Trekkers control action in 'Armada'

Game: Activision's "Star Trek" offering puts players in the admiral's chair as the evil Borg once again take on the Federation.

May 15, 2000|By Kevin Washington | Kevin Washington,Sun Staff

The Dominion War has ended and, as any "Star Trek" fan knows, the Alpha Quadrant, home to the Federation, Klingons and Romulans, has been devastated.

Which, in "Star Trek" history, means another invasion is about to begin.

In Activision's "Star Trek: Armada," who else but the Borg, the cybernetic race whose motto is "Resistance is Futile," would try to take over the Earth's quadrant of the galaxy for the third time? This time, though, they mean business. It won't be a case of one cube trying to take on a task force of Star Fleet ships, but a fleet of assimilation wagons in the shapes of cubes, diamonds and spheres.

This $50 title is serious "Star Trek" territory, the kind that fascinates fans who enjoyed not only the original "Star Trek," but its offspring, including "The Next Generation," "Deep Space Nine" and the latest films.

And what a treat it is -- when the bugs aren't causing minor havoc (more on that later). "Armada" focuses on one of the best aspects of "Star Trek": it's ship-to-ship combat involving the U.S.S. Enterprise E, Defiant-class attack ships, Vor'Cha-class Klingon cruisers and Romulan Warbirds. You play from the point of view of each of the four combatants over 20 missions or you can go online for head-to-head combat with "Star Trek" fanatics.

As the Borg, you even get the chance to assimilate a ship's crew or two.

To add to the "realism" quotient of the "Star Trek" universe, the game's story line begins where "Deep Space Nine," which went off the air in June 1999, ended. The Dominion War has left millions dead and the galaxy vulnerable.

To juice up the production, several actors from the latter-day "Star Trek" television series have lent their voices to the computer-generated characters: Patrick Stewart is both Jean Luc Picard and the reincarnation of Locutus, while Michael Dorn is Lt. Commander Worf (Star Fleet's Klingon officer), and Denise Crosby is Admiral Sela, Tasha Yar's Romulan daughter.

Unlike Interplay's "Star Fleet Academy," which puts you in the captain's chair, "Armada" puts you in the admiral's chair. Missions involve preparing for battle by creating starbases, shipyards, ships and new weapon systems (the Enterprise can even reflect all incoming fire with a special shield modification), as well as coordinating cruisers, destroyers and other starships for defense and attack.

Managing resources is critical, although there isn't nearly as much to manage as in some strategy games. Make sure you mine enough dilithium to power your ships and shipyards and try to keep enough personnel on hand to run everything.

Even in its least difficult mode, things happen fast in "Armada." In the third mission, for example, Lt. Cmdr. Worf's ship must immediately escape a Klingon battleship and two attacking Birds of Prey before he goes up in cybersmoke. Wait just 30 seconds to get the ship moving toward its destination and you won't get there.

While the 2-D play grid doesn't provide depth, you can switch on a cinematic view that gives you a movie-style version of the battle. Just don't try to stage your forces through the cinematic view -- unless you like losing.

Controlling the action with the mouse is difficult at first, but with practice can get you closer to perfection. Take the time to learn a few keyboard shortcuts and you'll find it a thousand times easier to move ships around the vast expanse of space you'll be fighting in.

The game doesn't require a super-powered computer, just a 266-MHz Pentium II, 32 megabytes of RAM and a CD-ROM drive. If you have a 3-D accelerator card, then you can get away with running the game on a 200-MHz Pentium. What you will need is a galaxy's worth of hard disk space -- the game stakes claim to an incredible 600 megabytes of storage.

No matter what machine you're running it on, bugs in the software may be an annoyance. Or maybe it's just a case of Borg nanites attacking your computer. For some reason, it took nearly two hours to install, and I was dumped out of the game into Windows 98 several times after nearly completing missions.

Then, I removed and reinstalled the game (another two hours of waiting) and the characters began to stutter every once in awhile.

So protect yourself: Save each game several times while it's in progress. A patch that shipped with our review copy didn't help, so it may be awhile before Activision gets a handle on the problem. Check for updates on Activision's Web site (www.st-armada.com).

For someone who is not used to playing real-time strategy games, the "Star Trek Armada Official Strategy Guide" is a must. The guide actually has a better set of instructions than those included with the game.

It's probably best to buy both at the same time. Just don't look at the mission briefings in Part III -- at least until you've tried to take on a mission a few times without success.

For this review, the game was played on a 450-MHz Pentium II with 192 megabytes of RAM, a 32 megabyte nVIDIA TNT2 video card and SoundBlaster PCI 128.

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