Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger (commonly abbreviated WC3, WCIII, or HOTT) is the critically acclaimed third main game in Chris Roberts' Wing Commander science fiction space combat simulation video game series, developed and released by Origin Systems. Released in 1994 for MS-DOS and Mac OS, in 1995 for 3DO and in 1996 for PlayStation (a Sega Saturn version was also announced and advertised, but it was never released), Wing Commander III made the move from the sprite-based graphics used in previous titles to software-driven texture-mapped polygonal 3D, and used FMV for cut scenes.
A novelization by William R. Forstchen and Andrew Keith, was published in 1995. A collectible card game adaptation was published in the same year by Mag Force 7 Productions, under the helm of noted science-fiction authors Margaret Weis and Don Perrin. The sequel, Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom, was released in 1996.
The protagonist of the previous two games was officially assigned a name in WCIII, Colonel Christopher Blair (Mark Hamill). The opening cutscene, the first FMV cutscene in the Wing Commander series, depicts a saddening scene: Thrakhath nar Kiranka (John Rhys-Davies), Crown Prince of the hostile Kilrathi Empire, presiding over the execution by disintegration of a group of Terran Confederation prisoners of war. One, however, is left alive: Blair's lover Colonel Jeannette "Angel" Devereaux (Yolanda Jilot), due to her status among the Kilrathi as a respected warrior, who is executed by Prince Thrakhath using his claws to disembowel her (though her death scene is not shown until later in the game). The scene then cuts to the planet Vespus, where Blair and Brigadier General James "Paladin" Taggart inspect the downed wreckage of the TCS Concordia. The carrier is a total loss.
It is the year 2669, and the Terran-Kilrathi War has been going for over thirty years, with no signs of stopping. Blair, by orders of Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn, is transferred as Wing Commander to the TCS Victory, a Ranger-class carrier twice as old as Blair. Her captain, William Eisen, has been with her for many years, and is proud of his ship. There are a few old faces—Colonel Ralgha nar "Hobbes" Hhallas (John Schuck), and Major Todd "Maniac" Marshall (Tom Wilson)—but all the other pilots and staff are people Blair has never met. Among the characters on board, Blair notably meets fellow pilot Lieutenant Robin "Flint" Peters (Jennifer MacDonald) and Chief Fighter Technician Rachel Coriolis (Ginger Lynn Allen), with either of whom the player may eventually choose to start a romance.
The Victory is currently assigned to the Orsini System, away from the front. Shortly after Blair's arrival, and a few introductory missions, test pilot Major Jace "Flash" Dillon (Josh Lucas) arrives on board the Victory with his prototype warcraft, the F-103A Excalibur heavy fighter. Blair is given the chance to "borrow" it for a live combat mission. This angers Flash who challenges Blair to a simulator duel. If Blair wins the duel, he forces Dillon to request reassignment to the Victory's flight wing. Immediately afterward the Victory is rerouted to the Locanda System, where the Kilrathi are deploying a potent pair of new weapons: the "Skipper" cruise missile equipped with a cloaking device and a genetically-engineered bioweapon for use against the Locanda colonies, the home of Flint. Blair and his wing are scrambled to defend Locanda against several flights of these missiles. Even if the player is able to destroy the missiles, Flint breaks formation and attacks the Kilrathi forces in an act of revenge. The player is given the option to follow her, though she returns safely in either case.
Admiral Tolwyn rendezvouses with the Victory, escorted by several destroyers. The Victory is the key to his latest plan, which involves the escort and defense of the TCS Behemoth; an extremely large vessel with a forward cannon capable of destroying a planet. Blair is to defend it while it is used against Kilrathi assets. Following the destruction of a Kilrathi planet in the Loki system, Thrakhath appears with a squadron of Pakthan bombers and taunts the Victory over subspace radio. He reveals that Blair is the game's titular "Heart of the Tiger;" the Kilrathi have bestowed this warrior's name on him as a sign of respect. Thrakhath's forces attack the Behemoth. A traitor aboard the Victory has transmitted comprehensive targeting data to the Kilrathi revealing the Behemoth's weakpoints, and the Behemoth is destroyed. Thrakhath then takes space in his personalized Bloodfang fighter to challenge Blair in single combat. He taunts Blair with an FMV recording showing how he personally disemboweled Angel after her colleagues had been disintegrated. Blair's instinct is to accept, but if he does, the Victory will leave without him being in an indefensible position. When he returns to the Victory, the player chooses between getting drunk or grieving in another way. If the player chooses getting drunk, he must then fly an emergency scramble drunk, with the game controls not responding reliably making combat virtually impossible and generally resulting in the player being forced to eject.
After a retreat to the Alcor System, Paladin arrives. He too has a scheme for bringing about the end of the war. He reveals that it has something to do with why Angel was captured; he also reveals that he's known about Angel's death for months. Paladin's scheme involves a weapon called the Temblor Bomb. The Kilrathi home planet, Kilrah, is seismically unstable, and if the Temblor Bomb is dropped in just the right place, the planet will shake itself to pieces. Angel was assigned to set up a number of hidden asteroid supply caches, which the delivering pilots (Blair and his wingmen) will use to resupply for the long journey into Kilrathi space. Matters are complicated when the traitor is revealed as Blair's friend Ralgha nar Hhallas. He kills one of the Victory's pilots, Lt. Laurel "Cobra" Buckley (B.J. Jefferson), steals her fighter and makes for Kilrathi space with news of the planned T-Bomb attacks. Blair has the choice of chasing him or letting him go. If he gives chase, the carrier is attacked and Lt. Mitchell "Vaquero" Lopez (Julian Reyes) is killed in the fight, for which Blair is held responsible. If he chooses not to follow Hobbes, the storyline proceeds as planned.
Blair tests a Temblor Bomb on a planet in the Hyperion System, featuring atmospheric combat for the first time in the series. Upon returning from the mission, Blair has the option to choose to initiate a romance with Flint or Rachel. Flint refuses to fly with him if he chooses Rachel, Rachel refuses to help him with his missile loadouts if he chooses Flint, and both are grumpy with him if he chooses neither. Finally, he launches against Kilrah, with up to three wingmen of the player's choice. After successfully downing Prince Thrakhath above Kilrah (and Hobbes, if he was not killed earlier), Blair descends to the surface and delivers the bomb. The resulting explosion wipes out a great deal of the Kilrathi fleet and destroys Kilrah (and kills the emperor of the Kilrathi), but damages Blair's fighter as well; a surviving Kilrathi capital ship tractors him in. To his surprise, he has been retrieved not to be killed, but so that the Kilrathi, commanded now by Thrakhath's retainer Melek nar Kiranka (Tim Curry), can surrender. The war is over. The surviving Kilrathi begin to colonize a new homeworld and now want to live in peace and harmony with the humans.
The credits are preceded by scenes of Melek and Tolwyn formalizing the peace treaty, and Blair returning home with the love interest of his choice or alone, if he chose none.