Wing Commander: Prophecy is the fourth direct sequel in Chris Roberts' Wing Commander science fiction space combat simulator franchise of computer games. The game was released in 1997, produced by Origin Systems and distributed by Electronic Arts. Prophecy was clearly meant by its producers to segue into a new era of Wing Commander history, especially after the departure from Origin of the series creator Chris Roberts. However, such a future never materialized, especially when Electronic Arts closed Origin down in 2004.
The game features several innovations, like an all-new game engine (the VISION Engine), new spacecraft, characters and story elements. The events depicted in Prophecy are set over a decade after Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom and, rather than the Kilrathi, the player must deal with a new alien threat, an insectoid race codenamed Nephilim that has invaded the human galaxy through a wormhole. Also, Prophecy was the first main-line Wing Commander game in which the player did not take on the role of Christopher Blair, instead being introduced to a new player character, Lance Casey. Some of the characters and actors from previous games return in Prophecy, where they rub elbows with an entirely new cast of Confederation pilots and personnel.
A stand-alone expansion pack, Secret Operations, was released by Origin in 1998; most notably, it was released solely over the Internet and for no charge, though the large initial file challenged the dial-up connections of that day. Secret Operations was later released for sale in combination with Prophecy in the "Wing Commander: Prophecy - Gold" package. A Game Boy Advance port of Prophecy featuring also multiplayer was released in 2003. Also, recently a number of fan-made mods based on the game's engine has been developed and distributed.
It has been some twelve years since the destruction of Kilrah, the Kilrathi homeworld. The Terran Confederation, slowly demobilizing and reorganizing its military assets, has settled on a new strategy: building several Midway-class megacarriers, brainchild of Navy Commodore Christopher Blair. These new carriers, over a kilometer long, carry all the hardware and weaponry of a Kilrathi-War-era carrier battle group. The first one, the Midway herself, is undergoing her shakedown cruise, with Blair along for the ride. Before this, though, the player is treated to a CGI video of a bizarre rupture in space in the Kilrah system: the first of the Nephilim invaders. The game's titular prophecy involves the coming of these alien invaders, who shall arrive only after "one who has the heart of a Kilrathi, but who is not Kilrathi-born," conquers the felinoid warrior race.
The player takes the role of 2nd Lieutenant Lance Casey, son of the venerable Major Michael "Iceman" Casey from Wing Commander I. He and his best friend Max "Maestro" Garrett have been assigned to the Midway on her maiden voyage as members of the ship's junior Diamondback Squadron. Aside from Blair, the Heart of the Tiger himself, Majors Jacob "Hawk" Manley and Todd "Maniac" Marshall compete for control of the Black Widow Squadron, while Lt. Jean "Stiletto" Talvert keeps the Diamondbacks in firm control. In charge of the Midway's two squadrons is CAG (Commander, Air Group) Patricia Drake, while Captain Eugene Wilford serves as her skipper. Commander Aurora Finley heads up the "Sciences Division", while Colonel John "Gash" Dekker leads the ship's contingent of Marines. Finally, Blair's old love interest Rachel Coriolis has returned as the ship's Chief Technician.
Casey has just barely gotten his bearings on the giant ship when things start happening: the Midway receives a distress call from a Kilrathi cruiser in the H'rekkah system, and Marshall, Manley, Casey, Talvert and Garrett are sent to investigate. Unusually, Casey is placed in command of his flight: Stiletto intends to test the rookie pilot's reputation and see if he is up to the challenge when under pressure. And the pressure is indeed on: the Kilrathi Fralthra II has been destroyed, and in moments new attackers come boiling out of the nearby asteroids. When one of Maniac's patrols is ambushed by a horde of such ships, Casey has to sortie out to save them as well. No one knows who or what these new aggressors are, but there is definitely a lot of them, and the Midway soon finds herself on the defensive.
In order to alert Confed HQ of this new alien menace, who have been codenamed Nephilim, Casey, Blair and Dekker fly out to an abandoned Confed relay station. It is only lightly defended, and Blair and the Marines land to send out the distress call. Unfortunately, the insect-like aliens have been lying in wait, and Blair is kidnapped. Casey must then defend the station from a significant wave of attackers before reinforcements arrive, and has to deal with his guilt over Blair's kidnapping (especially if the player has not performed well in the cockpit, as failure opens up a series of new missions in which the Confederation is pushed to the brink of defeat).
The Midway's next mission is in the T'lan Meth system, where they are tasked with defending Kilrathi colonists there from the Nephilim invasion. Casey finds himself on Hawk's wing several times, and learns more about his father from him. Once, when still a rookie aboard the TCS Tiger's Claw, Manley lost a wingman, and was a complete wreck for some time. Only one pilot volunteered to fly on his wing, and had to fight off nearly an entire squadron of Kilrathi until Hawk could get his act together. That pilot, Major Michael "Iceman" Casey, was eventually lost in action: he ejected from his damaged fighter and was scooped up by the Kilrathi for a bit of fun; the family was told instead that he was killed during a Kilrathi ambush. Finally, while Casey and Manley are assisting a wing of Kilrathi fighters, Hawk advises that they turn on the furballs in revenge for old grievances. If Casey agrees, both he and Hawk will become hostile to the Kilrathi. If victorious, Hawk will yell out "That's right, kid! Let the fur fly!" and the game will end. ; if he declines, Hawk refuses to speak to him again and is later killed while on patrol (though not before they eventually reconcile). The Kilrathi also withhold assistance at a later juncture if Casey attacks them. Finally, the Marines manage to retake a captured Kilrathi starbase, on which the Nephilim held a number of human prisoners, though only one remains: Commodore Blair.
The Midway has recovered her breath and is ready to go on the offensive. Reports have filtered in of a Nephilim superweapon: a plasma cannon that can destroy an entire fleet with one blast. Casey leads a raid aimed to steal such a weapon, which is subsequently grafted onto the Midway. Because of incompatibilities between Nephilim and Terran technology, the plasma gun doesn't work as intended, and Casey has to assist in its firing by delivering a primer charge to an enemy ship, though this does result in the complete annihilation of the hostile fleet; furthermore, if Midway attempts to charge the weapon again, she runs a two-thirds risk of a fatal backfire, making the plasma gun, in the words of Captain Wilford, a "fire-and-forget" weapon: "We fired it once, and now we can forget about using it again." (Indeed, one of the game's many Game-Over movies depicts the Midway attempting to fire the weapon, only to destroy itself in the process.)
Finally, the Midway moves onto the Kilrah system, where the Nephilim's original Wormhole Gate is still pumping out ships. Casey helps destroy a Nephilim dreadnought and then leads an attack on the Gate itself, which is controlled by seven shielded towers. In a marathon mission, Casey and Talvert escort Dekker's Marines in and then combat infinite waves of Nephilim fighters, while the Marines land and deactivate the shields on the towers so that Casey can destroy them one by one. The Marines and Casey together manage to destroy all but the last tower; Blair, flying in on his own shuttle, lands at the seventh and deactivates its shields. Unfortunately, the Nephilim Warlord who kidnapped Blair is within the tower; Blair, distracted by this higher priority, doesn't escape before the inevitable explosion. Casey returns to the Midway and the Confederation as a hero. The credits roll.
Released solely over the Internet, Secret Ops consisted of two parts: gameplay, using the VISION Engine, and text-based plot and character development, consisting of Casey's journal entries, e-mails between himself and other pilots, e-mails from the captain, and bulletins from Terran Confederation News. A few blocks of pre-recorded dialogue also advance the plot from within the cockpit. While the game's flight engine remained unchanged, many Confed and Nephilim fighters received upgrades to their performance, weapons and (occasionally) graphics. The missions themselves are also quite difficult; the player is limited to his five wingmen on every mission of the game, and frequently faces large numbers of Nephilim craft, including the dreaded Devil Ray space superiority fighters, which are now flown in normal combat, with as many as four or five in one mission; in comparison, WC:Ps final mission required the player to shoot down a grand total of two Devil Rays.
The Midway has barely returned to Sol System when some of her best pilots are transferred. Lance Casey, Max "Maestro" Garrett, Jean "Stiletto" Talvert, T. "Zero" O'Hearn, Karl "Spyder" Bowen and Amber "Amazon" Elbereth are reassigned to the TCS Cerberus, a quick-strike cruiser meant to operate behind enemy lines. The Cerberus, commanded by Captain Enoch Murkins, is on its shakedown cruise in the Courage system when, unexpectedly, Nephilim ships appear. Cerberus retreats to Ella, where the player is treated to one of the game's first unexpected bonuses: a flight of vintage F-106 Excalibur heavy fighters that helps out with in-system defense. (Thunderbolt VIIs show up later.) The next surprise, in the Talos System, is not as friendly: Casey and his five wingmen must save one specific transport, the Shy Meadows (and preferably its companions, the Kyoto Rose and Cheryl's Song), from a grand total of twenty enemy bombers.
In the Cygnus System, the Cerberus comes across a couple of civilian cruise liners, one of which (the Anna Maria Albergetti) has been destroyed by Nephilim attack, the other of which (the Twilight Purchase) is under attack. The Albergetti has two survivors, both of which have been contaminated by Nephilim viruses, which are later suspected of sentience, as the subcutaneous rashes are able to move to avoid treatment.
The Cerberus continues to police systems for Nephilim presence as it moves on, eventually reaching the Proxima System, where the aliens are building a new wormhole gate. It is connected directly to Proxima's binary star, so destroying it is not an option; instead, Casey defeats the fleet around it and allows Confed to take control of it. After a perfunctory ending movie, the credits roll.
- Lieutenant Lance Casey(callsign chosen by the player): the Confederation's latest hero. Although he and best friend Max Garrett got into plenty of trouble at the Academy, Casey finds his stride aboard the Midway. Early in the game Colonel Blair mentions that Lance is the son of his TCS Tiger's Claw pilot and shipmate Michael "Iceman" Casy from the original Wing Commander. Played by Steven Petrarca.
- Lieutenant Maxwell "Maestro" Garrett: seldom found far from alcohol, he is the frenetic, free-wheeling younger brother to Casey's more stolid demeanour. Played by Neill Barry.
- First Lieutenant Jean "Stiletto" Talvert: a straightforward, no-nonsense pilot. After the Academy, she moved straight to the Empyrean Zephyrs, Confed's aerobatics team. On a five-man patrol from the Midway, her group was ambushed by a group of Kilrathi raiders and two of her wing, including the wingleader, killed outright. She rallied the survivors, co-ordinated the running fight back to the Midway, and ensured the destruction of the raiders. For her gallant action she was promoted to immediate command of the Diamondback Squadron. Played by Heather Stephens.
- Lieutenant T. "Zero" O'Hearn: refuses to use his first name (Terrence) socially. His father is a leading anthropologist and one of Terra's foremost experts on Kilrathi culture; Zero appears to have taken Kilrathi pessimism to heart. His call sign was a derogatory remark from an instructor: "When the Big One lands, you'll be right at Ground Zero." Played by Adam Lazarre-White.
- Major Karl "Spyder" Bowen: not much is known of this man aside from his prowess in the cockpit, though rumours circulate that he was in the squadron slated to make the Temblor Bomb run before a Kilrathi ambush slaughtered the unit. Played by Brad Greenquist.
- Lieutenant Amber "Amazon" Elbereth: named for hiking the entire length of the Amazon River. She does not play a large role in the plot of Prophecy.
- Lieutenant Jack "Dallas" Slayton: a competent but underconfident pilot whom Casey can choose to take under his wing. Alarmed at the prospect of live combat, and is killed in action in the G'wriss System. Played by Joel Stoffer.
- Major Todd "Maniac" Marshall: played by Tom Wilson of Back to the Future fame. An inspired but undependable flyer, Maniac eventually receives a much-coveted promotion to squadron leader, but abdicates when he realises how much responsibility is involved.
- Colonel Jacob "Hawk" Manley: a battle-hardened warrior, Hawk serves primarily as the voice of decisive, aggressive action. He served with Blair during the Black Lance affair. Played by Chris Mulkey.
- Commodore Christopher "Maverick" Blair: his official callsign has finally been established, and he takes to the cockpit on several occasions, even though he has officially transferred over to the Navy. Presumably killed in action while boarding the enemy jumpgate. Played by Mark Hamill.
- Captain Eugene Wilford: a lifelong denizen of the Border Worlds, he transferred over to the Confed military solely to command the Midway. Played by Peter Jason.
- Colonel John "Gash" Dekker: known primarily as Gash, a nickname he got as a trainee when he gave himself such a fierce paper cut on a foil packet of rations that he had to be medevaced out. Played by Jeremy Roberts.
- Chief Technician Rachel Coriolis: the woman who keeps Midway's fighters in fighting condition, she is the most decorated fleet technician who is not a line officer. Played by Ginger Lynn Allen.
- Commander Aurora Finley: half scientist, half administrator, Finley runs and co-ordinates the varied science specialists aboard the Midway and provides a great deal of intelligence information during the course of the game. Played by Mindy Hester.
- Commander Patricia Drake, Commander, Air Group: the lady in charge of dispatching the Midway's fighters, and a stern-but-caring brood mother to three squadrons. Played by Lauren Sinclair.