Thirty Year Mission
Star Trek has proven itself to be a winning formula when it comes to television and movies, with a legacy stretching thirty plus years proving testament to this fact. Why is it then, that despite the existence of the Star Trek 'universe' and its extensive 'history', we still have no really good Star Trek games?
In the past we had point and click style adventurers, based on both the original series and the Next Generation ("A Final Unity"). More recently we have had the 'virtual captain' style of games, with players sitting in the big chair and dishing out orders ("Star Fleet Academy"). There was "Klingon Honor Guard", a mediocre first person shooter using the Unreal engine. There has even been a little dabble with real time strategy in "StarFleet Command".
But while these games have all been passable, none of them have been really good - and certainly not good enough to live up to the Star Trek legacy. And so we come to "Star Trek : Armada", an attempt to create a 3D real time strategy game set in the Star Trek universe just after the latest film, "Insurrection", which puts it right up to date in terms of Star Trek technology.
Phasers On Stun
The game offers a superb single player story line, which is told with the use of in engine cut-scenes. These effectively get you from one mission to the next, and attempt to provide the fibre for the whole plot.
Strangely the game is divided up between four major races - the Federation, the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, and The Borg. This makes for a unique system of play where each race only gets about six or seven missions, but with four races this does work out to be about 25 single player levels in total, which is about right for the average RTS game. There is also an extra episode which appears after the end of the Borg campaign, and must be completed in order to see the story through to its conclusion.
Armada is well put together, and despite only having a few missions for each race, they are all engrossing. The cut scenes are well written and even quite entertaining on occasions.
Resistance Is Futile
Multiplayer is also covered, and offers the chance for up to eight players to duke it out in one of the 30 or so multiplayer maps supplied with the game.
The online multiplayer is covered by Won.net, and they provide a reasonable service. I was able to easily set up an account from inside the game, and then connect to their servers with the minimum of hassle. Ping times weren't bad, certainly good enough for a real time strategy game.
One thing that must be commented on is the AI, and the seeming lack of any "I" in it. The computer controlled ships in the single player campaign are remarkably predictable, and they also seem to utilise the same tactics ad infinitum, regardless of how successful it has proven to be.
The classic example is one of the wormholes in the game. The computer may send through some ships, but instead of sending them through as a large battle group the AI makes the decision to send them one at a time. This gives you the chance to fortify the wormhole exit and destroy anything coming out, as you will never be outnumbered.
On Screen, Number One
Visually "Star Trek : Armada" is very nice, and it certainly makes good use of its graphics engine. The space is nicely textured, and contains its fair share of electrified nebulae and other such spatial phenomena.
The ship models are also extremely well done, and the developers have obviously spent a fair bit of time getting the models and textures just right. The highlight has to be the Romulan Warbirds, which shine appropriately in the cosmic aura. Sadly the Borg vessels are the worst in the game, but this is mainly due to the difficultly involved in creating accurate 3D models of the Borg ships as shown in Star Trek.
The action takes place in 3D space, but there is a distinctly 2D grid overlaid on top of it. This is in order to help the player navigate his ships from the overhead view. Should you want to get closer to the action you can zoom in on the individual ships, or slip into the unusual "Directors Cut" mode. This focuses more on controlling the camera so that you can see the action going on, and there is virtually no control over your ships in this mode. It is not recommended for close call battles, but it is quite enjoyable, and this mode is sure to please any Trekkie that likes to see their battles.
Open A Channel
The sounds are also extremely well done, with samples from the actual shows and films. If you have been longing to hear the sound of phasers firing or vessels cloaking, then Armada won't dissapoint - it is a veritable feast for the ears.
Thankfully all the voices in the game are provided by members of the original cast as well. It's great to hear Patrick "Picard" Stewart's "Make it so", and Michael "Worf" Dorn's "Today IS a good day to die!". Even Denise Crosby makes a return as the Romulan Admiral Sela, and J.G Hertzler reprises his role as Chancellor Martok.
It's perhaps a personal thing, but the voices really do help to put you into the right Star Trek frame of mind, and add an extra level of depth to the game, certainly more so than if the voices had been provided by generic voice actors as in most games.
Armada is an entertaining Star Trek game, and it is certainly a great deal better than most of those which have "boldy gone" before it.
That said, as a real time strategy game it is a little lacking, particularly in the AI department. If you are a serious RTS player, perhaps Armada is one best left to the amateurs. But if you are a serious Trek head, then Armada will certainly entertain thanks to its stunning audio/visual details.
One thing is certain though, Armada definitely does its heritage proud. Release Date - available now