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Star Trek Armada II

Star Trek Armada II

Space Trekkin' Sequel Pretty Swell

by Jim Bray

Trekkies who love living in Gene Roddenberry's fictional universe have a new PC game with which to while away some otherwise productive hours.

Activision's Star Trek Armada II (Windows, $50) is set in the "Next Generation" universe, so it's populated by the likes of Captain Jean Luc Picard, the Ferengi, and the Borg. It's mostly the Borg who are causing trouble here, and it's your job to ensure that resistance to them is anything but futile.

Armada II is a "real time strategy game," which means it's in the same category as titles like "Age of Empires" and "StarCraft." I don't think it's as much fun as either of those titles, but it's still pretty good.

Unlike those other titles Armada II is basically space-based, so while "Empires" et al sees you looking down, Godlike, from above various landscapes or space platforms, in Armada II you're looking down, Godlike, from the heavens themselves.

This means a much more vast theater of action as you must not only defend areas of Federation space but sally forth to where, presumably, no one has gone before to root out the Borg threat before it's too late.

You still have to get your resource bases going, though. This means the first thing you do before succumbing to delusions of grandeur is start mining dilithium, latinum, and metal to ensure you have enough stuff to keep your fleets fleet and your shipyards cranking out more mechanisms of mayhem.

Then you'll discover that you need to colonize planets, too, to ensure you produce enough phaser fodder to keep your spaceships properly crewed.

And you need to do scientific research to increase your weapons or shields, or merely to ensure your ships can better survive lethal areas of space.

Since you're kind of a "supreme commander," you don't really captain any particular spaceship; instead, you build entire fleets of ships and send them into harm's way with wild abandon. Well, maybe not. If you tend to use the "wild abandon" strategy you're likely to lose a lot of ships!

The first episodes start simply and are basically meant to familiarize yourself with the game. As you progress they get more involved and more difficult.

I ran into a particularly challenging mission (at least for me) where about half way through the good ol' Enterprise shows up heavily damaged and you have to send ships to repair it and then protect it from the Borg. During several unhappy attempts I figured the best way to protect the Enterprise would be to bring it back to my base of operations. Not so; I finally tried a strategy that had been under my nose all along and it worked out much better.

The audio quality is good, but the graphics quality is less than I'd hoped. The backgrounds, including nebulae and the like, look great, but the starships and other pieces of hardware and equipment could use more detail.

The problem may not be so much the graphics as the scale of the action. You can zoom in pretty close, which of course increases the detail of objects, but I liked playing the game at its maximum zoom. This let me see as much of the play area as possible. Unfortunately, you can't zoom out nearly as far as I'd have liked, even though I was running at 1600x1200 resolution.

I also found the cut scenes, those movie-like sections between adventures, a mite jerky and even though I had the game's settings adjusted to move things along as quickly as possible, scrolling across the screen took too long. Perhaps this is because I was using Windows XP, and the box says the game only supports Windows 9x/Me/2000.

Other than that, the interface is okay. There are different views and some neat drag and drop aspects to them, and you get the usual displays and information boxes that impart cosmic wisdom about the things on screen, the resources they require, your construction or research progress and the like. And, fortunately, they're pretty easy to figure out.

One thing that's a substantial departure from the "real" Star Trek universe is that these Borg are a lot easier to shoot out of space than the TV and movie versions.

This is just as well; otherwise it would make for a very long and frustrating game.

And who wants that?

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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January 31, 2006