Star Trek: Conquest Reader Review
Before I get into the review proper some background to illustrate my qualifications and impartiality (or lack thereof): I'm a Star Trek fan. I grew up on repeats of the Original Series and have seen every film in the theatre (some even on opening night). I've not been to a convention or dressed up, but I have played Star Fleet Battles in the school library at lunch and I have played the Fasa Star Trek Roleplaying game. My favourite shows are DS9 and TNG and I have both on DVD in their entirety (though I have limits -- no TNG films on my shelf, thanks).
The premise is pretty straightforward: control one of six races in the Star Trek universe (TNG-era) and attempt to eliminate your opponents in a battle to control the galaxy (you'll be reminded of this every time you boot the game because you cannot skip the message spelling it out). This has nothing to do with Star Trek per se, so we're not doing diplomacy or exploration here folks, it's basically Risk in space.
You have some Options you can set, but they're sparse: Rumble on/off, SFX/Music volume controls; that's pretty much it. Then the two game options: Campaign -- the full game -- and Skirmish (one-off Arcade Mode battle).
Choose your race and your starting admiral. There are three kinds of admiral in the game and each race can have up to three in play, though not all races have all admirals represented: Attack, Defend and Movement. The Attack and Defend admirals have extra attack or defense strength (weapons damage and shields, respectively) and the Movement admirals get an extra move. There is a bit of fan service in that the admirals are all characters from the shows with a little bio on each.
Your home system comes with one Large Starbase, one Research Station and defense turrets for each of them. Your starting fleet only has one ship, but you can have up to seven in any fleet. You have three ship types to choose from with one ship representing each type: scout, cruiser and dreadnaught. In some cases ships have been made up (the Klingons have a Ravenous cruiser between the Bird of Prey and Negh'Var -- why not the Vor'Cha or K'Tinga?), but mostly you'll be seeing ships from the shows. Scouts tend to be faster and easier to destroy and dreadnaughts lumbering with lots of guns, so you have balance and decisions to make on the makeup of your various fleets.
The name of the game is Conquest, so you need to start conquering. Unless you're playing easy difficulty setting you'll have a fog of war in play hiding the location of anything more than one or two systems from your own. Despite not being controlled by any of the major powers, you cannot just take over any system you like as there is always someone home initially. Neutral worlds will be defended by some familiar faces in the form of Ferengi, Xindi, Orions and Borg.
You get the choice of engaging the enemy or retreating after seeing the strength of the opposition and then three ways to play out the engagement if you decide to commit your fleet to battle:
Instant Resolution: the result is determined immediately and ships/facilities destroyed to fit the calculated outcome.
Simulation: the opposing forces are shown on the same screen and shoot at each other in a way reminiscent of a Galactic Domination game I remember playing on my 8-bit Atari 800XL. Again, you have no direct control over the action.
Arcade: Take direct command of the fleet using the wiimote/nunchuk. You get a bit of fan service in the form of visuals of the system and trivia about it -- all systems have featured in a show in some way -- and then a little movie of your forces moving in. You control one ship out of the fleet (available ships can be cycled through using +/-) and can choose to let the others free-for-all or put them into an offensive or defensive formation and move as a group. Stick moves the ship in 2-D space (with lovely 3-D backgrounds of the planetary system you're in) with indicators at the edge of the visual area to show the location of enemy facilities and ships off-screen. The vessels are pretty large so you won't see anything of the enemy until they're engaging you which makes it hard to plan for the actual fight. The control pad on the wiimote controls the fleet formation: left or right allows the AI to control the ships in your fleet, up chooses an attack posture and down defensive. Your admiral will bark out commands: "Fire at Will!" or "All Power to Weapons/Shields", depending on which one you choose. You will also hear voices from your ship captains letting you know when their shields are failing or triumph at the destruction of an enemy ship or turret. I recognise some of these voice actors from the Elite Force 2 game or possibly even some character actors from the shows themselves. A button fires torpedoes and B phasers/disruptors; the pointer is used to target ships/installations you want to attack. Despite the flaw of the unchanging perspective it's quite a hoot and I find it more engaging than looking at static images of ships with little shots flying back-and-forth until they blow up.
If you conquer the system you'll get a little report from your Admiral and then they'll get experience; get enough and they go up a rank and get better at their jobs. This is rather key; if your fleet gets destroyed then you lose that admiral and having to start from scratch late in the game can be fatal if your opposition has experienced officers who add 50% to battle damage or can make four or five moves in one turn.
You also get resources in the form of credits from your holdings. There are differing values of systems and they can be augmented by having Mining facilities (note that you can only have mining facilities OR research -- not both) present in the system.
With all your moves used up and having spent as much as you can (or desire) you now end your turn. The opposition does their thing; each announces their respective loyalties (For the Empire! For Earth! For the Confederacy! For Cardassia! etc.) and something happens in the fog of war....
Before your next turn you get to look at reports of how many facilities you have and how many credits you get. You can look at the health of your fleets at a glance, and the progress of your research as well as the number of systems each race possesses -- wait did I say research? Yes! Your research facilities cause a research bar to fill on the initial report page; when it fills up you get to choose an upgrade. The more research facilities the faster this happens. You get six upgrades to choose from, each with three levels of improvement and these are not the same for everyone, so again, a nice bit of variety and strategic choices to make. I've only played as Federation and Klingon so far, but here's a flavour: Federation can do things like reduce the cost of Admiral deployment, improve the amount of research output of research facilities and improve movement characteristics of ships (turning radius, speed and handling at high speed). The Klingons can reduce the cost of deploying new ships, increase shield strength and increase hull strength. There are others but this should give you an idea of how different your game can go. Given that I've only ever been able to apply six or seven upgrades in a game, there's some decisions to be made which will make every game a bit different.
Special weapons development is also affected by the number of research facilities. There are a few available, but each race only gets a choice of three to deploy when one has been developed. None are unique but they boil down to things that can shift the tide of a battle; possibly a game. The duration is brief, so care needs to be taken that they can be exploited promptly. For example you can create a wormhole from your homeworld to any other non-homeworld system, but given that you cannot deploy a special weapon when a fleet is present, that would mean having a fleet right next door to go through the wormhole, or the weapon is wasted. Others are about weakening your opponents: a virus weapon can cause an admiral to lose all experience whilst in a given system; the Genesis device causes damage to all ships and facilities in a system.
The game has a simplistic vaneer, but the pieces are there which together make up a complex game. I'm finding that Medium difficulty lacks a bit of challenge with three or four opponents, so I'll probably use Hard soon, but the actual gameplay is quite fun and it still takes over a hour to go through a complete game. If you don't have the hour you get to save between turns; the game also tracks the number of conquests you've made so you can always try to better your performance.
Basically pick a race, pick an admiral, pick the admiral's experience level, do the same for the opposition, pick the ships and the system, decide whose system it is and whether there are starbases with defense systems and go at it in an Arcade Mode battle. By playing through campaign mode successfully as different races you get to unlock stuff to use in Skirmish mode. I won't give anything away unless you ask, but they're pretty fun. Basically this is a way to get a quick battle in and try out different combinations of ships.
But what could have been? Well, I'd like a little more fan service in the form of extra ships or admirals to toggle through to fill the existing slots and online play really would have made this game shine. Even a 2-player skirmish mode would have been a treat. But hey, you get a lot of bang for your buck as it is. If you like the RTS genre or like Star Trek ships duking it out (think Star Trek: Armada, but simpler and more fun) then at £19.99 you cannot go far wrong here.