Wing Commander is a single-player flight game that popularized the space flight simulator genre and paved the way for games such as the X-Wing/TIE Fighter series. A war rages between the Terran Confederation and the cat-like alien Kilrathi. The player is a rookie pilot on the Terran capital ship the TCS Tiger's Claw. Cinematic intros and a sythesized orchestral score provide a space opera feel.
The single player campaign consists of a branching story arc that begins with the player in control of a lightly powered patrol craft. Continued success will lead to the unlocking of better equipped vessels. Failure will lead to missions with overwhelming odds, possibly resulting in the destruction of the Tiger's Claw and the end of the campaign. Campaign progress is broken up by adventure game style breaks in the pilot's lounge. The player can communicate with wingmates and fellow pilots using text-based menus and the dialogue will reflect previous mission results. If the wingmate dies on a mission, their chair/locker/barstool will be unoccupied and their name crossed off on the killboard.
Missions are launched from the briefing room, with a series of checkpoints to visit and objectives to accomplish. Mission types offer some variety between patrols, escort duty, attack runs and investigations. Missions frequently change from their original description en route as the player encounters enemy Kilrathi and is forced to make snap decisions to maintain the mission.
The game used 2D sprites rendered out at various angles to simulate a 3D entity in a similar way that Doom would use later to represent its computer controlled enemies. Even this simulated 3D experience taxed computer systems of the time to their limits; when played on the standard Amiga home computer, the framerate would often dip well into single digits when space battles got frantic.