The plot line is pretty basic: Colonel Christopher Blair (Mark Hamill) has been reassigned to the T.C.S Victory by Admiral Tolwyn (Malcolm McDowell). His girlfriend and/or wife Jeannette Devereaux a.k.a Angel has been, unknown to Blair, captured by the Kilrathi and is presumed dead. This has him seriously bummed. However, his best friend Hobbes is on board the T.C.S Victory and there's plenty of Kilrathi to chew through.
The setting is surprisingly well realized. Through a nice use of "show, don't tell" we get a sense that the Terran Confederation is on its last legs. The war has literally been going on for generations and just about everyone is shell-shocked to one degree or another. There's a looming sense of doom and gloom that clings to all of the characters, though some squad members are more upbeat than others.
Mark Hamill does an excellent job playing Colonel Blair, portraying a very different character from Luke Skywalker despite both of them being hotshot pilots. I really wish we'd gotten a Wing Commander movie series starring him because it would have been nice to see him in the Sheridan/Sinclair role of being an experienced leader. I especially liked Mark Hamill's not-so-subtle handling of Blair's frustrations. You really get the sense this guy hates the kind of garbage he's put through on a regular basis.
I actually was very pleased with the way that war, as a whole, was portrayed within Wing Commander 3. The missions are all fun and entertaining but they're mostly designed small-scale strikes against the Kilrathi that don't give you a sense the Terran Confederation is making any real progress against them. Colonel Blair might pull off a hundred miracles a year blowing up carriers all by himself but there's millions more where that came from. Humanity's circumstances feel desperate for the majority of the game, illustrating that the Kilrathi aren't necessarily better at war than humanity but they're possessed of a stronger will. They're continuing to fight despite their mammoth losses because their leaders simply don't care.
While the game is a starfighter simulation, I actually enjoyed interacting with the game's characters much more. Colonel Blair doesn't have quite the same level of choice that Commander Shepard possesses in Mass Effect but he's not far off. Hobbes is always entertaining, being a character I absolutely loved right up until the end. Flint is also fun, even if she came off a bit too posh for a seasoned fighter jock. Rachel was my favorite character of the game and no jokes about her actress' other film credentials (go ahead and look it up - I'm not telling).
Each of the characters is carrying his or her set of baggage through the setting and only rarely does any of it feel ludicrous. Snake comes across a little ridiculous with her constantly sharpening a knife but real life is filled with soldiers who managed to survive on hatred for the enemy well after they'd lost any real sense of humanity. Likewise, I felt Captain Eisen (Jason Bernard)'s "old soldier" routine was quite engaging.
I do have some objections to the game and they're the kinds of things that can't really be discussed in a review without spoiling the plot. Suffice to say, veterans of the game will know that I had some objections to the major plot twist and also the way the game ended. I also felt the Kilrathi were treated a little too much as a one-dimensional race of evil conquerors. Ironically, the situation that humanity is forced into makes the final chapter of the game an interesting moral dilemma and I'm glad that the game offers no easy solutions for the war.
Overall, I really enjoyed Wing Commander 3: Heart of the Tiger and recommend it despite its age. Despite having some disagreements with the storytelling, I actually think that it made me more emotionally invested overall. As a result, I can't in good conscience take away points for them.