Star Trek: Conquest
Despite being around for more than four decades, Star Trek has always had an irrefutable geeky-ness about it. Perhaps the Klingon conventions are partly to blame, or maybe it’s just that Star Trek focuses largely on different sentient species and their politics (not cool) vs. Star Wars’ spaceships, warriors and battles (cool).
Star Trek: Conquest is the latest in a long line of videogames based on Gene Roddenberry’s famous franchise. It is a Real-Time Strategy game based in The Next Generation/Deep Space Nine era which conjures a war between the series’ major races and lets them battle for galactic supremacy. You pick a race from one of six (human, Romulan, Klingon, etc), and you must take over the galaxy, build resources and eradicate your opponents one step at a time.
The gameplay takes two forms – first and foremost is the Galactic Map, where you build your empire, supervise your fleets and micro-manage systems in your control. The second part is the arcade screen (also known as Skirmish), where you go into battle against opponents and control your ship as you lay waste to enemy fleets and installations.
You will lead up to three fleets across the Galactic Map, invading, overcoming and taking control of neutral and enemy sectors. Each time you move a fleet (each of up to seven ships) into an enemy’s area, you are given information about the foes in this region and the option for instant battle (which instantly decides the victor of the exchange), sim battle (which shows a brief on-screen conflict where you can deploy a few minor tactics), arcade battle (where you physically control your ships in the fight) and retreat. Upon eradicating the enemies the sector becomes yours, and you can fortify it against counter-attacks with a Starbase and gun emplacements and set up mining or research facilities.
Deciding a confrontation in the arcade screen is usually the best means if the odds are not especially in your favour. You can switch between control of any of your ships and instruct minor tactics on the rest of your fleet. All ships – both your own and enemies’ – have green barriers which represent their shielding, and you must eliminate the shields on a particular part of a vessel before you can attack the hull and destroy it. This rewards a certain level of tactical play; usually on the larger vessels it is beneficial to target a certain part of the enemy ships or installations to eliminate them as quickly as possible.
Upon destroying enemy vessels or installations your fleet’s captain gains experience, and at certain points he or she can level up and gain superior abilities depending on their disposition – movement specialists gain extra moves per turn, defence specialists gain extra defence capabilities and attack specialists gain extra attack power. If this fleet later gets eradicated your captain will lose all of their experience points and be returned to your Home World, where they can be re-hired again and build up a new armada. The advantages the experience brings are most beneficial, so it is in your interest to preserve at least part of your fleet, even if this means retreating from battles.
One area the game could definitely do with bolstering is with the micro-management and running of the attained systems. Once earned, you can build a Starbase or Advanced Starbase (you cannot build new ships in this sector unless you first create one of these) and accompany this with a mining or research facility, but other than perhaps adding some gun turrets (recommended if the system is vulnerable) there is little else to do there. Some more things to do aside from research/mining could have added extra tactical options, and made the experience a bit more rewarding and in-depth. As it is, at times it can’t help but feel a little shallow.
Building a research facility rewards you twofold; firstly it slowly fills up an upgrade bar, which, when full, allows you to upgrade your ships or installations in ways such as reducing building costs, strengthening shields or upgrading weapons. Secondly, it allows you to research and deploy one of three special weapons, which allow a needed extra layer of strategy and can truly turn the tide of campaigns. Expectedly, they take the forms of defence, movement or aggressive items, such as a healing device which repairs all ships and facilities in a given region, a wormhole device which allows you to teleport one fleet to anywhere visible on the map and the Genesis Device, which causes up to fifty percent damage to all ships and structures where discharged. Putting time and resources into the research side of things is a useful and rewarding option, and helps bring more depth to the game.
Unfortunately the Campaign mode is rather shallow, without any additional premise or setup and merely requiring you to destroy all enemies on a given map (which changes only slightly depending on which races you play as and against). Some narrative or perhaps additional cutscenes would be a welcome addition, because as it stands the drive to complete the main Campaign is somewhat lacking. You are rewarded with unlockable ships to battle with or against in free-access Skirmish modes, but other than getting a bit of practice or savouring in grossly unbalanced battles, there isn’t a great deal of return for putting time into this mode.
At times the computer AI – both of your own ships and the enemies’ – is utterly stupid. You will notice this particularly in sim mode (where you can’t control ships but only issue orders), when your fleet will all too often ignore damaged enemy vessels in favour of unthreatening installations or far stronger enemy ships. This is a consistent annoyance which can see battles unfairly go against you and there is little you can do about it.
In terms of atmosphere and getting the Star Trek look and feel right, Conquest does a pretty decent job. Graphics are not especially detailed, yet it never feels like they need to be. The Galactic Map is represented in bright, blatant colours and ships are not detailed (and neither do they need to be). In the arcade mode things are better, with grand planetary backgrounds and moderate details on the ships and facilities. Sound effects and music all appear fairly faithful to the franchise, even if the game appears to be lacking any of the series’ traditional soundtracks. Voiceovers are fairly irritating though, being repeated incredibly often and being far too hammy to be taken seriously.
Star Trek: Conquest is an enjoyable strategy game which needs more depth and variety to be truly arresting. It does what it does well, however developer 4J Studios have succeeded in making the game perhaps too simplistic, and definitely lacking any narrative pull or long-term appeal. It will no doubt appeal to fans of the series who relish Klingons and the Dominion, but for those without interest in the franchise there just isn’t quite enough here to attract.