Wednesday 8 June 2022

Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi (MS-DOS)

Developer:Origin|Release Date:1991|Systems:DOS, Windows, FM Towns

This week on Super Adventures, I'm playing PC space sim Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi, which is somehow only the second one of these games I've played. I covered the original Wing Commander back in 2014, but my site's been utterly Wing Commanderless since then.

The Wing Commander series was Chris Roberts' first space saga, coming before the Starlancer games and Star Citizen. In fact it came before the X-Wing series, FreeSpace, Star Fox... even Sonic the Hedgehog (though that last one's not actually a space sim as far as I'm aware). This particular Wing Commander game was old enough to almost get ported to the SNES and Mega Drive/Genesis... but it wasn't. In fact it's the only one of the mainline games to never get a console or handheld port. It did get a release on the FM Towns computer at least, which was well suited to the game considering that it's basically a 386 PC.

I have played the game before, a long time ago, but I don't remember playing very far, probably because it kicked my ass. And this would've been back when I was actually getting some space sim practice! It'd be fair to say I'm a little rusty right now, but I'll give it a fair shot and see if I can at least earn the right to fly the second type of spacefighter.

SPOILER WARNING: I'll only be playing the first few missions and I won't spoil anything that comes after them.

Hey it's the Tiger's Claw, my carrier from the first game! I'm actually surprised that it looks the same, as the Wing Commander series isn't really known for its visual consistency. Well it did look the same at least, until it blew up. Those Kilrathi jerks... I really liked that ship!

The original Wing Commander didn't really have an intro. "In the distant future, mankind is locked in a deadly war..." is about all the context you got. This time though we're getting a bit more of a story.

We're also getting some pretty rotoscoped capes it seems, along with a lot of space debris flying past the window.

These two are the leaders of the Kilrathi; catlike aliens with a vendetta against humanity. I would've turned on the subtitles for you so you can follow what they're saying, but the game hasn't given me any. That's because I'm playing the CD version, which includes the Speech Accessory Pack, giving me voices at the cost of subtitles. Really low-pitched voices. It's like the actors were trying to compete to see who could force their voice to go the deepest and they really do sound kind of forced.

I trimmed out a bit of the conversation here because if you stare at those heads for too long you'll start wondering why the the lines on their hair look so bad. But basically Prince Thrakhath (on the right) is telling the Emperor (on the left) how he used stealth fighters to destroy the Tiger's Claw and now he's about to crush the rebellion on Ghorah Khar. It turns out that the protagonist from Wing Commander has been blamed for the destruction of his own ship, so now there's no one who can stand in their way! Seriously, that's what they say. They have a very high opinion of him.

The intro's not finished yet though, as it does a Star Wars wipe transition that brings us to Admiral Tolwyn's Office. Sol Station, Earth. Man, there's space debris out the window everywhere in this game.

Hey I know Admiral Tolwyn, he's the guy played by Malcolm McDowell in the sequels! Tolwyn definitely doesn't have a high opinion of the protagonist right now and would really appreciate it if he'd just sign the resignation that his secretary has prepared for him and get out.

The protagonist hasn't been convicted of destroying the Tiger's Claw as there was no evidence. For some reason they couldn't get anything from his fighter's flight recorder. But this also means there's nothing to back up his outlandish claims that the Kilrathi have invisible fighters now.

The protagonist's looking a little different these days, though that might just be because he's not facing straight at the camera this time. He's still got his iconic blue hair at least. The were apparently going to give him a younger looking portrait for this scene, but decided that they couldn't spare the room on the floppy disks.

He refuses to sign the resignation as he's still adamant he did nothing wrong, and this causes Tolwyn to really go off on him, straight up calling him a traitor! The voice acting isn't great to be honest (I mean it's from 1991), but it gets the point across.

Tolwyn can't kick him out, but he's going to have him transferred to Insystem Security instead so he can be someone else's problem.


I'm not sure these Kilrathi are dressed for the right game. They look like they've wandered right out of an Ultima sequel.

Oh, you know that rebellion on Ghorah Khar I mentioned earlier? Seems like the rebels have actually won, which is a bit of a problem for Prince Thrakhath as I guess that's where their stealth fighters are built. He orders the shipyards destroyed, so the rebels can't get their hands on them.

The guy on the left points out that this will delay their ultimate victory over the Terrans, but what can you do? He wins the 'deepest forced voice' contest by the way and it's not even close. It's the kind of voice you need a subwoofer for.

Alright that's the end of the intro, finally! It lasted about seven minutes, which is kind of lengthy for 1991.


Ten years later? Bloody hell! That's a bit of a time jump. Wing Commander 1 was set in 2654 and we're in 2665 now.

The protagonist has been stationed on Caernarvon Station in the Gwynedd System, so he's basically been exiled to Wales. Also I've had a chance to give him a name, so I decided to go with... Christopher Blair. Because that's what he's called.

This is one of those immersive diegetic menu screens where different unlabelled objects in the room do different things, but it's straightforward enough. All I can do here is save, quit, play, or watch the story. It does look a bit like a scruffy 3D render though. I mean those are some pretty sharp beds.

Wing Commander (MS-DOS)
Here's what the earlier game looked like by comparison. I appreciate how the sequel lets you write a bit of a description for each save instead of just clicking on a bed, but I think the first game's graphics are a little more appealing (plus its barracks music is so much better.)

You know what else the first game has that this doesn't? A bar.

Wing Commander (MS-DOS)
Wing Commander 2 doesn't let me play with the flight simulator, or chat to other pilots, or even check the scoreboard to see how my killcount compares. This whole room is missing!

All I can do is start the first mission, so I'll do that.

Okay that background has definitely been 3D rendered and it looks terrible! The hardware had a 256 colour limit, but it's only using 139 of them. That's because they they apparently had one fixed 256 colour palette for the entire game.

Anyway, it seems I'm having a chat with a pilot after all, as the game's replaced the briefing with another cutscene. There's not much to be briefed on really, seeing as the enemy doesn't really come bother us out here. We're just going to fly around a bit and then come back. The good news is that technology has moved on a bit in 10 years and pilots wear actual spacesuits now! Well, kind of.

The voices have disappeared by the way, but I didn't expect them to stick around for long. The CD only has 110 MB of data on it and most of that is trailers for other games.

Hey this is a familiar scene, though I'm flying a type of fighter that wasn't in the original Wing Commander. This Ferret they've given me looks even smaller than the Hornet I was given at the start of the first game. In fact it's so small that Blair must be lying down in the thing, because there's no way he's sitting down in there.

Wing Commander (MS-DOS)
Here's the old Hornet by comparison, just because I want to show pictures of space fighters. Hey it's the same deckhand! Nice to see that he survived the Tiger's Claw as well.

This shot's new, replacing the old first person view of flying through a Battlestar Galactica launch tube.
Here, I'll show you a GIF of how the old game did it:

Wing Commander (CD32)
I think I prefer this old launch sequence to be honest.

That shot of the fighters flying past the camera is what you get when you engage autopilot by the way. You just tap a button and the game skips a few minutes ahead to your arrival at the next nav point.

Okay here's what the cockpit of my fighter looks like in Wing Commander 2:

It's not bad, but I miss the second screen. In fact they've taken out the tiny damage screen as well and replaced it with gauges. Also I think outer space is slightly bluer now and the crosshair's a little darker.

Alright the 'AUTO' lights are lit, so I could just go straight to my next destination, but I want to know where I'm going first.

Okay this is basically the same as the 2D nav screen you get in the first game, though the frame around the outside is new art. I'll be flying from Nav 1 to Nav 2, to Nav 3 and then back home to Caernarvon station. Or I could visit them in any order I want I suppose.

Each of the nav points basically functions as its own mini dogfighting arena, isolated from everything else that's going on. It's very different to the X-Wing games, which have the whole mission take place in one area, with other ships and stations acting as landmarks that define the geography.

Oh no, I ran into enemy fighters for the first time in like ten years!

I managed to lose all my forward armour and shield in their first barrage while I was busy using the vid-com system to tell my wingman Shadow to break and attack. Could've been worse, I could've not remembered the button at all! Plus the shield will eventually come back, provided things stop hitting it.

The combat seems to be identical to the first game, as I use the radar on the left to get the enemy on screen, then I try to get my bullets to intersect with them. There's no indicator to show me how much I need to lead my shots, but I've figured out that I can hold the button down and adjust the stream of bullets until it's hitting something I want dead. At least until the guns run out and need to recharge, which is all the time.

I survived the dogfight at Nav 1 and hit the autopilot, which brought me to an asteroid field. So they're still in the game as well.

For the last game I described the asteroid fields as being "an intriguing blend of tedium and instant death", but I was lying about the 'intriguing' part. Rocks come at me and all I can do is try to keep my fighter pointed towards the gaps in between them until they're gone. It's not exactly the Empire Strikes Back asteroid chase. The ship has afterburners so I could use them to speed things up, but... no. For one thing I might need that fuel for dogfighting, for another I would hit a rock and explode.

At least the controls are working. I expected that trying to use my Xbox One controller in DOSBox would lead to bad times, but nope it's fine. I suppose it helps that it seems to have digital controls, not analogue, so there's no worries about it being too sensitive.


Alright, the dogfighting is done and now I get to land at Caernarvon station. Somehow this is the most terrifying part of any combat mission, even worse than dogfighting against cats or avoiding instant-death rocks. And I don't even have to do anything!

Well okay I do have to phone them up and request permission to land, but after that I just point the fighter at the space station and let it keep going... as the station fills up more and more of the screen.

The programmers had to be clever to get a game like this running on such weak hardware, so they decided to use sprites instead of 3D models, a bit like Doom. This works well enough when you're at a distance, but the closer you get to something, the more of a pixelly mess it becomes. So my brain's yelling "You're obviously too close, turn away before you explode and lose the mission!" and I just have to ignore it and have faith the docking procedure will kick in.

Uh, this isn't the docking procedure. It seems like I'm doing my debrief before I land this time. I like how they're mixing it up a bit, but I miss the old landing music. At least the game's still got the original dynamic music playing during battles, because scoring a kill wouldn't be anyway near as satisfying without the victory jingle playing.

3 enemy ships isn't as much as I'd hoped, but at least I got as many kills as Shadow. Now I get to visit the barracks again and save my game. Maybe even visit the story room to continue the story a bit.


Okay that looks like a low polygon model from an early PlayStation game and the textures really aren't doing it any favours with all those thick lines. It's definitely got some colour on it though, I'll give them that. They didn't just make it grey like most spaceships are.

This is just a still image so they could've had an artist paint over it by hand to bring it up to the quality of the cockpits, so I'm counting this as a 'time and money' problem, not a technology problem.

Anyway the TSC Concordia is under attack and unable to launch fighters, so I need to race out there and save them!


You can see what I mean about the ships turning into a pixelly mess when I get close, which makes it really hard to tell when I'm too close. I could instantly explode any moment really.

It's the carrier exploding I'm more worried about at the moment though. Trouble is that the ships have hit boxes, so even though I'm firing at the Kilrathi fighter I keep getting messages from the Concordia asking me to stop shooting them. Friendly fire is a bit of an issue. Though at least they haven't turned hostile and blown me up.

I shot down all the attacking ships and it had me land on the Concordia instead of Caernarvon station for some reason.

Oh damn, they weren't lying when they said the hangar was busted. I've complained a bit about some of the other art but this background just looks nasty.

Here, have the landing sequence from the first game as a comparison. And also because I like watching it:

Wing Commander (CD32)
Man I love the classic landing music. There's no sound in this clip, the tune just plays in my head whenever I see it.

The good thing about landing somewhere new is that I get a brand new barracks menu screen to look at.
Or maybe the exact same one. Except blue.

Whenever I'm back in the barracks I get a choice between picking "Fly mission" to go straight to the mission cutscene, or "View storyline" to get an optional story cutscene first. They're a lot like Wing Commander's optional chats with other pilots, except they seem kind of crucial to understanding what's going on. Either way it's giving me a lot of story.

Hey half the pilots from the Tiger's Claw are on the Concordia now! I don't know how many ships the Terran Confederation has but this seems like a pretty big coincidence.

The pilots in Wing Commander had come from all over the Earth and they made sure you never forgot it. I was wondering if they were going to tone that down a bit in the sequel, but they have not. Angel's still dropping bits of French into her conversations like in the olden days and Spirit has started wearing a kimono.

Turns out they've been doing pretty well in their careers while Blair's been exiled in disgrace, and Angel's in charge of the Concordia's fighter wings. Still, his old friends are happy to see him and they're even happier that he saved their ship while they were stuck inside. Well, except for Jazz, who congratulates him on batting .500 when it comes to capital ships. Hey, that's a baseball term... I think. Blair puts his angry face on and says "Go to Hell, Jazz." He's got a lot more of a personality in this one!
Oh, the game has old school briefings in it as well?

The first game was briefing, mission, debrief, briefing, mission, debrief, over and over again, but this is incorporating the scenes into the story to keep things interesting. It means that I never know what I'll be doing before and after missions, only that someone will tell me what to do and I'll learn how many kills I got afterwards.

I'm a bit sad to see everyone here's wearing the same outfits to be honest, as I assumed Blair and Shadow were wearing an Insystem Security uniform instead. I suppose doing it this way saves on the disk space.

The other pilots in the back rows... they have eyes now! In the first game everyone in the background was just a shadowy figure, but now they've all got proper faces. Well, they've got faces at least.

Turns out that Stingray hates Blair as well, calling him the Coward of K'Tithak Mang. I don't know why he's the one bitching though, when I'm the one stuck doing a bloody escort mission next. I wonder what everyone thinks Blair did to the Tiger's Claw anyway. Fly away and let it get destroyed by a Kilrathi fleet? Unload all his missiles into it?


Man, I'm not keen on escort missions, in any game. Usually it's no big deal if it takes me a while to kill the enemy fighters, but here I need to be quick or they'll take out my bombers and I don't have the right weapons to take on the enemy capital ship myself.

Part of the problem I'm having is that there doesn't seem to be any way to find who's being attacked and then target their attacker. All my mission critical ships end up with their hull condition critical because I'm off dogfighting someone that isn't even shooting them.

Oops. My bombers survived to blow up the enemy cruiser but then I encountered another wing of enemies at the navpoint on the way back and I kind of flew directly into one of them. I was hoping that if I kept firing they'd explode before we collided!

This replay option is a fantastic new feature that the original game didn't have by the way. Sure you could save before every mission, but you'd have to skip through all the cutscenes before you could load the save and try again. Here I can just select 'replay' and immediately get on with it.

But I'm curious about what happens if I choose to continue the script.

I got a funeral scene just like in the first game, except Angel's wearing a much more elaborate space suit.

The game hasn't given me any dialogue options so far, I've just been watching cutscenes, but Angel has at least been keeping track of how far in the story I am. She knows it's only been a few missions and she mentions that I was still working for Insystem Security.
Wing Commander (CD32)
Here's the suit in the original game's funeral scene for comparison.

If only I'd hit the eject button in the millisecond before collision. Actually, that's a point. In Wing Commander 1 I was able to eject in every mission and just keep on going through the game until I reached the (bad) ending. I wonder if that's still an option here. I'm going to load my save and try that.


There Blair goes in his 3D rendered rocket chair! It's just like the old days. And he's still not wearing gloves. Tolwyn already thought he was a cowardly traitor before, so I bet he's going to love this.

In fact it turns out that Tolwyn's the captain of the Concordia so I got to hear exactly what he thought about it! I don't remember anyone mentioning he was in command so I might have just spoiled myself on a twist here, I dunno.

Anyway I carried on ejecting at the start of every mission... or at least I would've done if Blair hadn't been captured by the Kilrathi the very next time I tried it.

So I guess ejecting all the way to the bad end isn't an option anymore. And once again it turns out that I'm the greatest pilot in the fleet and my absence will lead to humanity's ultimate doom.

I'll just load my save game and do the escort mission properly then.


No, Shadow, why would you even say that?

Here's some Wing Commander 2 trivia for you: Shadow's portrait was apparently based on 50s pin-up model Bettie Page. You can kind of almost tell even with the helmet on.

The two of us were kicked off the Concordia as soon as it was convenient and now we're having a cutscene break during the flight back to Caernarvon station. It was a nice pleasant chat until Shadow decided to doom herself by saying that she's a month from retirement. In fact I'm getting worried about the whole station, because the plot clearly relies on me being on the Concordia, where all the characters are.


RIP Elizabeth "Shadow" Norwood.

The good news is that Caernarvon station is fine, so all the time I spent learning how to spell its name wasn't wasted. The bad news is that the Concordia's hangar was sabotaged so we had to fly to their rescue again. It was a frantic battle, but it was a cutscene that killed Shadow in the end. Now I'm stuck on the Concordia until they eventually get around to jumping back to this sector.

Incidentally the textures look suspiciously good on this background. I think this image might have had a bit of a paint over.

Oh damn, I've finally gotten to fly a new ship and it's so massive that I need to climb up a ladder to get into it.

This is a Broadsword bomber, specifically designed to blow things up, so my mission here is... recon. Admiral Tolwyn has accepted that Blair is stuck on the ship for the time being but he doesn't want him flying combat missions. (Possibly because he yelled at him in a cutscene after Shadow's death.)


Now that's a proper looking cockpit!

This bomber's full of turrets and toys to play with. Unfortunately I don't know what buttons to press to get to them. One thing I do know is that the shields don't recharge during the auto pilot time-skip, and this ship's got some heavy-duty shields, so I should probably sit and wait a bit for them to come back before moving on.

Unfortunately charging the shields up didn't help, as I was destroyed almost immediately by the next wing of enemies. I'm starting to see why these ships usually have escorts. If I just knew how to use the chaff pods, the turrets, and the missiles I'm sure I'd stand more of a chance.


I looked up how to use the chaff pod, the turrets and the missiles and then things went considerably smoother. Manuals aren't really my thing but they are occasionally very useful. It turns out that all of the fighters give you the option to look left, right and behind you, the difference here is that the Broadsword has guns on every view.

It did take me a few tries to finish this mission, but the process was pretty painless. With the quick retry button the only awkward part was waiting for my shields to recharge. Though I'd probably be more annoyed if it'd given me an asteroid field to fly through every time. They feel like they take forever!


Hey it's Hobbes! I recognise him from Wing Commander III. Also I actually get the reference now.

I guess I'd never gotten this far in the game the first time I played it. Not that I've really gotten anywhere yet, as I'm only about a sixth of the way through. I'm kind of getting into it this time though, I want to see what happens next. I mean I'm already playing cards with a tiger, so who even knows where this story is going?

Oh crap, there's a traitor on the ship! That explains all the bombs that keep going off. The game's not telling me who it is yet though and there are no voices to give it away.

I wonder if it's deliberate that this comes right after we're introduced to the friendly Kilrathi on the ship.


It's a real shame they didn't have money in the budget to hire more artists. But hey I've landed on a planet! So that's different. It even has a different barracks screen, not that I'm going to be getting much use out of it as I'm leaving again right away.

I escorted some freighters to a jump point on the way back to the ship and then I was back to my old familiar bunk. Though something weird happened on the next mission: the enemy fighters kept going invisible for a bit. It's been ten years but the Kilrathi have finally gotten their stealth ship technology back! Or maybe they've been using invisible ships all this time and no one knew about them, because they're invisible.

Either way Blair can finally clear his name! This time he's still got his flight recorder to back up his story.

He lost his flight recorder again! What the hell's going on here? Has a traitor been sabotaging his fighter whenever stealth ships were in the area or is he just really bad at remembering to turn it on?

I really want to know what's happening now. Even if it does mean flying more escort missions and navigating more asteroid fields and okay I'm kind of talking myself out of it now.

I have a massive amount of nostalgia for the original Wing Commander, but I don't really enjoy it all that much as a game. You hit autopilot, shoot some fighters, hit autopilot, dodge some rocks, hit autopilot, shoot some fighters, hit autopilot, dodge some mines etc. The gameplay is very unsophisticated compared to games like TIE Fighter, offering only the most basic space dogfighting experience, and there's barely any story to hold it together.

Wing Commander II is basically more of the same, closer to a Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or a Doom 2 than a Final Fantasy VII. Except for three key differences:
  • I don't have any nostalgia for it.
  • The graphics and music are actually less appealing.
  • It has a huge amount of story.
The original game had its conversations and the occasional story interlude, but it was basically just a space war simulator that let you live the life of a starfighter pilot. This, on the other hand, is a proper space war story. There's no interaction involved, the only choice you get to make is whether to watch an extra optional cutscene before you start the mission, but the plot really helps to make it feel like there's a point to what you're doing. If you're invested in what's going on it means the space shooting doesn't have to hold the entire game up on its back. Even the briefings and debriefings take place within the story now, so there's less of a feeling of routine.

I'd almost say that you could just watch the whole thing on YouTube and not really miss anything, but there a little bit of branching to the story as your failures can send you on an alternate path for a few missions. There's fewer 'bad path' missions than the original Wing Commander though, which only requires you to play 18 out of 40 missions to reach the end. Here you have to play 31 out of 47 missions to finish it, so it's a longer game with less replay value. Plus there are some other differences between this and the original. Like it has bombers with turrets now. Also quick restarts after blowing up, which are very much appreciated. It apparently has dynamic difficulty as well, which makes the fights get easier the more you fail, but all I noticed was that I eventually stopped failing.

I'm kind of torn on the game really. On the one hand, my favourite part of Wing Commander was the visuals and the soundtrack, and this only really excels at either when it's straight up reusing graphics and music. In fact it's downright ugly at times, thanks to the increased reliance on 3D graphics from 1991 despite the limited palette, and there are some strange choices in the ship designs. Lots of very bold colours. It's got to be one of the flashiest games you can get for a 386 PC, but the sprite-based visuals haven't aged as well as the ones in Doom or Duke Nukem 3D, especially as the capital ships seem to have the same resolution as the fighters. You get too close to them and you've got a pixelly mess filling the screen.

I didn't give the original Wing Commander a gold star even though I love it, as once I've talked to a couple of pilots, flown a mission and come back I feel like I've pretty much seen everything. This on the other hand has got more going on. The story's nothing special, but it's enough to make this worth playing for more than historical curiosity. There's one thing I don't get however: why isn't it called Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Protagonist?

Thanks for reading! If you've ever wanted to say anything about Wing Commander II now's your chance as there's a comment box below that's waiting for your words. It doesn't matter if you're reading this in 2022 or 2032, the game's already retro and comments are eternally welcome.

You could also take a guess at what the next game will be, though that's obviously more time limited.


  1. They look like they've wandered right out of an Ultima sequel.

    It's possible. One of them left a spaceship in a field in Britannia in 1992...

    1. ... and the Trilkhai in Ultima Underworld II are descendants of a once space faring race that succumbed to degeneration after losing an interstellar war against humanoids. (Also, I might be mistaken but I think there's an actual Kilrathi in Ultima VII Part 2: Serpent Isle somewhere?)

      Which means the Ultima games and the Wing Commander series are probably canonically linked!

    2. And you fight TIE fighters in the first Ultima, so it's all set up for an epic Star Wars, Ultima, Wing Commander crossover game.

  2. I'm glad they redesigned the fighting screen in order to not have that handle between the legs, or was that actually in the sequel ? Not sure how that got released at the time, so distracting lol

    1. It depends on the fighter you're flying I'm afraid.


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