alert!" The captains voice sounded across the bridge of the Gorn
strike cruiser Ssslath. The crew immediately jumped into action as
the klaxons sounded and the battle systems came online. "Bring us to
bear on our target, warp 3.6. Charge phasers and begin arming torpedoes.
Tactical, ready tractor beams in case he tries to run or weasel. We must
capture this ship intact; an analysis of its systems by our scientists
will be of great benefit to the war effort!"
Starfleet Command (SFC), the latest Star Trek offering from Interplay, allows players to command their own starships from various races in the Star Trek universe. Based on the board game Star Fleet Battles (SFB), players can choose from one of six races Federation, Klingon and Romulan are the well-known ones, while the Gorns, Lyrans and Hydrans are a bit more obscure. Players can battle each other over a LAN or the Internet, play skirmishes against the computer, or embark on an engrossing campaign where they play an aspiring young officer embarking on a (hopefully) long and brilliant military career.
Interplay has managed to cram a ton of features and details from SFB into this game. Each race has dozens of ship classes and variants, ranging from frigates to super-heavy battleships. All weapon types are present, including special systems such as the Lyran ESG and Hydran Hellbore. Ships can perform special maneuvers, including high energy turns, erratic maneuvers and emergency deceleration. Tactically useful systems such as transporters, tractor beams and shuttlecraft (including administrative, suicide, wild weasel and scatterpack) are available as well. Even electronic warfare has been included. Veteran SFB players will appreciate the depth and find the detail quite familiar. Fortunately, the interface makes choosing between all these options easy, and doesnt become clunky or interfere with gameplay. Controls are laid out in a logical, easy to navigate manner, and keyboard shortcuts exist for most all commands.
Graphically, SFC is beautiful. The ships are fully rendered and chock full of detail. Each weapon has a different special effect, from the simple phaser blast to the exotic Hydran hellbore and Lyran ESG. Damaged ships stream plasma and small chunks of hull fly off. The explosions are impressive blooming fireballs that can completely fill the viewscreen of nearby ships. Terrain graphics are well done, from fully textured asteroids to exotic nebula and black holes. Scaling is accurate, with dreadnoughts dwarfing frigates and destroyers, and shuttles appearing as mere insects hovering around larger ships. One of the most awe-inspiring and terrifying visuals, however, is the sight of a large Romulan or Gorn ship firing a full spread of plasma torpedoes at close range, and watching them home in on your helpless ship, growing larger and larger as they approach their impact point you. Audio is also nice, with good sound effects and background music that doesnt intrude upon gameplay. One very nice touch is the voice of George Takei as Sulu who acts as a tutor during the training missions.
SFCs single player game has two components the campaign game and skirmish mode. Skirmish mode allows single missions against the computer in various types of terrain and mission parameters. The computer proves to be a fairly challenging opponent, and due to the large number of ship types available, the difficulty can be adjusted to provide virtually any level of challenge. The campaign is deep and involving, providing many hours of solid gameplay as players proceed through a variety of missions, building fame and reputation within their races military. As players progress, they use prestige to purchase bigger ships, better officers, repairs and supplies such as torpedoes and missiles. The missions vary from simple patrols to all-out assaults on bases and planets. Players can also be offered positions in special or secret organizations of each race, with unique advantages and drawbacks. The entire campaign is focused on a period in the SFB universe called the General War, a war that involved all the major powers in the galaxy. As a result, the missions focus mainly on combat and tactics with little emphasis on diplomacy. But hey, who wants to be Picard and talk when they can be Kirk and fight, right?
The multiplayer game really shines. Up to 6 players can compete in free-for-all skirmishes or team play, in various types of scenarios. One of the most entertaining is a duel-type battle where each player starts in a frigate of his chosen race, and once destroyed, returns in the next larger ship class, up to dreadnoughts, and the battle continues until only one player remains. The games play fast, too a one-on-one duel rarely lasts more than 10 minutes (unless theres a Romulan with a cloaking device), so the action is quick and intense. With different terrain options and battlefield sizes to choose from, coupled with the vast array of ships and races, no two battles are ever exactly the same. The game is extremely smooth and stable on a LAN, and Internet play works well too. SFC cries out to be played head to head, and anyone who ignores this will miss a huge opportunity to have a load of fun with their friends.
Great as it is, SFC does have a few flaws. The interface, though well-designed and laid out, presents so many options that they can become hard to utilize fully in the heat of battle. Unlike SFB, where players often have lots of time to plan strategies and exploit all the capabilities of their ships, in SFC, play happens so fast that often players dont have time to use systems like shuttles and tactics such as hit-and-run raids. The main flaw I found, however, lies in the hit probabilities of the Federation photon torpedo. On more than one occasion, I watched helplessly as entire volleys of photons missed from a range of 2,000 km, where the hit probability should be 5 in 6 (assuming no ECM shifts, which there werent most of the time). I would normally chalk this up to bad luck, but having missed at point blank with 17 of 18 photons in one battle, I think its more of a game balance issue. Other players Ive talked to agree with me on this point. Maybe Interplay purposely altered the hit probabilities to lessen the effectiveness of the photon, which, when utilized properly, can be a devastating weapon. I would have appreciated at least a note in the manual on this issue. I didnt notice a similar trend with any other races heavy weapons disruptors and hellbores seem to hit as often as they do when compared to their SFB counterparts. The issue is less pronounced in the single player campaign, too. It bothers me, though, that this issue is present when all other aspects of the game are so true to their SFB roots.
Nevertheless, SFC remains an outstanding game, and anyone who enjoys RTS games, FPS games and the Star Trek genre, as well as veterans of SFB, should do themselves a favor and buy this game. They wont be disappointed.