Star Trek: Conquest PS2, Wii
“Star Trek: Conquest, why now?” I hear you ask.
When I heard this game was by Bethesda Softworks I got a tingle, something that I hadn’t felt in years (no impotence jokes please). From the people who brought us titles like “Oblivion”, I finally felt it was time for me to sample a Star Trek game done right. Sadly I am a closet Treky, I don’t dress up, and I don’t know Klingon, but I secretly wish I could, and wish I did. Turn based strategies aren’t my medicine personally, I prefer to see the action unfolding in real time before my eyes, or more often than not with my inability to plan ahead, watch the battle unravel and spiral down into my own flailing defeat. But as I am writing this review, I currently have the games display case set on my knee, and as I am looking at the back cover searching for inspiration on things to be writing about it, I am filled with the urge to go and play it, which is relatively surprising to me.
The game is basic, and I don’t mean basic in a perfectly streamlined sense, or in an experimental indie side project way, it is basic with no reason to be. I went searching for depth after getting my head around how the game plays, and there was literally nothing else for me to sample. Campaign mode sees you choosing your own race, then choosing all the enemy races, then you take it in turns to fight your way to galactic conquest. The only break in turn based tomfoolery is during ship to ship fights, where you are given the option to take direct control of your fleet/ship. This would be a welcome diversion if there was anyway to be better than the enemy AI, and you could find yourself rising up and using your own personal input to beat overwhelming odds, in true Star Trek style. But more often than not fights play out exactly like they would have been simulated, give or take a ship or two, making you regret you sat through the annoyingly long load times, just for a 1 minute sample of the flimsy direct action.
I hate to spew out too many facts about the mechanics of games, it’s boring and it’s not what I want to be writing, but sometimes it has to be done. You start off with your home world setup; from then on every system you occupy has the ability to hold one star base, and one secondary installation (mining complex/research facility). Every turn you are given a money budget in relation to the amount of mining complex’s you have, and a research progression which coincides with how many research facilities you have. Money goes towards buying ships and more facilities, research goes to upgrading your races own personal benefits, and activating one of the races’ three special weapons. Special weapons and your commander’s unique skills (attack/defense/movement) used correctly, can be the turning point of each battle.
As I was phasing out, taking turn after turn on this game, I got to thinking what the definition of a strategy game is. Most games call themselves real time strategies, but the actual game play bottles down to creating enough troops to crush the enemy in one giant rush. Or alternatively getting your base setup first, and remaining far enough ahead of them to gain the upper hand, which to me feels more like a optimising race than actually strategising. All that being said I found myself with an overwhelming feeling that I had played something similar to this game before, and not to insult any hardcore players out there, but I likened it to chess. I don’t want to suggest for a second that this game takes as much intelligence to be good at as chess does, but there are a few situations where similarities unfold. Being in a stale mate, and having no way to make a successful offence, your opponent being in the same situation, both of you trying to tease the other into committing to an attack you know that you can win, all to make an opening to push forward and lay down another defence further into the enemy’s systems. Or alternatively you can push too far forward with your fleets, opening your rear up to attack (no anal jokes please), posing the decision, do you pull back and defend, or push on and lay claim to another system?
At one point in my life I sampled a game called “Birth of the Federation” another Trek game with a turn based mechanic. I will admit off the bat that Birth of the Federation was extremely complicated, and in that sense Conquest has delivered an easy on the brain strategy experience. But it is shocking how unimpressive visually Conquest is, easily the equal to Birth of the Federation which is now almost 10 years old, and still offers 10 times as much depth. Series specific features such as, playing as the Federation it was possibly to become the most dominant force in the galaxy through sheer diplomacy. As the Cardassians, who are capable warriors but are far more adept at espionage, you could gear yourself towards sabotage and triggering uprising and unrest in neighbouring systems. If you are a fan of Star Trek you will know how important small inclusions like this are in a game’s universe. Particularly when compared to Conquest’s, who makes no attempt to explain why the federation are slaughtering millions in their desire for Galactic control, made even more difficult by the federation having the weakest battle capabilities, upgrades and strategic position on the map.
If you put aside the ridiculous choice of time to be releasing a Star Trek game, that has seen nothing new happen with the franchise beyond the postponed Star Trek: Online. And the up coming film featuring young Kirk and Spock, which I might add is not the audience of this game (Next Generation). Putting aside the bizarre lack of content, and the fact that each time you play you feel like your setting up a “quick match” on most other games, and the fact you achieve relatively nothing of worth when you win. This game is a sound bit of fun for a Trek fan but I better not find out you have been spending above 20 pounds on what feels like a budget release.
Alternatively if you can find Birth of the Federation, and can get it working on Microsoft’s fancy new operating system, then you’ve got a better game in every respect right there.