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Video Game / Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom

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The price of freedom is betrayal.

Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom is the fourth main game in Chris Roberts' Wing Commander science fiction space combat simulator video game series, produced by Origin Systems and released by Electronic Arts for the PC in 1996 and the Sony PlayStation in 1997 (the game was also released on the North American Play Station Network Store in 2009).

The first game set after the end of the Terran-Kilrathi War, Wing Commander IV depicts a galaxy in the midst of a chaotic transition, with human civilians, Kilrathi survivors and former soldiers on both sides attempting to re-stabilize their lives.

Colonel "Maverick" Christopher Blair, having retired after the Kilrathi War, is recalled to active duty by his old comrade Todd "Maniac" Marshall. Apparently, there's chaos in the Border Worlds with unarmed transports and other sites being massacred by pirates and terrorists. Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn believes it's only a matter of time before all-out war breaks out between the Border Worlds and Confederation.

Things are not as they seem, however...

A novelization, by William R. Forstchen and Ben Ohlander, was published on October 1, 1996.

The game contained full motion video starring Mark Hamill, John Rhys-Davies, and Malcolm McDowell, and many of the other members of the previous game's cast.

The game contains the following tropes:

  • 10-Minute Retirement: Blair starts the game retired, but is called back to active duty just a few minutes into the opening cutscene.
  • Actual Pacifist: The Kilrathi have completely disarmed as part of their treaty and are determined to live in peace with the humans.
  • Adaptational Heroism: The novelization had characters lament Admiral Tolwyn just doing what he had to in order to protect humanity despite the game making it very clear that his plan is completely crazy.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Black Lance holds many of these values, including genetic superiority and unchecked rampant militarism. They're also the result of a war which inflicted untold casualties on the population.
  • Anti-Frustration Features: The map that you could pull up to navigate around your home ship also has markers to indicate where a conversation can be had with another character, after players complained that in Wing Commander III some plot conversations were missed because the player had no indication that they even existed, if they didn't have a guide book or website to point them out.
  • Arc Words: "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."
  • Armor-Piercing Question: During the final confrontation, Tolwyn is calm, composed and quite capable of deflecting Blair's accusations. Blair presents evidence, and Tolwyn is still able to weasel out of it. But the final dialogue choice combines this trope with Calling the Old Man Out: Blair reiterates the evidence, the atrocities and the ultimate goal (to make humanity strong and genetically pure warriors for the next alien war), and then demands to know why it was hidden from the rest of the Confederation if it was so necessary. This completely undercuts all of Tolwyn's arguments, leaving him only capable of trying to justify his actions rather weakly, and results in his arrest.
    Blair: Tell us all, Admiral! Is that the price of freedom?!
  • Attack Its Weak Point: The only way to kill the Vesuvius without taking all day to do it is to drop the Flashpak in the hangar, where they don't use the quite effective armor found on the outer hull.
  • Back in the Saddle: After the end of the Kilrathi War (at the end of Wing Commander III), Blair retires to a farm on a distant desert planet. Like a number of his fellow officers (such as Vagabond), he took a billet in the Reserves for the extra money. Wing Commander IV sees Blair and Vagabond both getting recalled to duty to deal with a crisis in the Border Worlds.
  • Break Them by Talking: During the final confrontation with Tolwyn, Blair has to pick up the right dialogue options to expose the atrocities that Tolwyn has committed and prevent war with the Border Worlds. If you pick the right ones, Tolwyn will be reduced to a sputtering wreck and lose all the support his years of service have earned him in mere seconds.
  • But Thou Must!: You're given two chances to defect to the Union of Border Worlds. If you don't take the second chance, infinite waves of UBW bombers spawn until your carrier is destroyed, ending the game. If you eject, it's court martial.
  • Call to Agriculture: After the Kilrathi War, Blair retired to a farm on a distant planet, but is happy to be recalled to active service. If you win the game without compromising Blair's morals (that is to say, if Panther's morale is higher than Hawk's), Blair becomes a Veteran Instructor, teaching new pilots how to fly starfighters.
  • Creator Cameo: Chris Roberts makes a brief appearance as one of the witnesses on stand in the good ending.
  • Dead Man's Hand: Vagabond gets the hand, and dies later in a mission that goes badly wrong. Bonus points for it being one of the few times the card shark had lost... and to Maniac, no less.
  • Defector from Decadence: Blair becomes one of these when he realizes the side he's fighting on isn't the good guys.
  • Depopulation Bomb: The Gen-Select bioweapon releases nanobots that kill everyone who doesn't meet the Black Lance's genetic standards. This weapon killed roughly 90% of the population on the planet it was used on.
  • Dramatic Space Drifting: When investigating the transport destroyed in the intro, you may see a charred skeleton floating around in space.
  • Driven to Suicide: Admiral Tolwyn in the novelization and the game. He realizes that humanity couldn't have survived his plan and hangs himself in his cell.
  • Duel to the Death: The final dogfight of the game is a 1v1 between Blair and Seether, paying off an animosity that was set up during the opening movie.
  • Easter Egg: Typing "animal" when the terminal text is scrolling, before it gets to the prompt for a callsign, results in a text based "20 questions" type game called "Animal Gump". Replacing "animal" with "chicken" gives an alternate version of the credits, with strange comments.
  • Elite Mooks: In addition to the few named opponents (other than Seether, which ones depended on when you defect, there were also nameless, generic "ace" pilots.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Admiral Tolwyn believed this to be the fate of humanity without his plan, but in the novelization realized the Black Lance could have served an unmodified humanity to the same effect, just before he killed himself. See also the fate of the Sirius colony in the novel Fleet Action, and almost the fate of Earth until Max Krueger's Big Damn Heroes moment.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Lampshaded in the novelization: "You have a mechanic named Pliers?"
  • Explosion Propulsion: In cutscenes, Seether does this utilizing mines deployed from his own fighter, in one instance using it to allow a bomber he was flying to go to escape. The player is unable to do it, but in the novelization of WC4 Blair uses the technique to allow his damaged fighter to catch up to Seether and destroy him.
    Hawk: When I signed up for Confed there was a rookie pilot on my ship. He was the only guy I ever knew who could do that trick.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Par for the course, because Chris Roberts definitely approves of this. If Blair loses the final confrontation with Tolwyn.
    Guard: Blindfold?
    Blair: No.
    • Conversely, should Admiral Tolwyn lose, he commits suicide in his cell, possibly a case of Better to Die than Be Killed but more likely showing his Dirty Coward nature and refusal to accept the consequences of his actions.
  • Faceā€“Heel Turn: Admiral Tolwyn was always on the hard end of Good Is Not Soft, but his command of the Black Lance indicates that it was more than that, and the realization of how close Humanity came to extinction in the Kilrathi War drove him over the edge.
    • If Blair sides more with Hawk than with Panther during the game, the endgame shows him taking over Tolwyn's job and taking actions more in line with Tolwyn's, including using the Black Lance as an elite strike force to suppress insurrection.
  • Fallen Hero: Admiral Tolwyn and all of the Black Lance.
  • False Flag Operation: The attack on the medical frigate at the beginning is one by the Black Lance to set up the Border Worlds for invasion.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Black Lance despises all non-genetically engineered lifeforms except for Admiral Tolwyn, their creator. Likewise, there's considerable distrust for the Kilrathi despite their disarmament.
  • Hannibal Lecture: See Shut Up, Hannibal! below, Tolwyn's impending Hannibal Lecture at the end of WC4 can be beautifully and brutally cut short by Colonel Blair.
  • Heel Realization: In the novelization, Admiral Tolwyn realizes that his plans would have resulted in the eventual extinction of humanity. He then commits suicide in his cell. Played with as Admiral Tolwyn just decides he could have made a genetically superior Warrior Caste from the Black Lance ala Battle Tech versus actually recanting of his views completely.
  • Hero of Another Story: Wingman "Primate" was originally a Confed pilot on the Lexington which you could choose to fly with you on missions, but at some point the kill board shows him as "AWOL", later you find out he somehow managed to get to the BWS Intrepid before you did and you are able to again pick him as your wingman in the game.note  Being a minor character, you are never told how Primate was able to defect to the Border Worlds, nor how he came to that decision before your character did.
  • He's Dead, Jim: Sosa declares Vagabond dead without checking. However, the same guards who had just killed him were still shooting, so her not going to check is understandable.
  • He Who Fights Monsters:
    • The story of Tolwyn's life, and probably also that of many of the Black Lance in addition.
    • Hawk is well on his way down this path, and falls off the slippery slope in Prophecy.
  • Home Guard:
    • The Border Worlds Militia started off as one of these. They are essentially a small modern navy when the game takes place.
    • Blair and Vagabond both are members of the Confederation Space Forces Reserves when the game starts, and the events of the game see them recalled to active duty.
  • Humanity Is Superior: Subverted, in that Tolwyn didn't believe it was, without genetic manipulation and changing to a warrior society like the Kilrathi.
  • Informal Eulogy: Getting killed in a mission will result in an audio of a news broadcast announcing Blair's death at the game over screen. The content will differ depending on if the death occurred before or after Blair joins the Border Worlds.
  • Interface Screw: In a few missions, the odds are against you due to a jamming ship that pretty much screws over most of your instruments, including your shields and your missiles, which will not lock. What makes it even more of a kick to the face is that the enemy fighters are not affected at all by the jamming due to frequency-agile avionics and tempesting (as per the novelization), so they have working shields, and missiles that lock. On the upside, though, salvo-firing off all of your "dumbfire" unguided missiles will put a quick end to the jammer ship, once you locate it.
  • Invisibility Cloak: The Dragon is equipped with one as standard gear, and after you capture a batch of them you get to see a cutscene showing exactly how the visual cloaking works (while cloaked Dragons are completely undetectable by other ships, they can still be detected by other Dragons and are seen by pilots as transparent and glasslike, but nevertheless cannot be attacked with guided missiles).
    • Also, you get a pseudo-cloaking device for your ship early in the game (though you have the option to fly without it), which according to chief tech Robert "Pliers" Sykes who developed it, it only hides your ship from radar detection (still, when it's on, you can't be spotted visually by the enemy), and it only works a few times in a mission.
  • It's a Wonderful Failure: If you fail during the final sequence (which is entirely conversational) you end up shown being put before a firing line, to be executed for treason (plus see a pretty cool CGI sequence when Tolwyn orders a large Confed fleet, lead by the Vesuvius, to attack a Border Worlds' planetary system). Fail several times in the first few mission sets, they'll show Blair back at the bar in Nephele after he's been booted from the service, watching a newscast of a declaration of war against the UBW.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Flashpak destroys ships by igniting their internal atmosphere, burning them out from the inside.
  • Little "No": If you get caught by Confed, Blair utters a quiet but defiant "no" when asked if he wants to be blindfolded for his execution.
  • Meaningful Background Event: If you pay attention to the killboard you'll notice that on the Lexington there is a pilot with the callsign Primate who you can pick as your wingman for missions. Eventually his status changes to AWOL and then MIA. When you defect to the Borderworlds he appears on the Intrepid's killboard and is pickable again as a wingman. See Hero of Another Story above.
  • Mortal Wound Reveal: Vegabond freezes after shooting two Confed security guards, with Sosa yelling for him to "Come on!". The camera pans to reveal that he got shot in the chest by the last guard he shot, and after a few seconds falls down dead.
  • Morton's Fork: When the marines capture Admiral Tolwyn, the player has the choice to release him or hold him as a prisoner of war. This turns out to be meaningless as Tolwyn ends up being released no matter which choice you pick.
  • Nanomachines: The GenSelect Device are cannister-delivered nanomachines that can be programmed to attack anyone that doesn't fit the user's "ideal" genetics, causing them to die a horrible death similar to that of Ebola, turned up to eleven.
  • Never My Fault: While Captain Eisen is briefing you regarding him leaving to make his case to anyone he knows in Confed who will believe him regarding the conspiracy evidence and leaving you in command of the BWS Intrepid, Maniac is flirting with the carrier's helmswoman and accidently grabs the ship's wheel on the helm which shakes the ship momentarily. Major Todd Marshall walks quickly away from the error and asserts "authority".
  • Non-Standard Game Over:
    • If you repeatedly screw up your early missions, say, by immediately ejecting on launch for every mission you get, Tolwyn hands you your pink slip in a hysterically dark cut scene.
    • You will end up overwhelmed by endless Border World fighters if you refuse to join them twice.
    • Failing to convince the Confederation not to go to war with the Border Worlds in the last set of dialogue trees at the end of the game will result in a game over.
  • Percussive Maintenance: Inverted, during the cutscene where Pliers (ship's mechanic) has found a disc of unknown purpose in a captured Dragon (unknown to the characters, that is; the players know it as a Flash-pak, a bomb capable of burning out a entire capital ship if it hits anywhere on the hull). He begins his investigation by dropping it on the deck, while everyone around him dives for cover - when it doesn't explode, he then picks it up and resigns himself to some actual work.
  • Permanently Missable Content: If you don't take certain missions in the Speradon mission set, or skip it entirely for the Circe set, you miss out on one of two special missiles and/or a fighter (which was arguably more interesting than the other "superfighter", as it had a flaw that kept the ship from being munchkin), depending on the choices you make.
  • Plot Coupon: The Dragon fighter is an option once the Project transport is captured, but after a certain point it's the only way to continue the game.
  • Plotline Death:
    • Vagabond is killed during the Comm Station raid in the Orestes system. Note that, despite WC4 being Darker and Edgier than the previous game, with heavier themes and more Gray-and-Grey Morality, it has a lower bodycount: this is the only major character who is guaranteed to die.
    • A second character has an optional death. At the end of the Circe / Speradon missions, Catscratch is assigned to go tractor in a satellite that the Border Worlds want a look at. Unfortunately, he's been taking lessons from Maniac and tries to fight his way out using a move that relies on dumb luck. Since, unlike Maniac, he wasn't Born Lucky, the attack fails and his ship is crippled. Blair then gets a call on the radio and has to decide whether to go save the kid. If you do not, Catscratch dies.
  • Proud Warrior Race: Admiral Tolwyn believes humanity should become one of these due to how woefully outmatched they were in the Kilrathi war. His attempts to force this transformation are the basis of the plot.]]
  • Red Alert: Blair's Oh, Crap! moment about the heavy carrier Vesuvius turning around to engage the light carrier Intrepid is immediately followed by him calling "Battlestations!", and rushing off to his fighter to launch in defense of the Intrepid.
  • Sacrificial Planet: The planet of Telamon is used as a testing ground for Tolwyn's Gen-Select bioweapon.
  • Ship Sinking: This happens regarding both of Blair's potential romances in Wing Commander III. While the game totally ignores whether or not he got with either one, according to the Wing Commander IV novelization, Blair married Rachel after the death of Flint in that game's final mission. However they divorced just before the events of this game. Either way, neither character shows up onscreen in this game or is mentioned.
  • Shout-Out: When Blair is in the bar in the beginning he sees a teenager wearing a sunhat, which causes him to roll his eyes. The hat is very similar to one that Mark Hamill wore in deleted scenes from A New Hope, which has often been a source of fan derision.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: During the endgame, the revelation about The Dragon's involvement in the Genetic Enhancement Program.
    Tolwyn: He's more of a warrior than you will ever be, Colonel! He is excellence personified! He is—
    Blair: He is dead!
  • Space Fighter: Features the same Competitive Balance as previous games, but with some twists: you have a restricted number of fighters available at all times, which puts a few limits on the fact that, since your character is in charge, he can choose what everyone flies.
    • Fragile Speedster: the Border Worlds fields the Banshee Light Fighter, which is maneuverable and has a formidable missile arsenal but lacks the guns for anything but Cherry Tapping. On Confed's side is the Arrow Light Fighter from WC3, which has better guns but fewer missiles, but you never get to fly it.
    • Jack of All Stats: The Hellcat V returns from the Kilrathi War. You can only fly this whilst working for Confed. The Border Worlders have no equivalent, while the Kilrathi Remnant is still relying on their venerable Dralthi IV.
    • Mighty Glacier: The Border Worlds' Vindicator Medium Fighter, which is flyable, goes up against Confed's war-era Thunderbolt VII, which is not.
    • Stone Wall: Confed's Longbow and the Border Worlds Avenger are both flyable.
    • Master of All: The game comes with not one but two prototype superfighters, the Bearcat and the Dragon, both of which need to be seized from enemy forces. Meanwhile, the Excalibur is still in service but is not playable.
  • Stripped to the Bone: You may see one or more charred skeletons floating in space when investigating the wreckage of the transport destroyed in the intro.
  • Swiss-Cheese Security: When Blair asks for permission to land on the Black Lance star base while flying a captured Black Lance fighter, the base crew allows him to land without attempting to contact him to determine who he is or what mission he was returning from. The flight deck is nearly empty when he lands, and no one is sent to debrief him.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Blair has this question forced on him. Choosing Lawful results in a Non-Standard Game Over.
  • Unwinnable by Design: As stated earlier, rejecting both chances to join the Border Worlds will result in a mission that cannot be successful.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Admiral Tolwyn is the beloved leader of the Confederation military. A war hero, he has the full support of the Senate and the military at large before the depths of his crimes is exposed.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Blair to Admiral Tolwyn in the endgame of Wing Commander IV, if done a bit more subtly than normal.
    Blair: Space Marshal Tolwyn believes that our victory over the Kilrathi was a fluke. That we as a race need tinkering with, engineering! If a few billion die along the way, well, they weren't worthy anyway! Why can't we be more like the Kilrathi? Addicted to conflict? The only meaning in life being found in death? Tell us all, Admiral! Is that the price of freedom?"
  • Wham Line: Blair drops a bunch of these on Tolwyn during their debate on the Senate floor. The most potent of these - and the one that takes all the wind out of Tolwyn's sails - is his response to Tolwyn's bragging about Seether's superiority.
    Tolwyn: He is more of a warrior than you will ever be, Colonel. He is excellence personified! He is—
    Blair: He is dead.
    Tolwyn: (clearly gut-punched by the revelation) He is... a symbol of all that we will achieve in the future...

Alternative Title(s): Wing Commander IV