reviews\ Dec 1, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Star Trek Starfleet Command III - PC - Review

I must admit that I’m not a huge follower of the Star Trek franchise; in fact, I’m what you would call a casual viewer of the shows.  Still, as a devoted gamer and reviewer, I have played my share of Trek themed games--many of which have been very disappointing.  Yet the games that did manage to hook gamers are the Starfleet Command series that puts you in the Captain’s chair.  Now, the third game in the series is here and gamers are glad to boldly go where no man has gone before.


The Command III story puts gamers in the Star Trek: The Next Generation era when a sense of peace has finally reached the quadrant.  While the alliance between the Klingon Empire and the United Federation of Planets has reached a historical peaceful co-existence, the Romulans are still a threat that must be dealt with before the conflict turns into a massive war between empires.  To add to this, the presence of the mysterious Borg collective has the entire quadrant extremely worried.


There are three modes of playing this game: Single/Multi Player Skirmish (jumping right into the action with a computer-controlled opponent or online opponents), Single Player Campaign (is a story mode) and Multiplayer Online Campaign (playing online where all the AI ships are replaced by actual players).  The Single Player Campaign, though, is the game’s main mode of playing and offers gamers the chance to assume the role of a being in command of a Starfleet vessel, Klingon Bird of Prey, Romulan Talon and the Borg Cube. 


As far as the stories are concerned, all four race classes have very unique and lengthy stories.  As part of the Federation, your Starfleet ship answers distress calls, fights off Romulan or pirate ships and still upholds its mission of exploration.  As a Klingon, you honor the house of MiQogh but keep the Federation’s rules in mind as you defend your side of the quadrant.  Assuming the role of a Romulan captain, you try to overtake the universe in the name of the Empire.  As a Borg, your sole mission is to assimilate all life forms by way of destruction and death (there‘s no background story here).  While the individual races have different story outlines, the basic story is the same--the Romulans are skating on thin ice by overstepping the boundaries of the Neutral Zone and putting in danger an important space station--enough so that you can practically taste a war coming.


Command III has also been improved upon since the last game and the changes comes in the form of a more simple command interface.  Everything is laid out plainly so you can access things such as your communications buttons, cloaking features (for those ships that have cloaking like the Romulan Talon), weapons systems and even warp drive.  Before launching from a space dock, you are given the chance to fit your ship with the appropriate features such as photon torpedoes and the recruitment of officers.  Depending on how well you perform a mission, you get to hire more experienced officers such as better engineers or tactical officers. 


Yet this game is about combat and, believe me, you’ll be seeing a lot of it.  Your weapons this time around are a lot more simplified and you have better heavy and light weapons.  Targeting your opponent is a simple click on the ship you would like to target or by pressing the T key.  However, the ship makes a slow as molasses turn to face the target that within seconds can easily be out of range.  Battles can take a very long time and you are forced to see it all the way to the end if you want to save your game.  Still, thanks to these more solid and less complicated controls, the battles are enjoyable.  Just make sure to go through the very thorough tutorials in the beginning to get a quick understanding of the controls first.


Where the game excels in its gameplay mechanics, it lacks in its visual presentation.  The ships look pretty sharp and true to the show designs for the Federation, Klingon and Romulan vessels.  But the action takes places in the dark corners of space--meaning your backgrounds will be mainly composed of pitch blackness with a scatter of twinkling stars and not much else (unless you’re near a planet, that is).  Still, there are some really great combat effects and cool ship explosions.


The game’s strongest feature is the sound with its dead-on effects that fans of the Trek shows will certainly recognize right away.  Going on red alert, for example, sounds exactly like it does in the shows as does the firing of photon torpedoes and phase cannons.  This is all topped off by a great score that grows especially intense during the heat of battle.  Still, while all of this is done superbly, the voice acting is what wins this game the big points.  You are in constant contact with your ship’s crew who constantly give you reports on the condition of the ship’s shields, hull integrity and engines.  And to top things off, actor Patrick Stewart reprises his role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard for the game’s tutorial.


One of the more enjoyable Star Trek titles, Star Fleet Command III will not disappoint fans of the franchise.  With a story mode that puts you in command of the Federation’s finest starships as well as the enemy’s ships as well as the addition of a great online mode, strategy gamers and Trek fans alike will definitely enjoy this one.



#Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 8.7
A few faults aside, such as the inability to save during a mission (sometimes we can’t all see a lengthy battle through to its finish); Command III has a great command interface.  This makes battle less of a guessing game and leaves you to concentrate more on multiple tasks such as targeting an enemy’s warp coils while quickly ordering your crew to work on repairing the shields. 


The Single Player Campaign missions are wonderfully in-depth and interesting.  Playing as a Klingon, you find that your missions are more aggressive then playing as a Starfleet officer.  You also have honor to uphold and leaving a battle is seen as an act of supreme cowardice.  As a Romulan, you find yourself challenging the Federation and you will be often aiding Romulan ships in their attacks on Federation fleets. 


Graphics: 7.0
The graphics are not the game’s strongest feature and there is nothing much to look at in the deep blackness that is space.  Each individual ship looks wonderfully true to the shows and are great to look at during long battles, but that’s all there is to the game’s visuals.  There are some great special effects that come in the form of explosions plus great concept art while waiting for the program to install, but that’s about it.


Sound: 9.5
The sound is truly where the game brings you into the Star Trek universe with the main attraction being the sound effects that mirror those heard in the shows.  A die-hard fan can close his or her eyes and guess what each sound means.   The whining Red Alert alarm and the sounds of the phaser cannons firing just sound amazing.


There’s also a great score that’s heard during the game’s story-based campaign missions and it’s a nice touch when it changes dramatically for battles.  The voice acting is also fantastic; especially the voices that try to emulate those of each particular race (e.g. the Klingon’s rough voices compared to the pompous tone of the Romulans).


Difficulty: Medium
There are challenges aplenty found in this game and the single player modes pit you against intelligent and strategy minded AI opponents.  First-time gamers will find the battles a bit overwhelming at first but half the fun is discovering your own strategies and learning how to pay attention to the reports offered by your crew.  And just as it is easy for the enemy to target you, targeting them back is just as simple so the game is fair in this aspect.


Concept: 8.5
The game goes to great lengths to put gamers in that Captain’s chair no matter what campaign you choose and, to top it all off, it does a great job of immersing players in the Star Trek universe.  With a more simplified control interface and great stories, this is sure to be a fan favorite.


Multiplayer: 9.0
Command III is the kind of game that’s even better to play against groups of players and thankfully they included two online multiplayer modes.  You simply have to install the GameSpy program (included in the game’s disc) and set up a free account with and off you go.   The Multiplayer Skirmish mode puts gamers directly into the action by hosting your own game or joining one.  You can even chat with the other player during the whole thing.


Yet the mode that truly makes this a great online experience is the Multiplayer Online Campaign. Also known as the Dynaverse, you choose a race and band together with other players of your same race to take over the universe or protect it.  The universe on the map is seen as a giant grid of hex grids and in order to take over a hex, you must cross over to it and challenge the player or players in battle for it.  Other players might cross over to your quadrant and thus the challenges begin.  It’s amazing how almost every online player you encounter stays in character . . . it makes things fun for fans.


Overall: 8.5
The Starfleet Command series just keep getting better and better and this stellar installment definitely proves it.  The improvements in the gameplay make the game a lot more pleasurable and the online multiplayer games are a great way of challenging true Trek fans.  If you liked Command II, you’ll love this superior sequel.


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