Oh Wow! It Moves Funny!
Wing Commander, Descent Freespace, X-Wing, and finally Independence War. That's the order, from most 'arcade' to most 'realistic.' On what factual basis is that order derived? Except for the space shuttle, we have no bloody idea how any sci-fi device should behave in zero-g. In fact, there is no real difference in realism between Independence War and Wing Commander other than the currently known number of physical laws they obey. Sure, I-War has craft that obey the laws of inertia, among other things, but the ships in Wing Commander might just as well have omni-directional surface propulsion jets which make them behave like atmosphere fighters. [You geek, Johnny. ~Ed] It's possible ain't it? I mean, come on -- harder to control doesn't always mean 'realistic' in a contrived physical setting.
Now that I've gotten that out of the way, here we have a pretty darn good game. Independence War Deluxe is the re-release and augmentation of a space flight combat game. You're in command of a corvette in an interstellar battle for either freedom or unity. In the future, some Earth colonies want to secede. Earth thinks everone should be in one happy empire. There is a war, an Independence War. It ain't much of a plot, but plot isn't really the focus of this space game, unlike all the other games mentioned earlier. Nope, the focus of I-War Deluxe lies squarely on the actual gameplay, especially the flight mechanics.
Truly 'realistic' or not, I-War has you piloting a craft which actually succumbs to most of the known limitations of space-flight, most noticably inertia (F = ma). As Newton put it, a body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by another force. Stop your engines and you still fly forward. Turn to the left while thrusting, and you strafe that way for a while before your actual heading matches the nose of your craft.
Aside from the flight dynamics, I-War also maintains a simulation feel by giving you a detailed level of systems control over your craft and plenty of different viewing options, much like Starfleet Academy. In fact, I-War Deluxe is great medicine for all of those who were disappointed with the arcade nature of Starfleet Academy and eagerly await the more realistic Klingon Academy.
While jumping between planets, engaging super-fast drives and firing a variety of missiles and guns at your enemies, you are treated to a fairly mixed graphical bag. The geometry and texturing is adequate, although not exceptional. The space backgrounds are pretty darn good-lookin'. Sadly, several graphical problems really mar the package. For starters, I-War, in an obvious attempt to seem less arcade, uses vector lines for many of the graphics, such as the space debris streaking past your cockpit or the tail trajectory vectors that come out the back of all craft. The use of such garish, grid-based visuals really removes the eye-candy appeal. That the graphics are slow, and the fact that only Software and Glide (3DFX) are supported (no Direct 3D) doesn't help either.
As far as the rest of the production values, the sound, music, and voice acting are all adequate, although not in any way exceptional.
With lackluster visceral appeal, I-War has to rely on the gameplay mechanics to keep players interested, and fortunately, there is really a lot here. As far as gameplay goes, I-War is to Wing Commander what Rainbow Six is to Quake. For those of you out there who like that sort of complexity and control (I.E. Falcon 4.0 fans) I-War fills a large void in the space combat genre. For the rest of you, it might be too much to handle.
Beyond all that though, this is a second release 'Deluxe' edition. If you already have the first release, the included extra 'Defiance' campaign, played from the side of the rebels, is probably not worth the cover price. If you've never played I-War and what I've described sounds like your cup of tea, then for sure, it's worth it to purchase I-War Deluxe. Unless you really want to wait for Klingon Academy, go ahead and delve into I-War Deluxe. If you crave that feeling of 'real' space, you'll probably be captivated for weeks.