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Game review: 'Starfleet Command'


September 8, 1999
Web posted at: 12:13 p.m. EDT (1613 GMT)

By D. Ian Hopper
CNN Interactive Technology Editor

(CNN) -- "Dungeons and Dragons," "BattleTech," "CarWars." All of these are pencil-and-paper games with a mountain of rules. Well, they were nothing compared to "Star Fleet Battles." SFB attempted to model Star Trek ship-to-ship combat. While perusing Web pages dedicated to the game, more than one site declared SFB rules to be "long and confusing." And these are fans! Clearly, SFB separated the men from the boys, or at least those who threw out the D&D encumbrance rules from gamers with a lot more time (and a calculator) on their hands.

In a nutshell, Interplay's "Starfleet Command" takes SFB and makes computerizes it. Not only that, it provides some fairly impressive graphics -- which beats the heck out of those SFB hexes. The result is a far cry from Interplay's last Trek game, "Starfleet Academy." This is a good thing, since "Academy" had very little going for it despite the Trek license, which several publishers have had chances to denigrate.

"Starfleet Command" allows the player to captain in one of six different empires. There's the Federation, Klingons and Romulans, as well as three less-known races: the Gorn, which appeared in one original Trek episode; and the Hydrans and Lyrans, which never appeared in the series. The game is set during the original series, which is fitting since SFB models that time and Interplay only has rights to the original series license.

The eye candy is here in large quantities, with an attractive interface and great ship models. The detail breaks down a bit in close quarters, but ships are easily identifiable. The sound is top-notch, with every sound effect you'd expect in a Trek game. George Takai -- Sulu from the original Trek -- makes an appearance as your "coach" during training missions.

Adding to the replay value, "Starfleet Command" is playable within three "eras," which mainly affect which ship classes and weapons are available. All of this takes place during Interplay's "Dynaverse," which aims to model a shifting universe so that every mission is different. Players can also move around the empire to further shuffle the deck of missions. Or, if randomness isn't appealing enough, players can go back to the venerable scripted campaigns by joining one of the races' task forces or secret societies.

However, much of this breaks down when you actually start the mission. The mission briefings are sparse at best. Sometimes the briefing doesn't really explain what needs to be done, and sometimes it never translates to the game. For example, in one Federation mission you have to tractor an unmanned ship to a predetermined spot while defending it from attackers. Defending is easy enough, but then I was left playing tugboat dragging this ship around the sector until I finally gave up. Are waypoints so difficult?

While you're not supposed to be alone on your ship, you'll soon find out that commanding is a lonely business. You can spend all your "prestige points" -- earned in victories and spent on better crew, supplies, or a new ship -- on a helmsman with "Legendary" status, but he won't charge up the photon torpedoes without being explicitly told to. The same goes with every station, as you're left clicking frantically around the interface trying to raise shields, reinforce shields, adjust sensors, arm weapons, launch shuttles and plan a marine boarding before the enemy gets into range to blast you into pieces. While I appreciate the ability to do all of those things, it would be nice to not be required to do them every single time combat occurs.

While Captain Picard was known as a talker, Kirk was a fighter (and a lover, but thankfully that's not modeled here). Interplay goes a little over the edge in this regard, offering practically no option other than fighting. There are practically no communication choices available after hailing a ship, other than "Taunt" and "Surrender," and I've yet to find a situation where either of them resulted in something other than a sarcastic response.

These faults aside, Interplay set out to publish a game that faithfully recreates the classic "Star Fleet Battles" game. Without a doubt, it's a success. While "Starfleet Command" doesn't do everything right, it does enough to distinguish itself as the best Trek ship-to-ship game available.

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