I’ll admit, right off the bat, that this was a tough article to write. I’ve played many, many space combat sims in my day, and through research and my own memory I strained to find fighters that actually stuck out in my mind. Sadly, while I’ve enjoyed flying around in fighters in many of the games I’ve played, I’ll be damned if I could really remember the horror or joy at flying specific fighter craft in many of them.
With that said, after a lot of thought, I’ve come up with a list of — what I think are — the best and worst fighters in space gaming. Again, this is based on my memory and opinion. ;)
The Worst Space Fighters
The A-Wing was the first fighter I thought of when I asked “What’s the worst fighter you recall flying in a space game?” From it’s underpowered weapon layout to its overtly-sensitive steering, this fighter was a giant pain in the ass to fly. Sure, it was tough to be hit by enemy fire in an A-Wing if you knew what you were doing, but it was also god damned hard to hit anything else because it was just so damned finicky. In X-Wing or any of its sequels, I DREADED being made to fly this damned thing, and longed for the stability of a B-Wing or the exceptional mixed-performance of an X-Wing. Nearly ANYTHING besides the damned A-Wing. This is, by far, one of the worst fighters I ever flew in any space sim.
Let’s stick with Star Wars for a bit and mention the god damned TIE Fighter. Sure, she was a nimble craft, and manufactured in such numbers that she could overwhelm many an opposing force, but she was basically a bucket with wings, engines and a couple of cannons. A few good shots from an enemy craft and you were toast, and I couldn’t STAND the fragility of this fighter. I prefer my fighters a bit…meatier, and this is one of the leanest fighters you can fly in any space game. I mean hell, at least the A-Wing had some shields. You had to graduate up to a TIE Advanced for that. While TIE Fighter is my second favorite space sim ever, the craft upon which it’s named is one of my least favorite fighter craft ever.
I couldn’t pick one fighter in X-Com Interceptor because they were ALL horrid to fly. Apparently there WAS a joystick issue when the game came out that made the controls too sensitive, but even after that was supposedly fixed, trying to fly any of the damned things was a horrid exercise in frustration. It’s a damned shame too, because X-Com Interceptor is one of the very few space sims with a dynamic campaign, and it actually had some good ideas once you got past the horrid spacecraft performance.
And that’s all I could think of in terms of fighters I flat-out couldn’t stand to fly. Now, let’s take a look at the other side of the coin.
The Best Space Fighters
Going back to Star Wars for a moment, let’s look at the glorious TIE Defender. Four laser cannons, two ion cannons, shields and a hyperdrive, this thing might’ve made the game a bit unbalanced at the time, but who cares? She was a wonderful craft to fly. Still nimble even with her increased size and weapon load, yet powerful enough to take on anything the Rebel Alliance could throw at you. The TIE Defender was a pure joy to fly.
Keeping with Star Wars for a moment, let’s look at the X-Wing. It’s without a doubt the most popular fighter in all of the Star Wars mythos, but it’s also the best. Maneuverable as heck, able to take a pounding thanks to her shielding, and with four laser cannons, she could give as good as she got. The X-Wing is the iconic Star Wars fighter, and there are reasons for that besides its sleek styling and famous pilots, such as her stability and reliability. There’s a reason some of the best pilots in the Alliance flew the X-Wing…the odds were she’d get you back to base in one piece despite what the Empire threw at you.
Finally, we have to talk about not only my favorite fighter in all of space gaming (yeah, I might be a bit biased), but the greatest fighter I’ve come across in all the space games I’ve played, the Black Lance Dragon from Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom. Armed to the teeth with four laser cannons, two ion cannons AND two amazingly powerful fusion cannons, as well as the ability to deploy mines, missiles and the dreaded FlashPak device, it ALSO had a cloaking device and was the first fighter in the Wing Commander games to have a built-in hyperdrive.
She was also fast as hell, stable as could be and very maneuverable. It’s a shame one didn’t get to fly her too much in Wing Commander IV, because every time I flew her, I felt like I had come home. She was probably the greatest fighter-based weapons platform I’ve ever come across in any space combat game I’ve played, and I only wish I had more time to get to know her better. Sadly, because of her illegal creation and production, the Dragon was never used by Confed, and therefore didn’t show up in Wing Commander Prophecy, and I’ll be honest in that her absence was keenly felt.
So there you have it. The best and worst space fighters in all of space gaming, according to me. Why was Star Wars in there so much? I think due to the iconic nature of the series, those fighters stuck out more, honestly. They were also pretty well designed to stand on their own, I believe.
Think I forgot one? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading!