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Star Trek: Conquest
Graphics: 5.8
Gameplay: 6.3
Sound: 5.1
Control: 5.5
Replay Value: 4.6
Rating: 5.1
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: 4JStudios
Number Of Players: 1 Player

Only three things will survive the apocalypse: bacteria, Cher, and the “Star Trek” legacy. The latter has taken on a life of its own over the past few decades and in some respects, can even rival Lucas’ famed “Star Wars” franchise (although one is firmly rooted in film while the other has its foundation in television). We haven’t seen a wide variety of quality Star Trek games, though, and that’s why we entered into our review of Conquest with much trepidation. After all, we’re looking at a simulation-type strategy title that would cater to meticulous detail-oriented micromanagement freaks, but it also needed to cater to true fans of the series. After spending plenty of time with the game, we’ve come to the conclusion that while the depth and fan service is there, the whole process is lacking a bit in terms of entertainment and execution. And that’s perhaps the worst part of the game- it does feel more like a “process” than a fun strategy experience, and that’s just plain tiresome.

In terms of graphics, we never expect much from strategy titles, simply because the visuals are never a prime focus. The central focus remains firmly fixed on the gameplay, which makes perfect sense, but the graphics still do play a minor role in the overall presentation. We’ll start with the brightest highlight of Conquest, and that involves the environmental design and beautiful backdrops. They fit the atmosphere perfectly, and in some ways, the map design reminds us very much of the old board game, “Solarquest,” which was basically “Monopoly” in outer space. The rest of the visuals aren’t remarkable in the slightest, though, so the game seems to rely far too heavily on the backgrounds and settings. Now, while they are good, we would’ve liked a bit more in the way of detail, especially when it comes to the spaceships and a few of the star systems. There’s not much else to talk about, but if you’re looking for an amazing graphical production, you should definitely look elsewhere…and you should certainly avoid strategy games. But for fans of the genre, they shouldn’t be too disappointed with how this game looks.

The sound suffers from a series of generic combat and voiceover effects, none of which ever serve to suck you into the action. We’ll have to assume the voices are relatively accurate, but there’s nowhere near enough variety and the only positive aspect is the urgency we hear during times of great distress. That emotion comes through just fine. But beyond that, the boring battle effects and basic construct sounds (you have to create a fleet and a base, right?) tend to grate after only a few hours of play, and you’ll soon start tuning them out. Again, the technical aspects of the game never matter as much when it comes to strategy, but the developer shouldn’t skimp on these categories, either. Perhaps the #1 question Trekkies will ask is this: “does it at least sound like “Star Trek?” The answer to that is a reluctant “yes,” but with the following disclaimer- sure, it’ll remind you of the show, but it’s unlikely to resound with perfect, faithful clarity and diversity. If you’re willing to accept this, you probably won’t have a significant problem with the sound, even though it’s only slightly better than average.

Okay, moving on. We’ll forget about the graphics and sound, bypass the storyline and presentation, and move straight to the gameplay, simply because that’s the entire point of titles like Conquest. In this game, you will be building up your fleet and conquering other planets and star systems, all the while keeping a close eye on your acquired resources. Obviously, money is a top priority, because the more funds you have, the faster you can develop bigger and more effective starbases. You only have access to three separate fleets of ships, though, so you can’t possibly hope to defend your bases all the time. That’s where the automated defense mechanisms come into play (provided you built them, of course), as turrets will help to protect your bases while you’re fighting away from home. As for the battles themselves, this is where the developers institute a fairly unique gameplay method: you have three options when it comes to combat. Hence, you can opt to let the computer settle the dispute through mathematical calculations, you can have moderate control over your ships, or you can take full control over the fleet.

If you choose an Arcade combat setup, for example, you can switch between each of the three ships in your fleet, choosing targets and firing primary and secondary weapons. For instance, if you want to fire your torpedoes, you must aim at an enemy using the right analog stick that sends out a cone of fire for lock-on purposes. This isn’t difficult to do – we’re not talking about a flight game, here – but it does take a wee bit of practice to get the timing and maneuvering down. You can choose to eliminate each foe one by one, which is probably the best way to do it, or you can repel all invaders by firing at every last ship that dares to enter your territory. Thing is, you will be facing fairly steep odds very often, especially during the early stages of the gameplay, and that can pose a bit of a problem during the first few turns. Players who aren’t so patient and don’t pay close attention to things like the Infrastructure Analysis are going to have a difficult time succeeding, and invading fleets are typically very aggressive. If you don’t prepare accordingly from the very first turn, your fleet could meet a very early and very untimely demise.

It’s a good idea to set up research stations ASAP. These ramp up the effectiveness of your special weapons and upgrade meters, and depending on which race you choose, you will have different abilities and skills. Some groups might be able to move more than once per turn, for example, and you should always keep an eye on your inherent stats. Depending on the research stations and how you go about developing your interstellar armada, your race will progress in a very unique way. This is by far the most alluring aspect of Conquest, because it encourages experimentation for anyone willing to dive in and embrace the full experience. The purpose of having multiple races to select from is pretty straightforward: how you play the game should change depending on your choice, and that’s exactly what happens in this game. However, and most unfortunately, that’s really the only big positive. You can select from a variety of different races, ranging from the Earth Federation to the Klingons to the Breen, but the only game modes available are Campaign and Skirmishes. There’s no collectibles or unlockables to speak of, and the odds are against you far too often.

Star Trek: Conquest has the depth and might be interesting for avid followers of the series, but for a strategy game, it just doesn’t pass muster. The technicals, with the exception of a few impressive backdrops, are a big yawn, the strategy gameplay tends to get very repetitive (build, fight, wait/watch, repeat), and the fun factor takes a steep dive after the first few hours. Like we said at the start, this whole game feels like more of a process than anything else. We understand there’s usually a great deal of thought required to get involved in a strategy title, but you’re also rewarded for that time. Here, the rewards always seem unsatisfactory, and in the end, it just feels like we were playing a very out-of-date sim/strategy video game. It might be okay for the Trekkies and strat buffs, but even that might be a stretch.

3/24/2008   Ben Dutka