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StarFleet Command

I confess. I used to be a hardcore Trekkie when I was younger. Even as I grew out of that phase, I still retained my huge love for science fiction and fantasy. Star Trek has always been one of the best science fiction shows, and I still watch it from time to time. However, one of the most common laments is that there just isn't enough combat. Everyone wanted to see the Enterprise go toe-to-toe with a Klingon battle cruiser, but episodes like that were few and far between.

No longer will you have to wait for a good Star Trek battle. StarFleet Command (SFC) brings all the glory of battle in the Star Trek universe in full living color to your PC. Here's your chance to see how the Enterprise would fare against a Klingon battle cruiser (and the poor Enterprise doesn't fare all too well against a good Klingon captain). But the question is - does SFC finally break the Star Trek computer game curse?

Installation of SFC was very smooth and easy, allowing a custom install, which is always a plus in my book. After installation, I quickly flipped through the readme, then started the game. The opening movie is fairly uninspired, but the music accompanying it is excellent, and really set the mood for some Star Trek combat. After the intro completed, a couple seconds of load time brought me to the empire selection screen.

SFC gives the player a fairly large selection of empires, considering the number of ships each one has. The player can select from the United Federation of Planets, the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, the Gorn Confederation, the Lyran Star Empire, and the Hydran Kingdoms. Each empire has over forty different ship classes available to choose from. Orion pirates also make an appearance, but cannot be controlled by the player. Each race has its own characteristic style of ship design - Federation saucer sections, Klingon ships with the long thin neck, blocky Gorn construction, Lyran ships that look like flying claws - all easily recognizable.

All empires have a couple of things in common. First off, every ship has shields. Shields are good for keeping your ship in one piece. A good piece of tactical advice - try to keep your most powerful shield arc between you and your opponent. Also, try to hold your fire until it will hit his weaker shield. Every ship also mounts phasers. Phasers are the number one weapon in SFC. There are five different flavors of phaser: the offensive phaser-1, the offensive phaser-2 (less effective than a ph-1), the defensive phaser-3, the gatling phaser-G, and the huge, starbase-only mounted phaser-4.

After you get past the phasers, you come to the heavy weapon mounts. Each race has heavy weapons that it will use as standard. For instance, the Federation uses photon torpedoes as its primary heavy weapon. Klingons and Lyrans use disruptors, while the Lyrans use a device called an expanding sphere generator, which damages all ships within a certain radius. Romulans and Gorn use plasma torpedoes, which are very nasty weapons and can do a huge amount of damage. Finally, the Hydrans use fusion beams and Hellbore cannons, the latter of which will concentrate damage on the weakest shield, no matter where the weapon hits. Hydrans also use fighters, which can triple a Hydran ship's firepower. The Federation and Klingons also use drones, which are missiles by any other name. All these different types of weapons are beautifully rendered. The orange glow of a photon torpedo, the green beam of a disruptor, and the blue flame of a fusion cannon are all easily recognized and feared. It's quite a frightening thing to see a volley of photon torpedoes coming right at you.

Most heavy weapons can be overloaded with power to do more damage at a shorter range. Since most combat in SFC takes place at extremely close range, the only drawback is the longer time to charge the weapon. The complexity of the weapons can be daunting, but the interface makes it fairly easy to figure out. The interface of SFC is an excellent design model. A left sidebar shows all the displays, while the right side shows the actual area of space in which the combat is taking place. Moving the ship is simple - a slider at the bottom of the screen sets the speed, and clicking in the display turns your ship to face that direction. A single keystroke or mouse click will fire your weapons.

However, all is not simple and fun in SFC. There is just a lot to know. Players must juggle movement, weapons fire, ECM and ECCM, shields, tractor beams, transporters, and more - all in real-time. It can make for real information overload, especially for a new player. Luckily, there are hotkeys for most of the common functions already set for the game. Learn them, and learn them quickly.

I also have to make a minor complaint about the tutorials - they may teach you how to play the game in a technical sense, but they offer little help in a tactical sense. Tutorials on how to use tractor beams effectively, or on effective use of shuttles would have been a great help for the beginner. Until one has all the controls down, be prepared to die a lot. When I first started playing, I lost over twenty battles in a row until I grew comfortable with the controls and tactics.

Sound in the game is classic Star Trek material. One can almost imagine being on the bridge with all the familiar sounds, ranging from the red alert alarms to the sound of a photon torpedo firing. Explosions are powerful graphically, but somewhat lacking in the audio department. That small lack can easily be overlooked due to the in-game music. Game music has been getting better in recent days, and SFC is no exception.

The gameplay in SFC is excellent. The single player campaigns have infinite replay value due to a random mission generator called Dynaverse. The game takes the current political and military situation into account, considers where the player is actually stationed, and generates a plausible mission. For instance, Dynaverse will not generate a mission such as "help destroy the Klingon starbase" when you're stationed in the home sector of the Federation and are allied with the Klingons - instead it will probably give you a convoy escort mission, or a pirate-hunting mission. If you are on the border of an empire, you will see more combat action against the current war enemy.

Terrain in space? Why yes - actually there is. Combat can take place in a planetary system, in an asteroid field, in a nebula, in open space, or near a black hole. Tractoring a ship and tossing it into an asteroid is quite fun. One of the most interesting areas to fight in is near an unstable black hole - more black holes spawn at random intervals. It's a very bad thing if one suddenly appears near you and you don't see it - I once lost a Dreadnought by turning toward a newly formed black hole. The ship got sucked right in and made a rather nice explosion.

Multiplayer has the standard connection suite, plus MPlayer support out of the box. Six people can play together, each commanding up to three ships. Nearly everything is configurable in the multiplayer setup, and the game is easy to get running. There are several types of multiplayer scenarios. There is the standard Free For All scenario, which is just brute force and trying to kill the other player or players before they get you. Teams can be set in this mode for teamplay. Another game is called BattleFest, which starts each player in the smallest class of ship, then after each death, respawns them in a ship that is one class larger up to the dreadnaught class. For the cooperative players, there is a Starbase Assault mission where the players work together to destroy an enemy starbase and its defenders. There is also an interesting little mode called Pass the Tribble, where Tribbles aboard the player's ship must be beamed to other ships before they reproduce too much and destroy the player's ship.

SFC is one of those rare games that is nearly bug-free out of the box. I did experience a couple lockups when trying to begin a mission, but after defragmenting my hard drive, the game ran smoothly. As a stress test, I set up a quick battle with all six major empires having three battleships in a massive free-for-all in a small area of open space. The game ran very jerkily at first, but was still playable. I would not recommend trying that with anything below my system. As of this writing, there is a patch out for SFC which fixes some minor bugs with the game - you can find it here.

In conclusion, SFC is a simply terrific game. It looks sharp, it sounds sharp, and it plays sharp. I highly recommend it. Star Trek fans, let it be known - the curse is broken! There is finally a Star Trek game worth getting!

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REVIEW STATS

Author: Chris (CymanIce) Nelson
September 7th, 1999
Review Feedback

Reviewer's System:
P2 300
128 MB RAM
4MB AGP+ Voodoo2
Diamond MX300
Ethernet
32x CD-ROM
4.3 GB HD

System Requirements: P166 w/3D / P200 w/o 3D
32 MB RAM
DirectX compatible video (D3D)
DirectX compatible sound
4x CD-ROM
250 MB HD min
28.8+ for multi

GW Rating
Sound: 9.0 - Terrific sound effects and music
Graphics
: 9.2 - Excellent graphics
Gameplay: 9.0 - Infinite replayability, but can be extremely difficult
Technical
: 9.2 - Minor crash and hang problems
Concept
: 9.9 - Everyone wants to blow up the Enterprise!
Overall
: 9.3 - If you like tactical space combat, SFB, Star Trek, or just blowing up spaceships, this is for you.


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