Star Trek: Bridge Commander
With the Dominion War now over and the Federation's place in the Delta Quadrant firmly established, many of the participants are still licking their wounds while the stability of the region is still questionable. For Cardassia's part in the war, the Federation and its allies have demanded the Cardassian's disband their fleet and cease production of military weapons but some still fear hidden fleets are being compiled and are insisting on more severe punishments against Cardassia. That's far from the end of the political problems plaguing the region unfortunately as the Klingons, Romulans, and the Federation are still working out the kinks in their new relationships (or lack of).
Star Trek Bridge Commander starts with an accident surrounding an area bordering Federation, Romulan, and Cardassian space. This region called the Maelstrom is mainly known for its inhospitable climate and although the borders surrounding it aren't clearly defined, rarely is there a confrontation due to its lack of appeal. With Federation scientists longing to study the phenomena, technology has finally advanced for terraforming to progress and a science station to be placed there. As first officer on a galaxy class starship, you begin by watching your captain get annihilated as a star goes super nova while he attempts to re-supply the engineers terraforming the planet. As you assume command and clear out before you too are destroyed, others also take notice and wonder, as does the Federation, at the cause of the sudden super nova.
Star Trek Bridge Commander is a flight simulator that attempts to capture the feel of these colossal starships as they engage enemies and fly through space. With most past attempts allowing the ships to feel more like small fighters, Bridge Commander stays true to the Star Trek universe and creates a system that accurately displays the maneuverability and tactical abilities of these giant battleships.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Star Trek has always been different from other sci-fi universes in the fact that these massive starships are the main line of defense. Others like Star Wars and most space simulators use small fighters as their primary weapon of choice, which are highly maneuverable and often extremely deadly. In the past, most Star Trek simulators ended up with colossal starships that flew like small fighters often disregarding the combat style and dependence on tactics that both the movies and television series showed.
Finally however, a game has been created that understands the physics of these massive starships and the movement they would be capable of. Instead of having the maneuverability of an F-15, they now move more like battleships, where having a battle plan becomes critical and protecting damaged portions of the ship or inflicting damage to specific areas of the enemy's ship become crucial. It can take one careless turn and the enemy will swing around to a weakened area of your shields and cause a serious amount of damage.
If you're not familiar with the Star Trek series, the starships really do act similar to battleships. On the starships the main weapon of choice is the phaser. Each phaser has a firing arc that allows a certain range of attack. For instance, most appear to have around a 70-degree range so phasers in the front of the ship couldn't fire at targets from behind. Phasers also cannot fire constantly and must be recharged, so getting behind an enemy and blasting them apart isn't going to happen unless you keep repositioning your ship to the phasers that are charged. Photon torpedoes are also available and cause more damage then the phasers. Due to their launch characteristics however, they are more accurate at distances and can track enemies only moderately well.
One other issue about combat that relates to the series is the ability to take out specific systems on enemy ships. Often you'd hear Picard order a stubborn enemy's weapons system destroyed or engines hit to either disable to give a tactical advantage in combat. This ability is also included in the game and adds a whole other dimension to combat tactics. When fighting a Romulan Warbird for instance, often they will cloak just when you get in position to give some serious damage and uncloak with their weapons arcs aimed at your weak spot. If the cloaking system is targeted and destroyed however, the advantage shifts since Warbirds are almost twice as big as the largest Federation's ships and are less maneuverable.
Although the ships do move and have similar combat abilities to the series, if the ship isn't easily controlled, it can be an extremely frustrating experience. As the name implies, the ship is controlled using a similar manner that Starfleet Captains utilize. To control the ship, the first officer, helm, tactics, science station, and engineering are available and ready to receive orders. Especially with the helm and tactics, direct control can also be taken for weapons and piloting but if you're more of an armchair captain, orders can be given to let the helm pilot and tactics control the weapons. There can be some advantage to this however as battles often require attention to be split between different areas. Engineering for instance often needs guidance adjusting the power output to different systems so if the shields are taking a beating, more power can be sent there or if your phasers aren't recharging fast enough, power can be increased there as well. Allowing the helm to pilot or tactics to control the weapons is especially useful in the early stages of the game as the interface and control systems are still being worked out. Once you get comfortable, the tactical view from the outside of the ship will be the view of choice as you control the piloting, weapons, and all other systems with ease, requiring little help from your crew.
Besides the campaign, there is also a quick battle option available. Here any of the starships encountered can be flown but the bridge is restricted to either the Galaxy or Sovereign class Federation ships. Similar to most quick battles for simulators, friends and enemies can be selected along with location for encounters of any type. In addition, by flying other types of ships, you can get a better feel of their strengths and weaknesses when they are encountered in the campaign.
There are definitely two sides to the graphics: the bridge and tactical view. From the tactical view, or view from outside the starship, the graphics are astounding. The starships are beautifully detailed with a level of accuracy that is well above anything I've seen for Star Trek. Although the explosions could have been better, the ships do show damage and even break apart realistically. The bridge on the other hand has some shortcomings. The main issue isn't with the actual bridge, but mainly with the crew. Basically, they look pretty bad but when talking, it's even worse as their mouths are out of sync with their voices. The good news however is that once you become conformable with the interface and controls, the bridge is rarely used.
There isn't much to say about the audio except it holds true to the movies and series. Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner even add their voices for Picard and Data, adding to the realism. Other effects like phaser fire and photon torpedo launches all sound perfect.
3-D Hardware Accelerator (with 16MB VRAM), US version of Microsoft Windows 95 OSR2/98/ME/2000/XP operating system, Pentium II 300Mhz processor (Pentium II 450Mhz processor recommended) or Athlon processor, 64MB RAM, 650 MB of uncompressed hard disk space for game files; plus an additional 100 MB for Windows swap.
Star Trek Bridge Commander is a game that fans of the series will really appreciate. In addition to a great story line, the attempt to stay true to the series pays off with a solid space simulator accurately portraying these massive ships in both movement and tactics. For those not overly impressed with Star Trek in general, there are still a number of reasons to purchase this game and most will be impressed. Although there are some issues with the bridge crew, Bridge Commander is a well-balanced space simulator that will spend some time on your hard drive.