Since the first PCs became available, people have been creating Star Trek games for them. The venerable television series has sparked more ideas for games than practically any other genre. The only problem has been in the fact that there are very few GOOD games based on the Star Trek franchise. Interplay and their internal development studio 14 Degrees East may be starting to change that. Starfleet Command is one of the most interesting and detailed games I have seen based on the Star Trek name.
Many games give you the opportunity to play as a specific race, faction, or group. Sometimes you're allowed to play the opposite side of the conflict as well. In Starfleet Command you have the choice to play one of SIX groups - the Federation, Klingons, Romulans, Hydrans, the Lyrans, and the Gorn. Rather than subscribe to a scripted campaign, the engine in the game uses a somewhat dynamic generator that creates missions based on partially scripted parameters, political affiliation at the time, and your location within the galaxy. Starting a new campaign generally begins similarly to all the others, but eventually the overall set of scenarios will drift in a particular direction. Not only do you get to choose your affiliation, each campaign may also be begun from any of three technology levels for a different kind of challenge.
The graphical presentation is extremely well thought-out and executed. The ships, stations, nebulae, planets, and asteroids all look wonderful. Weapon fire utilizes very well executed lighting effects. The interface for each of the six factions is completely different. While the controls all remain the same, the look and feel of each is specific to the group you are playing. It would have been much easier to create a single interface for all the groups, but this kind of attention to detail is noticeable and appreciated.
It's difficult to define the exact genre this game belongs in. It is definitely an action game, with a high degree of strategy involved, as well as a small bit of role playing. You control a starship from a third person perspective. You have access to all areas of control, and I do mean ALL. Helm, weapons, communications, security, transporter, shields, you name it. This is one of the more complex games I have played in a while. In fact, there is almost too much detail involved as it becomes very tricky to keep up with all the goings-on of ship operations.
As a campaign progresses, you gain prestige points similar to many wargames. These points may be used to upgrade your personnel or ship capability. While you may pursue these upgrades in any order you like, an inexperienced crew with a powerful ship is almost a waste. I found that upgrading crew first with more experienced members served me well throughout my campaigns. A veteran crew can make even the most inferior vessel an effective machine to serve you well.
In addition to the campaign, you may also opt to play out individual skirmishes. Multiplayer support is also available. An excellent tutorial series explains the basic and slightly advanced controls and is an excellent introduction to the game. The different groups have their own narrator, and the Federation guide is none other than George (Capt. Sulu) Takei. You'll be run through the various controls, essential stations, and given a little tactical combat experience. Completion of a mission gives you the requisite pat on the head or chewing out, depending on your performance.
While essentially an excellent game, it has its failings. On the minor side, the dynamically changing missions add to replayability but prevent the game from having a strong plot. While some continuing storyline elements are strewn throughout the campaigns, it isn't as tight as it would be if a fixed plot had been implemented. This is a minor complaint at best, since the semi-dynamic missions add the prospect of replayability.
In terms of gameplay, the action all takes place on a two-dimensional plane. For a game that takes place in space, this was a slight disappointment. Ships cannot crash into one another; they generally fly past each other and due to a small graphical anomaly occasionally fly right through one another. Again, this is more on the minor complaint side, as three-dimensional space, while giving the game an incredible strategic perspective, would probably have made the game overly difficult and cumbersome to play.
Major complaints all have to do with bugs. These range from graphical incompatibilities and inconsistencies to flat-out crash bugs. I have heard about more complaints than I have personally encountered, but I did experience a particularly nasty graphical configuration bug that kept me from using my Voodoo 2 card to perform the 3D acceleration functions. Fortunately for me, the primary card in that machine has 3D functionality, and that one configured fine.
Good Star Trek games are a rarity, and Starfleet Command is one of the better ones. While the bugs are annoying, there is nothing that I found to be a game-stopper. The minor complaints I have could very well balance out in the game's best interest, depending on your point of view. For pure enjoyment purposes alone, I highly recommend this title, especially to the show's fans (even the detail-oriented) and those that have been disappointed by Star Trek titles in the past.