(Originally published on the 1UP.com Freeloader blog in May of 2012)
Before the advent of Mark Hamill, the Wing Commander series placed most of its emphasis was on the combat and missions that took place in the vacuum of space. The now eminent between mission cut-scenes and character interactions helped to create the game world, allowing developer Origin Systems to maintain its company tag-line, “We Create Worlds”, but didn’t necessarily take on the importance that they would in the Post-Hamill era. Despite the increased focus on storytelling in later games (or, perhaps, because of it), and the occasional branching plot path that all lead toward their inevitable conclusions, the mainline Wing Commander titles remained mostly linear in nature. The player always took on the role of a military pilot (customizable in the first two games, but then given specific character of Christopher Blair in the Hamill era) and were never given an opportunity to explore the universe at large, except in the service of their military duties.
In between Wing Commander 2 and the build up to the extravagance of Wing Commander 3, Origin Systems created a spin-off of the franchise that freed players from the rigid restrictions placed on them by Wing Commander’s narrative. Wing Commander: Privateer, released in 1993, actually took a step back in the time-line of space combat simulators, adding elements of trade and exploration that had been previously pioneered by games like Elite (1984). Instead of being stationed on a carrier in a particular region of space, Privateer allowed players the freedom of traversing galaxies, choosing a variety of freelance mission types, or forgoing any planned missions and exploring, shuttling cargo, and battling pirates (or becoming a pirate and smuggling goods and battling law enforcement). Like the Grand Theft Autos or other open world games of today, Privateer did feature a main story-line that could be followed to its conclusion, but players were free to ignore it at any time and partake in any of the aforementioned activities, in both good and evil ways.
These days, the space combat simulation genre has all but disappeared. Still, as with many of the faded PC genres, a few dedicated stalwarts endeavor to keep it alive with home-brewed and independent projects. One such project is Vega Strike, an open-source 3D space combat engine influenced by Privateer, but designed with modern technology that serves as a base for a number of games that hope to recreate the space-faring titles of yore. Privateer Gemini Gold is one such game that doesn’t beat around the space bush, and is essentially a direct port of the classic game to the Vega Strike engine. It’s art imitating life, imitating art again, before being declared not art. As a direct (space) port, Gemini Gold doesn’t attempt to bring anything new or improved to the space table, other than a few updated ship graphics and the fully three-dimensional environment.
For some, the less than friendly control scheme, lack of tutorials, and steep difficulty curve will be too much to bear, so it’s not recommended to everyone. If you have a median level of patience and an interest in classic games, it’s definitely worth giving a try. Those familiar with the series and Privateer, in particular, will find Gemini Gold is a great way to revisit the original game on a modern computer without resorting to DOSbox or scavenging together a 486 with a Soundblaster Pro and a Thrustmaster flight stick. On second thought, building a 486 sounds like a fantastic idea; be on the look out for our classic computer DIY blog, coming soon. In the meantime, check out Privateer Gemini Gold. It even works on Linux and Macs!