Set in 2011, the world has taken a turn for the worse. Global oil crises in combination with the rise of terrorism and the fall of the Soviet Union spark a series of nationalistic uprisings in some of the larger union countries (including Great Britain and the United States!). The abundance of warring nations have prompted the creation of mercenary military groups who conduct large-scale military operations on behalf of anyone who can afford them. Turkey in particular has created a "tax umbrella" for mercenary activity, and Istanbul is now considered the base-of-operations for many such groups.
The player takes the role of a Commander in one of the smaller but most elite mercenary groups, the "Wildcats", who specialize in aerial operations - especially F-16 fighter jets. After conducting several combat missions for various small organizations at the start of the game, the Wildcats receive a lucrative offer to fight for a South American dictator against his "troublesome" neighbours, and they reluctantly accept. However, after completing their mission, after treachery against the Wildcats It's Up to You to lead the crippled Wildcats forward, trying to survive both physically and financially in a complicated world.
As mentioned earlier, much like its Wing Commander predecessors the game has a strong emphasis on the plot. Between missions you can spend some time walking around your base and having conversations with other (well-characterized) members of your group - most of whom are also your wingmen and display various personalities in their flying styles as well. In the CD-ROM version of the game, each character is also fully-voiced, and in total there is more than an hour of conversations and cutscenes to be enjoyed. As the leader of the group, you also have to make sure that the armament inventory is fully-stocked with the missiles and bombs necessary for your next mission. Finally, in Istanbul you can drive down to the local Mercenary cafe to seek "fixers" - representatives of governments or other organizations who offer contracts for your employment. Once a deal with one of the fixers is made, the Wildcats fly off to whatever zone of conflict across the world, and then preform a series of missions for their employer.
The management side of the game forces the player to make tradeoffs between expensive advanced weaponry such as laser-guided bombs, all-aspect IR missiles, long range radar-guided missiles and guided anti-tank missiles which make missions much easier but are hard on the budget and cheaper unguided bombs, older versions of missiles that only lock on the the rear of enemy aircraft and direct cannon fire that require more skill to use effectively. It was entirely possible to get a Non-Standard Game Over by failing to keep the financial side of the business in the black.
During the course of the game, the player learns more about the geo-political situation, about the rival mercenary groups that compete against you for work, and about the truth behind the fate of the previous leader of the Wildcats. The plot culminates in combat against the most powerful rival group, the Jackals, with whom the Wildcats have a long grudge as well as ideological differences: One group will do everything for money, while the other at least tries to work only for those who deserve it.
As a flight simulator, Strike Commander is more arcade-like than realistic, and can be compared to what Wing Commander would be like in atmospheric conditions. However, at the time it offered a ground-breaking 3D flight engine coupled with stunning VGA visuals (for 1993), which included advanced gouraud shading coupled with polygon textures. It was compatible with several different kinds of advanced joysticks as well, and was commonly included with Sound-Blaster/Joystick packages sold around that period (when the Sound-Blaster 16 had its own Joystick port).
The game was less successful than the Wing Commander series, in spite of its technical innovations. However, it did produce an expansion pack called Tactical Operations, whose plot focuses on attempts by the American IRS (now the de-facto government of what remains of the United States after several states have called quits) to end Turkey's status as a haven for mercenary groups. The major innovation in the expansion was the inclusion of the F-22 Raptor jet-fighter and the F-23 Black Widow II, both of which can be flown instead of the F-16 whenever required.
The game also opened the way to another flight simulator from Origin, called Pacific Strike, which took the same game engine into the Pacific Theatre of World War II.
This work features examples of the following tropes:
- The Ace: While many of the pilots are aces, only a few of them have the attitude of superiority embodied in this trope, with Jean-Paul Prideaux at the top of the list.
- Ace Pilot: Basically all names pilots in this game are flight aces, including yourself, Stern, Janet, and the evil Prideaux. The only real non-aces in your group are Miguel (the pilot/mechanic) and Virgil Beetlebaum (the accountant). The game also keeps track of how many planes you shot down during the game, as well as planes shot down by your wingmen.
- Balkanize Me: In Strike Commander's 2011, the majority of superpowers around the world have undergone internal schisms and have split up into smaller nations. In particular, many states have seceded from the U.S.A — and California has even split up into two separate countries (North California and South California), who are now at war with both the United States and with each other!
- Black and Gray Morality: Even the Wildcats work for the "wrong" people sometimes. In fact it seems like no one has truly pure intentions. The player is supposed to try and follow the White Morality path, but then again, you're a mercenary...
- Cool Plane: You and your wingmen fly F-16 Fighting Falcons but the game includes enemies who fly F-15 Eagles, RAF Tornadoes, MIG-29 Fulcrums, SU-27 Flankers and many more. Late in the game you get to fly a prototype version of the F-22 Raptor and the final duel is against your Arch-Enemy flying the YF-23 Black Widow II prototype.
- Divided States of America: By the year 2011, 14 states have seceded from the union. The Internal Revenue Service (de-facto government of the U.S. in 2011) is waging war against each of these.
- First was Texas, in response to heavy taxes levied on it to try and pay for a massive earthquake that hit California (Texas also split into three sub-nations shortly afterwards).
- Next was Alaska, in protest of heavy oil drilling and subsequent environmental damage forced upon it by the federal government due to a major oil crisis in the Middle East. Canada recognizes Alaska as an independent state, leading to a massive war between it and the U.S. over Alaska's oil fields.
- The Dakotas and the Carolinas are now single countries.
- Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia are now singular countries that have joined together to form the Southern Confederate Bloc.
- As mentioned earlier, California did eventually secede from the union, and has split into two countries — South California and North California — who are now at war with each other.
- Though the details are not mentioned, an ad in the accompanying faux-magazine indicates that Hawaii has also seceded and is now recruiting an army to defend itself.
- FaceHeel Revolving Door: Janet pulls off a FaceHeel Turn after being reprimanded by Stern for shooting down a civilian aircraft (which was carrying baddies, but was still unarmed, and not the target of the mission). Within a week, she's working with your sworn rivals, the Jackals. She's back with the Wildcats by the end of the game of course, having realized her mistake.
- High-Speed Missile Dodge: Possible, but it's safer with flares.
- Improbable Piloting Skills: As expected from what is basically Wing Commander dressed as Top Gun. High G-Forces can blind you, though.
- Intimidating Revenue Service: The IRS is now the de facto Federal government, and uses military force to collect back taxes from Mega Corps and the Divided States of America. One of your missions gives you the choice between a painful audit or helping them invade the secessionist state of Rhode Island, though there's a happy ending where you blow up IRS One with a missile."Commander, the IRS has been called a terrorist enclave. Rest assured, we are."
- Loads and Loads of Loading: To be expected when a game runs off a CD at 1x speed, common at the time of its release.
- Loading Screen: Thankfully, the loading screen had a mini-game where you played pong against yourself with a CD instead of a ball. There was also incentive to play well: If you let the CD fall off the bottom edge of the screen, the mini-game ended and you had no choice but to wait patiently for the mission to finish loading... and that could take a while.
- Mega-Corp: Several of the mission sets are from multinational megacorps, who given the times frequently have to use force for protection and carrying out certain goals.
- More Dakka: If you are unlucky enough to end up in front of an A-10 Thunderbolt II it will only take a couple of hits from his 30mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon to down you. Not surprising since this gun is designed to defeat tank armour.
- Private Military Contractors: The Wildcats and Jackals are both this, specializing in fighter jets. In fact, the premise of the game is that PMCs have become numerous and powerful due to the sheer number of wars going on all across the Earth at the same time and the economic conditions of the world making it too expensive for many nations to maintain their own large armed forces. Most PMCs operate out of Turkey thanks to a tax umbrella the country offers.
- Recycled In Space: Being based upon Origin System's Magnum Opus, Wing Commander, Strike Commander inverts this trope by being essentially Wing Commander, but set during a Next Sunday A.D. era set on good old planet Earth, and with real Fighter Jets instead of Starfighters.
- Travel Montage: Every time the Wildcats leave Istanbul on a campaign, including a map with a red line to show where they are going, and a shot of the C-130 and a couple of jets.
- Wing Man: As with the other flying game from Chris Roberts, you're given wingmen (and some wingwomen), and as the commander of the Wildcats after Stern is shot down and killed you're given the option of choosing who you fly with. All can help with the mission, but some are better at certain attributes than others.
- You All Meet in an Inn: Selim's Bar in Istanbul is where you get most of the jobs.