IGN Review of Star Trek: Conquest
Star Date 41153.2. It is a time of conflict. The major races are at war. Diplomacy is dead, age-old alliances forgotten and galactic borders ignored as each race battles for supremacy. Powerful fleets prowl the galaxy establishing outposts and vanquishing indigenous and enemy fleets alike in the pursuit of the ultimate prize - the capture of all homeworlds and galactic domination.
That's the setup for Star Trek Conquest. We don't understand why the Federation would blow the hell out of any and everyone in the galaxy, and we're pretty sure that goes against nearly every episode of the show we've ever seen (be it the original series, Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, or the like), but if that's what Star Trek Conquest wants, that's what it gets.
Conquest is an extremely odd title in many respects. For starters, the game has received almost no PR support in what has been one of the quietest releases we've seen in a long time, it rings in at a budget price of $30, displays at 480i and 4:3, and seems to be the game design equivalent to a fan fiction, rather than an officially endorsed Star Trek title. Just the same, here it is in our system. What may be even odder than the circumstances of the titles release, however, is the fact that through countless blemishes, glitches, annoyances, and an extreme lack of depth, we'll still admit there's something fun about Conquest.
The game's design harks back to turn-based strategy titles like Advance Wars, Fire Emblem, or the original Heroes of Might and Magic style. Players select a race to play as, start off on a home base, and manage economy, battle, and territory control in classic turn-based strategy play. Along the way you'll buy new ships, command a total of three different fleets on the board (each working with a specific expertise), fortify captured spaces with turret defenses, space stations, mining facilities, or research centers, and begin upgrading your forces in an attempt to take out the opposition across the playfield.
Where the game changes things up, however, is in the battle system. Like the aforementioned turn-based strategy titles, Star Trek Conquest may as well exist in board game, as the entire game focuses on looking at numbers and stats, moving pieces around a virtually animation-free map, and relies far more on decision making and strategy than speed or the standard "gameplay" players expect. Taking the design one step further, however, engaged units can either sim out a battle in an instant, or instead go into "arcade" mode, which acts like the old school ship battle sequences on the Super NES Next Generation game over a decade ago. Rather than watching units blast away at each other, players can take control, issuing basic commands to ships - full power to lasers, full power to shields, or neutral combat - and actually maneuver and attack in real-time action sequences.
The real question here is does it work? It's a tough call to make, as the game is obviously a quick cash-out strategy game that does little to innovate, and lacks the serious depth it takes to sit among the ranks of strategy greats. At the same time, as far as a simple design goes, Conquest is far from broken, and can actually be pretty fun. The economy system, for example, works great, having each of the six playable races - Federation, Klingon, Romulan, Cardassian, Dominion, and Breen - differ in cost and effectiveness of units, buildings, and overall strategy. Since each planet captured yields more cash and area to expand on, players will constantly be battling for top-tier areas based on the amount of money they're worth, and the position on the map. The Federation commander, for example, can make use of strong defenses and lucrative cash flow by building up mining colonies and fortifying the front lines. Likewise, the Klingon - best used as an aggressive powerhouse - can spam more passive teams with the extremely cheap Bird of Prey scout unit, easily creating a fleet of seven ships for minimal cash and then shoving wave after wave at the slower-developing opposition.
That kind of depth and balance can be found throughout Conquest, as each team works well with a few specific strategies. The research system allows for more indirect combat, having research outposts yield a certain amount of skill points each turn, which build up and unlock upgrades to ships, lower costs for building, or allow for more effective defenses, as well as make use of each of the team's three power weapons that can be fired anywhere on the map once fully "charged" via research outposts. Team that with three commanders on each team, capable of holding seven ships and putting to use specific abilities such as increased attack, defense, or amount of moves per turn, and you've got a surprising amount of depth for such a simple concept.
The problem: It's far too thin to justify even a $30 price tag. For starters, there's no multiplayer at all in the game, so while it's a turn-based board game in nearly every respect, you'll be playing one-on-one with the computer only, rather than bringing friends into the action via local or online play. Even further, the game has no real story mode, as it only includes a user-defined "Campaign" mode and skirmish extra mode. If this were Advance Wars, Campaign mode would be comparable to custom mode, as Star Trek's primary gameplay mode consists of a small list of pre-battle options for the user, and nothing more. You pick who you fight, what level of difficulty it is, how many user-controlled players are against you, and basic starting conditions. After the battle, you simply turn the system off or play again. As for skirmish mode, it's the arcade battle sequences minus the main game, so again players can set up specific instances, fight them, and then repeat until they're bored.
As for presentation and overall quality, Conquest is a mixed bag. There's some interesting attention to detail in planet types and small fan service moments (Deep Space Nine, for example, can be captured and used as a powerhouse space station), but it's an extremely thin game overall. The framerate is horrendous at times, slowing the game down to a third the normal speed when too many fighters are active, and the entire game is done with very simple graphics akin to basic, sliding clip art. On the audio side, hilarious VO such as "For earth!" can be heard when rocking the Federation team (odd, since Earth is just one of the planets in the entire Federation), and you'll constantly hear looping clips over and over. Again, the core game is impressive, but the rest of the game still feels thrown together with very little quality control.
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