Windows – 2001
Description of Star Trek: Armada II
Ferengi. Who needs ’em? Stinking bottom-dwellers of the universe. Not only do they sound like nasally twelve-year old girls, but they look like rats on a bad hair day. Heck, I’d rather hob-knob with the Borg than associate with those furry excuses for a life form. In fact, give me one day as a Federation Admiral and I’d photon torpedo them all back to their homeworld. Wham, see you in the next rerun, ya hairball! And while this is not exactly the plot for the new Next Generation-era real-time strategy game, Star Trek: Armada II, you do encounter the annoying species occasionally. In the skirmish mode you can even blow their cargo ships off the face of the universe. Cool. Besides that, you’ll also resolve a new Federation crisis with those nasty Borg, power more ships and command two new races, and compete against other Trek fans in a highly improved multiplayer environment. It’s a strange twist that the single-player campaign is not nearly as interesting as the arcade-like gameplay of the original, released about two years ago. Memorable sequences abounded, from the time you had to slither you’re way through a nebula-infested blockade as Worf, or the ambush missions where stealth played a more important role than outright combat. Armada II offers only three campaigns, including the Federation, Klingons, and Borg. Somewhat of a letdown, the scripted sequences feel more like the design team was struggling for ideas. Why start the game with a mission against the impenetrable Borg, making one of the fiercest Federation enemies into hapless idiots? Usually, the Borg would deploy their gigantic Cubes and crush the Federation like ants. Instead, because it’s the first mission, you can easily wipe them out in about 15 minutes. Other missions keep you on your toes in ambushes and escort missions, but there’s rarely the adrenalin rush of a more fast-paced space combat RTS. This might have been intentional. Changes to the basic gameplay mechanics include new resources to gather (metal and latinum), a new Y-axis similar to the one in Homeworld where ships can move up and down in space, and a new colonization requirement. In other words, you’ll spend more time performing routine functions and strategizing about unit movement than actually firing phasers and killing off your enemies. Battles take more time to develop, and even a new “tactical” viewing angle that rotates around the action can’t help hide the fact that there just isn’t enough happening on screen other then lots of ships firing at each other. Cheesy cutscenes that introduce some missions don’t make up for the lack of variety during the campaigns. Still, the single-player mode does have its shares of strengths. There are 45 new ship classes and 22 new special weapons, plus a plethora of new space stations and incidental space matter. One obvious disadvantage to a space combat game that uses a real-time strategy model is that the game takes place in the blackness of open space. Fortunately, all the locations are well populated (or maybe over-populated) with space dust, dilithium moons, planets, black holes, asteroid belts, wormholes, and exactly seven different kinds of nebulae. Seeing the Borg stuck in the middle of space with the Federation on one side and Species 8472 on the other has its own appeal. Multiplayer and skirmish modes have been beefed up significantly. In addition to the races included in the campaigns, you can also play as Species 8472, the Cardassians, and the Romulans. Only Species 8472 offers a significantly different gameplay experience. Organisms are birthed from a “mother” and then evolved into ships and stations. There’s no resource gathering, but it takes longer to build up a fleet. The powerful Battleship is one of the only units that’s a match for the new Borg fusion cube, which is essentially a combination of eight regular cubes. Borg can’t assimilate Species 8472, so gameplay is balanced nicely. New modes such as capture the flag help keep battles interesting. More than anything, it’s the social aspect to multiplayer that makes it so entertaining. Trek fans are definitely devoted to their series. Newbies can easily find someone to show them the ropes, and clans have been forming quickly ever since the release. Players online are generally more helpful and serious about the game, as opposed to some multiplayer experiences where everyone is far less intense. This actually helps with the actual gameplay balancing because players are willing to change races, offer advice, and generally even the playing field. There are just a few other new features worth mentioning. Armada 2 now allows you to group units into formations, which is helpful since there are so many new ships and intense combat sequences. “Facing Based Damaged” is a new strategy element. Frontal assaults will affect weapon systems and life support, whereas a rear attack will cause engine damage. In practice, the combat is just too quick and there are too many ships to even make this a viable strategy. If Armada 2 had focused on larger ships with more weapon systems it would have been a more important factor. Even the Armada 2 website mentions the fact that the best attack is to just send wave after wave of smaller ships into combat, so it’s a negligible addition. A revamped 3D graphics engine definitely enhances the experience. Borg stations have an incredibly high polygon count with layer after layer of detail. It’s cool to see the wireframe ghost image when you first place these structures. Federation vessels are probably the most lacking since they look a little pale against black space. Some weapons send an expansive shockwave of destruction; others look a little more like peashooters. But, for the most part, everything you see in the game looks really impressive, especially when you zoom in for a close view. One problem, though, is that you rarely CAN zoom in for a close-up. Since there are so many units, the game almost requires an overhead perspective to keep track of the action. There were many times when the screen just didn’t seem big enough, even at high resolutions. The control interface takes up about a third of the screen, and most sections cannot be hidden from view. Armada 2 has a low-key soundtrack and sounds that seem to be lifted right out of the Next Generation series. Each race has its own set of blips, weapon effects, and unit responses to match the tone of that race. It’s especially rewarding to play as the Klingon and feel like you’re getting chewed out for every action you take. So, while the campaign mode doesn’t offer as much arcade action and the new strategic additions actually lessen the overall space combat feel, there’s still plenty here for Trek fans and non-Trekkies alike. Some gamers might decide to skip right past the campaign mode and dive right into skirmishes and multiplayer, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. If Activision and new developer Mad Doc can think up more interesting things for these races to do during campaigns, add bigger ships to more races, and keep the multiplayer the way it is, we might see a third installment that outdoes them all.
Review By GamesDomain
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