I’m aware its been sometime since I wrote something for my Trekking series. It’s not that I’ve fallen out of love for the idea or that my Trek phase had ended, but more or less I just haven’t had the time to write much of anything lately. With that said though I am back for this interim and plan on trying to cover at least a few more games.This time I am going to cover one of the most popular gaming franchises within the franchise, if that makes sense. That is of course the Starfleet Command a franchise by 14° East, and Interplay Entertainment. Of course I’m mainly going to cover the first game in the series this time around that simply being Starfleet Command, although the series did have an add-on for the original game Starfleet Command: Orion Pirates, plus two sequels Starfleet Command II: Empires at War, and Starfleet Command III, plus the Starfleet Armada games are a continuation of sorts.
Starfleet Command was released in 1999 at a time when Deep Space 9, and Voyager where still on TV and the TNG movies where still arriving in regular intervals. Essentially, the game was a video game adaptation of the popular Star Fleet Battles table top game, and was meant to capitalize on both Star Treks current successes, and FASA’ssuccess with bringing the Mechwarrior series from board game to video game in a similar manner a few years previous.
Although the game would carry over many faithful fans from Star Fleet Battles, introducing it on to PC would also attract many new fans as well. Some of these fans, like myself, never knew a tabletop form had existed previously. After all I was more interested in captaining a ship in the Star Trek universe, without all the whole manning the bridge thing as in some previous games. What Starfleet Command gave us is the ability to captain our own vessels and build our own fleets within the universe of the original Star Trek.
The game sub-genre is actually known as real-time tactics, or basically an RTS type of game without the ability to add units or build anything within actual game play. Essentially its you and your ship or ships slugging it out with everything from Klingons, to Orion Pirates, and more while trying to accomplish a variety of missions. You also have the ability to chose what race you want to be with at the start of the game and of course the options are; Federation, Klingon, Romulan, Gorn, Lyran, and Hydran. I personally always chose Federation, but that’s just me.
As the game starts you are usually assigned one of the most basic ships your side has, in most cases this is a Frigate. As the game plays on you are rewarded for your success in missions with “prestige points”, which are basically the in game currency and can be spend in the “mission” screen. Here you have the ability to visit the shipyards to see other options for bigger ships, ranging from your lowly Frigate to Battleships. With enough “prestige points”, you can buy an entirely new ship while trading in your old or begin to create a fleet of your own. After that are the Spacedocks, here you can upgrade your current ship(s) with everything from upgraded missiles, to spare parts, and even special shuttles and marines. You can also help your ship function better by visiting the recruiting office as well, here you can find better and/or veteran officers to man crucial positions on your vessel.
As far as game play, I attached a YouTube video gives you a pretty good idea as to how things operate within the game itself. Being as PC game most of the game play is controlled with the mouse, but in true PC form there are numerous hotkeys to help save a few steps here and there, like pressing “R” to quickly go to read alert, although I did it via mouse in the video. The game is for the most part pretty intuitive for the first time player, and for someone with a little Star Trek fandom under their belts. With that said though, the mission screens “The Academy” button does provide some pretty quick and comprehensive lessons on ships operations that even the intuitive player may find beneficial to consult with.
The game as you can tell by the YouTube video above is actually really fun to play, and a great way to suddenly immerse yourself in the Star Trek universe. However, like any game this one does have its caveats. One of the biggest headaches for me with this game is mission repetition, where you find yourself doing the same type of missions over and over again like a Star Trek version of Groundhogs Day. One particular mission that I have done over and over is the freight escort mission, in which you fight Orion pirates while getting freight ships to a nearby star base (not the same mission as in the video above). As boring and frustrating as this mission may be these types of missions are best compared to grinding missions as you would see in an RPG, in which prestige points can be gained with very little danger to your ship. Another caveat is the way in which the mission difficulties change but fail to recognize things that happen with the players. For instance mission difficulty does change appropriately as you add more and/or bigger ships, but as you lose those ships the mission difficulty doesn’t reflect that and a sudden 2 on 2 equal class battle suddenly becomes 2 on 1 and very unfair.
As for some major likes with this game, I absolutely love the way you can just get right into it for instant action, this is partially because the game held back on some major trends of the era like, FMV’s and/or big CGI cut scenes between missions. Although that is a small detractor, I think it treats the player with respect and lets the player use their own imagination in how the missions play out, and what is really going on story wise in the game. Another huge like is the ability to buy additional ships and/or upgrade your existing one, something that reminds me of some of RPG elements I’ve seen in such SHMUP’s as UN Squadron, andit really adds a tremendous amount of fun to the game as well as replay value.
This first installment in the Starfleet Command series did prove to be a major success, but there are many who argue that Starfleet Command III, is the best in the series since it encompasses the universe of TNG/Voyager/and DS9 as well as involves encountering the Borg, who can also be a playable race. Although a fan favorite, finding a boxed or even loose copy of Starfleet Command III can be an expensive proposition, some times commanding $40 or more on eBay. As for Starfleet Command it can be picked up lose for a lot cheaper, or you can find it on GOG.com fully compatible for Windows 10 for $5.99 or occasionally on sale for less. I personally own a copy of it I bought when it was new, as well as a GOG copy I bought for $.99 on sale, and tend to play that more to avoid compatibility issues since it’s a Windows 95/98 game originally
Overall, I’ve always been a big fan of this game and I think it really defines what a Star Trek game should be. In many ways I think Star Trek fans where attempting to create something like this when the first games came out, like the well passed around Strategic Bridge Simulator from the early 80’s. So get yourself a copy if your a Trek fan you won’t be disappointed.