As a longtime fan of the Star Trek franchise, I have finally admitted to myself that maybe, just maybe, it’s time to put this thing to sleep. The last few movies have been so-so, the last few television series have been decent but never great, and except for a few pleasant surprises, the games have been sub-par. Unfortunately, Activision’s latest offering hasn’t done anything to change my opinion in this matter-Starfleet Command 3 is a mediocre title that relies too much on its trademark name and not enough on game play. I haven’t had the opportunity to play either of the previous two titles in the Starfleet Command series, nor have I had much exposure to the table-top progenitor, Starfleet Battles, so this review is strictly from the viewpoint of a Starfleet Command Newbie. That being said, there wasn’t a whole lot that made me want to be a Starfleet Command Veteran.
Starfleet Command 3 is a real-time combat simulator set in the Star Trek universe. Game play consists of commanding your ship through a series of missions, most of which entail a lot of fighting. There are 3 single-player campaigns, one for each of the Klingons, Romulans, and Federation. There’s a story linking all three campaigns together, but it’s not much more than an excuse to move you from one battle field to the next. If the scripted campaigns aren’t enough, you can also undertake a “conquer the galaxy” campaign, either using one of the three previous empires, or the Borg.
At the beginning of these campaigns, you are given a small ship and a rather inexperienced crew, and are plopped onto a grid-map of the galaxy. As you move from hex to hex on the grid, missions become available, ranging from the simple “scan a planet” to the much more difficult “destroy a well-defended space station”. With the exception of the critical missions in the single-player scripted campaigns, there is no pre-set order for missions, and many seem to be randomly generated. This can be nice for those who don’t like to be lead by the nose through a game, but it also allows players to get into situations that they just aren’t ready for at the moment. Thankfully, unless the mission is one critical to the scripted campaign, running away from a battle or even suffering the loss of your ship doesn’t end the game. It merely acts as a setback, resulting in the loss of prestige, the currency of SC3.
Once a mission is accepted, the 2D battlefield appears, and everything kicks into motion. I found combat to be rather weak, which is unfortunate for a combat simulator. For a game of this sort, combat just seemed too simplistic. Most of the time is spent charging weapons, bringing those weapons to bear, and keeping the weakened shields pointed away from enemy fire. There really isn’t much more to it. If two relatively weak ships are facing off, the battle can take an incredibly long time, and tends to get dull. There’s a very simple power management system, in which you can dedicate more or less of the available energy to either the primary or secondary weapons, or to the shields. There are a few other aspects thrown in, such as damage repair and tractor beam management, but none of these seem to add the complexity that a game of this sort needs to have. There isn’t even a limited supply of photon torpedoes! When I play a simulator of this sort, I want to have a greater control over the ship systems, from detailed maintenance of the ship’s power supply, to the careful managing of the weapon systems. I can see that simplification was the goal in Starfleet Command 3, but with that simplification needs to come a different flavor of game-perhaps a game that’s a bit more “high adventure” and moves a bit more frantically.
That being said, there does come a time when all the dust settles and the battles come to an end. At this time, depending on the level of success for a particular mission, you are granted prestige to make everything bigger and better. Prestige can be spent on anything from better weapons and engines to a better crew to an entirely new ship. Each of the empires has a selection of ships available, and toward the end of the campaign you’ll find yourself commanding some pretty impressive hardware. I do have to comment that the Borg also use this same prestige system, something I find quite amusing. Apparently, even in a hive community in which there are no individuals and everyone is equal, some of those non-individuals are still more equal than others.
On the technical side, I found few problems with the game. I heard of some complaints of stability from the gaming community, but I didn’t experience a single crash during play. Sound was good, but most of was taken directly from every other Star Trek game out there. Of course, most of the sound effects were ones that should never be heard in the vacuum of space, but I digress. The background music had a habit of cutting in or out unexpectedly, which was a bit distracting at times. Graphically everything looked good, apart from the questionable choice of on-screen text. Many text messages were colored red or yellow, and for the most part this stood out well from the black of space. However, when moving in front of a star or particularly colorful nebula, the text becomes impossible to read. This is especially dangerous when that text contains a readout of distance to that rapidly closing planet…
I won’t recommend SC3 for anyone that isn’t a hardcore Trek fan. I know there are better space combat games out there, and I know there are better Star Trek games as well. All in all, Starfleet Command 3 is a game that will probably not linger in the memories or hard drives for very long.
A not-so-exciting combat simulator set in the Star Trek universe. Only recommended for those who need the next Trek fix.