Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger is a space combat simulation game and the second sequel to the original Wing Commander released back in 1990. WC3 was the first in the franchise to use full motion video to tell the story instead of the animated cut-scenes used in the first two games. It is also the first in the series to change from the previous 2D sprite-based graphics to 3D texture-mapped polygonal graphics.
The Full Motion Videos were directed by Chris Roberts and featured famous actors such as Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings) and Mark Hamill (Star Wars) in the central role of Colonel Christopher Blair. In between missions, Blair could engage in branching conversations with his fellow wing-mates. These conversations usually affected how that character treats him and/or her as the story proceeds. The game is considered to be one of the first "interactive movie"s and was advertised as such. The FMVs were achieved using green screens with all of the sets being created in post-production. Wing Commander III was the most expensive game to be produced at the time with a budget of $4 million dollars.
Previously going by the fan name of "Bluehair" in the first two games, the main character of the series was finally given the name of Christopher Blair. Due to the player being able to choose Blair's callsign, the character's actual callsign of "Maverick" would not be made canon until Wing Commander Prophecy. After every mission briefing, the player has the choice of his wingman for that mission along with his fighter craft and its weapons loadout. As in the first Wing Commander, a majority of your various wingmen could be permanently killed during battle or in certain events during the storyline.
The game begins with a scene on the Kilrathi planet of Kilrah showing Terran Confederation POWs being executed in front of a cheering audience. The only POW left alive is a character from previous games in the series: Colonel Jeanette "Angel" Deveraux, who due to her veteran status is being granted a "different fate". The scene then cuts to Christopher Blair (Hamill) and James Taggert (Davies) inspecting the downed wreckage of the TCS Concordia on the planet Vespus.
After grieving over this total loss and the unknown whereabouts of his lover Angel, Blair is transferred by Admiral Tolwyn (McDowell) to the TCS Victory as Wing Commander.
- Colonel Christopher Blair: The main character; he is assigned to the TCS Victory as Wing Commander. Played by Mark Hamill.
- Colonel Ralgha "Hobbes" Nar Halles: A Kilrathi pilot and old friend of Blair's who is trusted by only a handful of people. Played by John Schuck.
- Major Todd "Maniac" Marshall: A cocky and unpredictable pilot who doesn't pass up the chance to try and impress women with his "abilities". Played by Tom Wilson of Back to the Future fame.
- Major Jace "Flash" Dillon: An extremely talented but young pilot who is tasked with flying the experimental Excalibur fighter. Depending on the player's choices, Blair must beat Flash in a simulator duel for him to join the Victory's flight roster. Played by Josh Lucas.
- Lieutenant Winston "Vagabond" Chang: An older pilot with a spotty past and record. He loves to play cards during his off-time. Played by Francois Chau.
- Lieutenant Mitchell "Vaquero" Lopez: A pilot who is often found playing his six-string guitar. He has dreams of opening a cantina after the war. Played by Julian Reyes.
- Lieutenant Laurel "Cobra" Buckley: A cold woman who hates the Kilrathi; She is very suspicious and distrustful towards Hobbes. Played by B.J. Jefferson.
- Lieutenant Robin "Flint" Peters: A pleasant woman who is often found staring at the stars. One of the possible romance choices for Blair. Played by Jennifer MacDonald.
- Captain William Eisen: The respectable Captain of the TCS Victory who has been with the ship for most of his military career. Played by Jason Bernard.
- Chief Petty Officer Rachel Coriolis: An engineer who is in charge of keeping the fighters in top shape. One of the possible romance choices for Blair. Played by Ginger Lynn Allen.
- Lieutenant Ted "Radio" Rollins: A communications officer who isn't afraid to speak of his paranoid theories. Played by Courtney Gains.
- Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn: A charismatic admiral who is greatly respected throughout the Confederation. Played by Malcolm McDowell.
- Brigadier General James "Paladin" Taggert: An old friend of Blair's who served aboard the Tiger's Claw and is now working in Special Operations. Played by John Rhys-Davies.
- Colonel Jeanette "Angel" Devereaux: Blair's lover; She is involved in a top-secret operation for General Taggert. Played by Yolanda Jilot.
There are several different ways for the game to end:
The Funeral Ending - Blair is killed in combat during a mission and a funeral is held for him. The war continues without him playing out his important part.
The Captured Ending - Blair is shot down during a mission but ejects only to be "rescued" by the Kilrathi. On board the ship the Crown Prince himself gives him two ways to die: either a honorable death by his own hand or disintegration. Either way, the result is the same: Blair is dead and the war continues without him.
The Invasion Ending - The "Bad" Ending. Depending on the player's choices throughout the game and in certain key points, things start to go very badly for the Confederation and the War ends with the Kilrathi invading Earth.
The Victory Ending - The "Good" Ending. Depending on the player's choices throughout the game and in certain key points, Blair sets out with an experimental weapon and successfully blows up the Kilrathi homeworld, thus ending the thirty year long war as a hero.
A Novelization of the game was written by William R. Forstchen and Andrew Keith and was published in 1995.
The novel added more layers to the story and more depth to the characters. It also changed certain things to create more tension for the plot:
- Flash is no longer a test pilot for the Excalibur fighter, but is instead from the Locanda system as a replacement from the Home Defense Squadron.
- Blair fails to save Locanda.
- Blair chooses Rachel over Flint.