a better job at using the capabilities FS2_Open gives us, as demonstrated in recent campaigns and games like Diaspora, Dimensional Eclipse, Antagonist, BP, or ST:R. Over the next few days, I will be posting a campaign outline and what I believe we can do here.
Let us deconstruct WCS, and see what we can come up with when combining the Wing Commander universe with modern gameplay and storytelling sensibilities.