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by Activision

screenshot-med10-01.jpg (5954 bytes)It’s a testament to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry that countless movies, television series, documentaries, books, action figures, and video games have been made about his science fiction universe. The most recent contribution to the Star Trek genre comes from Mad Doc Software in the form of Star Trek Armada II, the sequel to the impressive and by most accounts successful Armada. In this installment, technical innovation and competent voice acting attempt to compensate for a thoroughly recycled storyline, to fairly good effect.

screenshot-med05-01.jpg (5770 bytes)Among the most noticeable changes is the new three-dimensional movement grid. By holding down the shift key and moving the mouse up or down, you direct ships along the z-axis. In theory this is a nice change, since real space battles would include all three dimensions; in practice, however, the actual game play isn’t affected much. The point of view still hovers above a playing grid that functions most easily in two dimensions. There is even a drawback to playing on the z-axis in the form of distortions in perspective, as ships on the bottom are so small they become difficult to see at even the highest resolutions, while ships at the top occupy considerable screen space, even when the camera is zoomed all the way out. The z-axis is reportedly ideal for network competition, in which it’s possible to trick opponents concerning how many and what kind of ships you have by hiding some at the bottom of the z-axis and covering them with ships up top. But in single player mode, the z-axis provides minimal entertainment and few practical advantages.

screenshot-med11-01.jpg (8832 bytes)The player control interface functions smoothly and is surprisingly intuitive. The detailed interactive tutorial is an enormous help, too. Each press of a button is accompanied by those neat Star Trek bleeps, which adds an absurd yet undeniable feeling of authenticity to manipulating the controls. The accompanying soundtrack is appropriate to the mood and unobtrusive to game play, though it’s also on a fairly short loop. Order acknowledgments are as repetitive as they get in any RTS and don’t become annoying, with the possible exception of Jean Luc Picard constantly ordering LaForge to reroute auxiliary power here and there. Shouldn’t LaForge already know to do that? He didn’t go to Starfleet Academy to have some micro-managing Frenchie tell him how to do his job, Picard, so lay off.

screenshot-med01-01.jpg (8687 bytes)A new line of interesting special weapons makes its debut, along with new settings allowing the computer to control when ships deploy these weapons. There are three settings in this regard, from manual special weapons fire only, through allowing the computer to fire when the ship has twice the energy required for one burst, to having the computer fire as soon as sufficient energy has been stored. That’s not to say the computer will target the most efficient enemy with its special weapons—the AI in that respect is off. But you are saved from having to fire all special weapons by hand, and with the fast pace of battles in Armada II, it’s a pleasure having one less thing to worry about.

screenshot-med08-01.jpg (7712 bytes)Not only are battles faster paced this time around, they seem to be waged on a higher scale. Individual ships don’t last long in major battles, as all computer-controlled enemies appear to target one ship at a time. Lower class vessels are almost always destroyed after two battles, which means that Sovereign and Galaxy class vessels are the ship of choice. These ships can be built only after you’ve collected the necessary resources in metal, dilithium, and crew, as well as researching the required knowledge and building the appropriate shipyards. The result of all this is a heavy emphasis on infrastructure. Battle strategy may be vital to surviving the major conflicts, but shrewd resource management has never been more important. Staking out and defending an inexhaustible dilithium moon and a few choice planets could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

screenshot-med04-01.jpg (8217 bytes)As for the ships themselves, one excellent addition is their ability to travel at warp speed. The ships elongate and pass through the characteristic white flash, which is fun to watch, and more importantly they travel three or four times faster. Getting support to your attacking fleet is quicker now, and there’s less waiting for ships to travel from one corner of the map to the other.

screenshot-med09-01.jpg (6138 bytes)Graphics, on the other hand, are less than impressive. Space is full of nebulas that affect your armada in various ways, from benign to devastating. The colors of the nebulas are rich and vivid, though eventually they border on becoming an eyesore. The detail of the ships themselves lacks precision, so that many vessels amount to metallic gray blocks with jagged black lines to represent seams, windows, and weapon arrays. However, there are nice touches like blinking lights on many ships, and from enough of a distance they are all adequately rendered. And what the engine lacks in graphics, it makes up for in diversity of perspectives. Unfortunately, most of the various perspectives are awkward for the purposes of combat, and function better as cinematic nuances.

screenshot-med03-01.jpg (6428 bytes)The voice acting and the cut scenes are standard fare, neither impressive nor shameful. The game itself is much longer than the original, consisting of forty-plus missions in the single player mode that covers four different races. Thorough tutorials introduce the different races and their individual units, and each race has sufficient advantages and disadvantages to establish a pleasing variety. However, the story is a familiar one. The Borg are mounting an invasion and must be stopped at all costs, for they represent a significant threat to life as we know it and blah blah blah. Who knew when Q introduced the federation to the Borg how long this relationship would last? If the Star Trek people aren’t careful, the Borg are going to become Bud Abbott to the federation’s Lou Costello.

screenshot-med06-01.jpg (7183 bytes)Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the terrible bugs I encountered in Star Trek Armada II. Whenever I accomplished some objective, the game would try to announce my success and elaborate in some way on what I accomplished, which was a nice pat on the back. However, most of the time the transmission was hopelessly garbled, or else the computer decided to send only half of every other word. There were also moments when the screen became pixilated or otherwise unreadable. Reloading the game would usually fix these malfunctions, as well as try my patience. I have read reports of Armada II crashing out on other systems. It might be a matter of trying to find the right video driver for your card, or else waiting for a patch. The game was perfectly playable with my Hercules GeForce II; I just had to endure the occasional garbled message.

screenshot-med12-01.jpg (7595 bytes)Fans of the RTS genre will likely find enough in Star Trek Armada II to entertain them. The game functions smoothly, isn’t bad to look at, has competent voice acting, and a viable—if stale—storyline. If you have some time between this weekend’s convention and episodes of Voyager and Enterprise, you could do worse than pick up Armada II.

Paul Cockeram   (02/06/2002)


Ups: Nice visuals; good gameplay enhancements; intuitive interface.

Downs: Ranges from a little buggy to very buggy, depending on the system.

Platform: PC