Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Star Trek - Strategic Operations Simulator

Now you can command the fate of the U.S.S. Enterprise! You're training to become a Federation Starship Captain. Fight off deadly Klingon Battle Cruisers that threaten the existence of your Starbases. 
Review By Klear Aquanas

Ah, I can almost remember it like it was yesterday. Saturdays when I was around seven included watching the Smurfs, going to the arcade and then a movie with my father and my friends and then later, exploring or throwing the ball around in the park near our home. For me, going to the arcade meant playing this Star Trek game a lot. It was probably my favorite because I was actually good at it which I couldn't say for many of the games I played back then. 

STORY: If you are a Star Trek fan then you remember Lt. Saavik in the beginning of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan seemingly getting the Enterprise obliterated. Then you'll remember James T. Kirk stepping onto the bridge like some ethereal being and Saavik asking him ''Any suggestions Admiral?'' ''Prayer, Mr. Saavik, the Klingons don't take prisoners,'' replies Kirk. We find out Saavik is a trainee taking a test for Starfleet Academy. The Kobiashi Maru or no-win scenario is what it's actually called. If you are wondering why such a test was given, so did Saavik. 

Kirk replied ''A no-win situation is a possibility every commander may face. Has that never occurred to you? How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn't you say?'' Of course we later find out Kirk didn't really believe this and actually cheated on the test the third time he took it by reprogramming it so he could save the ship.  This game is an offshoot of that idea. In this game you are the captain facing a no-win situation in a simulation. The situation being ever-increasing numbers of Klingon battlecruisers trying to attack Federation starbases and Nomad, the satellite bent on destroying imperfection in the universe, from the the TV series. How will you deal with it?  I would later find out that the man who created this game created another of my all time favorites. That would be Wolf which was a PC game that gave you insight into facing another, almost, no-win situation. A situation which mirrors Kirk's words about life and death. 

GRAPHICS: The vector graphics in this game reminded me of the tactical displays shown during the simulation scenes in the second movie. The play screen was divided into 3 parts: on the upper far left was a screen showing 3 arrows with lines trailing from them showing you your supply of shields, photon torpedoes and warp power. The upper right showed a look down scanner's view of the Enterprise and whatever else lie in that sector. The bottom half showed you a view from the Enterprise's bridge view screen. As I said in my review of the Atari 2600 version, I would have liked to see the actual names of the ship's systems above the arrows they correspond to. The scanner looked good as you could see if the shields were still up because a bubble would be seen around the Enterprise. Plus I loved seeing the photon torpedoes speeding away to obliterate a whole bunch of Klingon battlecruisers. The colors of the Klingon ships on the scanner told what each was there to do. For instance red battlecruisers ignored the Enterprise but attacked the starbase. Purple battlecruisers went after the Enterprise specifically. If they managed to destroy the starbase they'd all turn white and attempt to ram you. Plus there'd be blue anti-matter saucers that would shadow you and if they attached themselves to the Enterprise would drain your warp power.  The main view screen was very nicely done with a pretty star field and wonderfully rendered Klingon battlecruisers in big 3-d vectors. Crosshairs on this main screen helped you aim. If you had a ship in your sights the crosshairs would change to circling arrows just like the display shown in the second film. Both the Klingon battlecruisers' disrupter fire and the Enterprise's photon torpedoes looked dazzling on that main viewer. They appeared like moving flashing stars. And seeing the stars speed by while engaging the Enterprise's warp engines was a rush.  After some rounds against the Klingons you'd face off against Nomad. The killer satellite would deploy a mine field. As I recall they looked like outer space versions of World War II Naval mines. They'd look round with 3-d spikes protruding from them. Though I can't quite remember what Nomad looked like.  I do remember that some of the graphics were not as detailed; like the Federation starbases that just looked like a hexagon or six sided shape with 3 smaller quadrilaterals or 4 sided shapes extending out from it. 

Though I believe this was due to the need to keep the action as quick and exciting as possible. And in that department this game surely succeeded. Another thing that you'd notice is that you couldn't fly up or down but since the Enterprise had not been shown doing that very often in either the TV show or the movies up till that point; it seemed natural. The game would tell you if you survived a sector or level and ''Simulation Complete'' would flash when you and the Enterprise had had it.  One thing that surprises me as I look back is that in the Atari 2600 version you also got to fly through asteroid fields and comet showers while trying to dock with starbases. In this one you didn't so we can only imagine how great an experience that would have been with 3-d vectors. 

SOUND: Today, hearing an actor's voice in a game that's based on a movie is expected. But in 1983 it was amazing to hear familiar actors' voices in a game and this was one of the first. It was exciting to sit down in the ''captain's chair'' and hear Scotty say ''You are the captain of the Starship Enterprise'' or Spock say ''Welcome aboard, Captain.'' In between you'd hear the familiar Star Trek theme played. Throughout the game you'd hear the crew's voices during critical moments including while you'd dock with a starbase to replenish your supplies or lose your shields and were about to die. Wouldn't you love to hear Scotty say ''Captain she canna hol' together much longer!''?  Explosions and weapons fire were also handled quite well. So too was the targeting sound heard as you acquired weapons lock which sounded just like the sound effect in the second movie. 

GAMEPLAY: What an experience! You'd sit down in this white chair in front of a white cabinet with gorgeous artwork depicting the Enterprise in deep space, firing away. There was neither a flight yoke nor a flight stick. Instead on one arm of the ''captain's chair'' would be a knob that steered the ship left or right and on the other were 4 buttons that controlled impulse and warp speeds and phasers and photon torpedoes. While some people I knew hated this layout I found that it made control simple and easy.   Things would get faster and faster as you progressed. The Klingons would increase in number in each sector but you'd have your phasers and especially your photon torpedoes that could blast a whole bunch of them away. You could also dock with starbases to replenish your supplies. Then you'd reach Nomad and have to fly around, avoiding his space mines in order to try and find him. Though sometimes I'd blast some of them to see if I could clear a path. You could warp around to use your speed and maneuverability to fight the Klingons. But beware if they destroyed a starbase because all of a sudden you'd see all these big 3-d battlecruisers barreling down on your position in order to ram you. Plus you'd have to keep an eye out for the anti-matter saucers that would try to attach themselves to you, drain your warp power and leave you a sitting duck. You couldn't destroy them with photon torpedoes either. Only phasers would do the job. 

NAME: STAR TREK - STRATEGIC OPERATIONS SIMULATOR
SYSTEM: Arcade, Colecovision, Atari 2600

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