From the Database of Home of the Underdogs
GAME DESIGNER:Josh Morris
Copyright 2002, Paramount Pictures
Starfleet Command III is an excellent sequel to Starfleet Command II, arguably the best strategy game based on Star Trek franchise ever made. While it “dumbs down” many features to attract casual gamers, it still packs enough options and addictive gameplay to merit our Top Dog tag. Since the closure of developer Taldren, many fans of the series as well as ex-Taldren employees have been churning out new patches and mods to make the experience even better. Adrenaline Vault’s superb review has the lowdown:
“Starfleet Command III is a blatant grab for popular appeal. Not only has it remained faithful to the more popular elements of Star Trek, including the Next Generation setting, it’s also significantly reduced the number of tactical options available in the game. Compared to its predecessor, it ships on one less disc and with a manual one-third the size. Also lacking is a cardboard table describing weapon ranges and accuracy. Rather than eight playable factions, there are now four, only three of which are playable in the campaigns. Ships now have four shield facings instead of six, eschewing the hex-based nature of the original combat system. Fighters and carriers have been removed, and although the smaller shuttlecraft still remain, they too have less exotic capabilities than before. Decoys and pseudo-torpedoes are gone. Players are no longer able to target incoming projectiles in an attempt to destroy them or reduce their effectiveness, nor can tractor beams be used to temporarily keep missiles at bay. There aren’t even any missiles.
Combat primarily revolves around the use of shields and positioning the ship during combat to take full advantage of them. Each ship has four shield arcs that are able to absorb damage before failing, recharging at a slight rate throughout the course of a battle. It’s also possible to reinforce one particular arc. Not only does that individual segment become stronger, any damage that it suffers is spread out among the three other arcs. A successful captain can ensure that the majority of the damage that he or she receives is dealt to the shield, rather than directly to the ship’s hull. Offensively, position is also the key to victory; each weapon typically has a limited field of fire, meaning that a vessel has to remain mobile to take advantage of its full arsenal. Turning to bring additional weapons to the fore has to be balanced with protecting one’s own weakened shields while targeting exactly that section of the enemy’s. Range is also an important consideration as the accuracy and damage potential of weapons tend to decrease with distance. Accuracy is also affected by the angular velocity between the two vessels at the moment of fire, a new addition to the series that, for the first time, takes full advantage of its presence on the computer platform. As ships increase in speed and become closer to one another, shearing off at disparate angles, the angular velocity increases, making shots all but impossible, allowing smaller ships to exploit hit and run tactics. All of this makes for a tremendously intriguing game.
There are many additional tactical options for players to attend to during the course of battle. Tractor breams can be used to lock onto enemy vessels, removing angular velocity for easy hits, or even be used to push a ship into an asteroid and destroy it. The opposing captain can use a similar beam to repel that of the first, breaking the connection before any harm is suffered. Individual ship components can be targeted, not only with weapons, but also with away teams that can board an enemy if the facing shield is down. These boarding parties can even attempt to capture the craft. Shuttlecraft can be launched to pester the enemy with light weapons or draw enemy fire. Advanced movement techniques are also available. A high-energy turn can allow a ship to change orientation on a dime, although taking advantage of it too often can result in engine failure. Craft can also engage their warp drives to move at high speeds, although this necessitates the dropping of shields, in a concession to game balance over franchise accuracy.
However, energy is no longer a substantial consideration. In previous games in the series, energy was distributed from a common pool. Not only did weapons and shields draw from it, but also moving, using tractor beams and advanced sensors tapped into the available supply. This factor overshadowed everything a player chose to do. No longer, it would seem, as Next Generation ships have power to spare. While it’s possible to tweak the amount of energy allocated to primary and heavy weapons, as well as the shields, there’s seldom any reason to do so. Movement and other actions no longer seem to require any energy at all, so as long as the ship has a warp core analogous to the amount of weapons and shields on board, no thought has to be given to energy. Only when the craft’s engines are damaged beyond repair is any consideration necessary, but by then, victory is often out of reach.
Starfleet Command III features three campaigns that weave a single story, and as such, the menu screen suggests rather authoritatively that players approach them in chronological order. Taking place shortly after the return of Voyager from the Delta Quadrant and before the upcoming film entitled “Nemesis,” the Federation and the Klingon Empire are constructing Unity Station together at the edge of the Neutral Zone bordering on Romulan territory. Players will experience life as a captain on each side of the conflict, which takes place in the Dynaverse 3 setting. In simple terms, Dynaverse 3 is a reactive map, made out of hexagons, that’s constantly populated with action and events. This means randomly generated missions are created fairly intelligently, based on the sector in which an encounter takes place. A captain might receive a distress call from a ship or convoy escort duty in friendly territory. On the other side, his or her role might be to attack a convoy of the enemy. Repeated victories in a hex might shift the balance of power, moving it from one faction to another. All of this builds prestige for a player, who can then use it to command ever-larger vessels. It’s also possible to refit a ship with different equipment, tailoring it to suit the goals of a mission or the individual tactics of a captain. The scripted scenarios of the campaigns take place over the world of Dynaverse 3, meaning that between special events, players are free to take on other missions and engage in other roles, although there’s often not much time before they’re automatically summoned to the next plot specific mission.
Despite the loss of some of the more interesting and exotic features, the core game that made the other offerings in the series so fascinating still remains; after all, many who played Starfleet Command II never advanced to the point where they could truly take advantage of all it had to offer. While battles are still riveting, the nature of the beast has slightly changed. As it’s more difficult to incapacitate and destroy ships’ systems, there’s never that same sense of danger or elation that pervaded earlier matches. Fast kills are now a thing of the past, and even dreadnoughts are forced to stand toe to toe with their enemies for more than two exchanges. In a sense, combat is even more strategic now, even if it’s not possible to disable a foe with a single deluge of missiles after a clever ruse.
Despite being targeted at more casual fans of the Star Trek franchise, the numerous rough edges in Starfleet Command III make it hard to recommend to that demographic, as it hasn’t yet received enough polish. As Taldren has typically shown great resolve in addressing such issues through patches, it might be a compelling product for those new to the genre in the near future – even if it now falls short out of the box. Advanced players and long time fans of Starfleet Battles will rue the simplifications of the rule set, though the great sense of online community still remains and the impressive Next Generation environment will undoubtedly pull them into the game. While many of the design decisions will certainly alienate those on both sides of the fence, Starfleet Command III remains a “must have” for fans of the series. It’s Star Trek, and it’s good.”