The Game: As the captain of one of Starfleet’s ships of the line, your assignments range from routine patrol duty to full-on combat with Klingons, Romulans, Hydrans, Lyrans or Gorn. You may eventually even attain control of a small fleet, issuing orders to each ship in turn to accomplish your mission. Standard 23rd century armaments like phasers and photon torpedoes are at your disposal, as are other offensive measures as sensor decoys and suicide shuttles. But remember, since Starfleet’s the good guys, the enemy will always have more wicked weapons than you. Stay on your toes, Captain. (Interplay, 1999)
Memories: How close did this game come to being classified as a Retro Revival? It’s based on a pencil-paper-and-dice turn-based tactical game that’s older than even Pac-Man. We’re talking, of course, about Star Fleet Battles, which served as the inspiration for this really snazzy bit of Trek gaming. Who doesn’t remember the 20-sided dice, the hex-grid maps, and the starship markers and miniatures with the hexagonal bases? I’d go so far as to say that Star Fleet Battles kept the Trek franchise alive in the minds of fans the same way that Kenner’s action figures kept the faithful adhered to the Star Wars saga, even after the third movie passed with no signs of a seuqel or prequel to come.
This flashy update of Star Fleet Battles speeds things up, but adheres to many of the same rules of weapons, defenses, energy usage and resource management. The helpful tutorial, narrated by George Takei himself, conveys a lot of information. For those who are wondering, the game is set in the movie era, at the height of Federation-Klingon-Romulan hostilities. Faithful to the original series, the Romulans are here using Klingon ship designs with different paint jobs – playing a Klingon vs. Romulan scenario can get very confusing when you’re looking for an ally. The game itself is engrossing, hard-to-walk-away-from fun – just the right blend of action, tactics and resource management that so many Star Trek games have been trying to find from the very beginning.
A word about Starfleet Command‘s graphics – they’re gorgeous! Not too fancy, but then they don’t need to be. The ship models are accurate and interesting, the space backgrounds and object textures are fantastic, and the whole thing moves with a very fluid motion at higher speeds. I haven’t played the newer Starfleet Command II yet, but hopefully they didn’t screw with the graphics engine – it was just fine. The console display graphics, based on the style invented by Mike Okuda for Star Trek IV‘s Enterprise-A, are perfectly rendered, very crisp, and actually tell you stuff you need to know about the status of your fleet.
And another word about this game – it features original music by Ron Jones, Star Trek: The Next Generation’s musical heavyweight for the show’s first four seasons. (‘Twas he who invented the musical sound of the Borg, by the way.) The music is fantastic – in short, it’s a sound that the current Star Trek spinoffs themselves are sorely lacking since Jones lost his gig after repeatedly disagreeing on the series’ musical direction with Rick Berman. I’m glad Interplay had the sense to track him down and wrap up some unfinished business by scoring some Star Trek games.
Overall, very nice – but also very complex. I find myself impressed and befuddled at the same time while playing this one. And though I have yet to try it myself, I hear the online multiplayer game is worth the price of admission in and of itself…