Wing Commander Armada Review

Interestingly, I find Dralthis actually much easier to hit when compared to the reverse situation (i.e. trying to destroy an Arrow)

  • Developer: Origin
  • Publisher: EA
  • Release Date: 1994
  • Time played: 4 hours

It's been awhile since I've done a retro review, but trust me to pick another game set in the Wing Commander universe. Wing Commander Armada is probably one of the lesser known Wing Commander games as it's pretty much a spin-off the main Wing Commander series. It is still set in the Wing Commander universe though and it introduces quite a few firsts: (1) you're able to fly Kilrathi ships, (2) you're able to play a turn-based strategy version of Wing Commander and (3) you're able to play multiplayer with a mate.

I haven't included a plot score for this game since even though it uses the Wing Commander universe as a backdrop there isn't really any plot whatsoever. This game is purely for those who want to play a chess version of Wing Commander or multiplayer.

Oh and it might be a good time for me to remind my dear readers that when I review retro games I'm reviewing them by today's standards. A lot of these games were classics in their heyday but I wanted to see how they stack up against modern titles. Does the saying "give me gameplay over graphics any day" really ring true? Do some of these retro games still have the potential to entertain after so many years? Those are the kind of questions I want answered (and hopefully you do too).

This is also helpful for the gamers who were born after these games were released as they may have heard about these classic games but always wondered if it was worth going back to check them out.

Gameplay (3/5)
Wing Commander Armada comes with a variety of game-modes to choose from when someone boots it up. I'll discuss the single-player modes first.

Gauntlet mode is apparently very similar to Wing Commander: Academy, which in turn is similar to the simulators in the Wing Commander games. i.e. you just fight successive waves of enemy fighters and try to survive as long as possible. To me, this isn't what you really play Wing Commander Armada for, but it might be good as a distraction or a means to hone your piloting skills.

The main game mode is Armada mode. In this mode you're introduced to a strategy game similar to Risk or Chess, where you have to explore a cluster of stars with your carrier and fighters, conquer and exploit resources from discovered planets, and then use those resources to build up your fleet. The aim of the game is to find the enemy carrier and destroy it with your heavy fighters (but just like the King piece in Chess you apparently can't have your carrier and the enemy carrier in the same star system at any given time). Whenever you have combat however you can either choose to resolve it automatically or get you to pilot one of the ships. Later on you get heavy fighters which carry almost every weapon in the known Wing Commander universe, making them very overpowered, but the mix of space sim combat and strategy is fun and surprisingly, we don't really see much of that in games nowadays. Well I guess we don't even see many space sims nowadays full stop. Chris Roberts will save the day though with Star Citizen :).

Finally, there's Campaign mode which apparently is just Armada mode done 11 times.

You can play all the aforementioned modes above in multiplayer, with Gauntlet becoming a co-op mode while the others are traditional Player versus Player. There's even a Battle mode where you can just fight one battle against a human opponent.

Oh I tested to see if the multiplayer works by the way and you'll be please to know, even though the game is 20 years old, it does! So, nice job GOG.

When I reminisce about Wing Commander Armada, it usually conjures images like the above: the strategy screen

Sound (2/5)
The game is 20 years old so just as it was with Wing Commander and Wing Commander: Privateer, the sound effects are pretty basic. Consequently the audio doesn't really compare to modern games. Also, why are the sound effects so loud in combat mode compared to the really soft music?

Music (3/5)
Music is done in the MIDI-format and music nowadays tends to be of a higher quality, despite them doing a good job with what was available at the time. There seems to be only one theme that you hear however on the strategy screen of the game which can grate on the nerves after awhile (or you'll just start humming along to it unwittingly).

Graphics (3/5)
Graphics are obviously dated by today’s standards but they were revolutionary for the time. While most of the ships are represented by blocky bitmaps, Origin must be given credit for the amount of detail they’ve taken in drawing the cockpits and animating your ship being damaged.

There is a lack of cutscenes though or any character interaction whatsoever when compared to games like Wing Commander and Wing Commander: Privateer. The only cutscenes you will see are the intro cutscene, the cutscene when you finish an Armada scenario and a cutscene when you finish the campaign.

Replay (4/5)
While the game might invite another replay playing as the opposite side (you can choose to play as either the Terran Confederation of the Kilrathi), or an opportunity to play against (or co-operate with) a friend, if you can find someone to do so, there's not much else to do. It took me about 2 hours to finish one Armada scenario and the Campaign is apparently just 11 of them put together.

Polish (3/5)
I didn't encounter any serious showstopper bugs when playing this (which is really refreshing compared to the amount of Crashes-to-Desktop you experience in AAA titles nowadays) but there are a few criticisms. Firstly, although the strategy mode user interface was probably sufficient for the early 90s, it gets annoying when you can't pan the map around with your mouse and only use the mini-map to zoom into certain areas. Also you apparently can't play single player with a mouse (you have to use the keyboard or a joystick I believe), but in multiplayer games you don't have this same restriction! It doesn't make much sense and these would be considered major oversights in games of today.

Score – 6/10

Wing Commander Armada, being 20 years old, is starting to look rather dated and even when it was originally released, probably wasn't one of Origin's major titles, thanks to the main Wing Commander series and Ultima series stealing the limelight. There is however no denying that this was the most unique title in the Wing Commander series; the ability to play multiplayer was a major drawcard to Wing Commander fans and its mix of strategy and space sim is something that hasn't really been emulated by a AAA developer since.

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Good Old Games (GOG).

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