Game Review

Star Trek: Tactical Assault Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Sean Aaron

Tactics, but not as we know them

Developer Quicksilver Software is no stranger to the Star Trek licence, having developed the well-regarded Starfleet Command for the PC, which is itself an attempt to deliver a computerised version of the venerable board game Star Fleet Battles. Tactical Assault is essentially a stab at a port of Starfleet Command to the DS, but focusing on the wrong aspects of the game has resulted in a title that looks good but doesn't play well, spoiling what could have been a decent tactical starship combat game for the DS.

Initially players are put in the role of a Lt. Commander in Starfleet, set during the time prior to détente with the Klingon Empire. Through the course of the game you'll be upgraded in rank and given larger and more powerful ships to command as you attempt to keep the peace along the border of the Neutral Zone. It won't be long before poor design decisions in controls and gameplay become apparent, which only get worse as missions become more challenging.

Being a Star Trek game you'd expect that the touchscreen would be a viable interface for controlling your ship's systems – after all most of the films and series depict use of a touch-based interface known as LCARS, and for the most part it is, but for some crucial omissions. Nearly all controls are usable via the touchscreen bar the rather critical ship-targeting function which is mapped to the left shoulder button. Rather than a unified view of ship controls a tabbed format is used with separate tabs for Defence, Weapons and Navigation. There's an attempt to enable players to use any one of these screens as the primary one by having common functions such as scanning, communications and weapons available via icons in a sidebar present on all tabs, but this fails to deliver on its promise due to a lack of proper indicators and controls that simply don't work as advertised.

The Defence screen is largely wasted because the damage control and energy distribution elements of Starfleet Command have been removed. The only function this screen has is showing a schematic of your ship with shield strength (which is also shown in the top screen around your ship) and tiny little icons that appear to indicate your ship's engine and weapon damage levels, but are never actually defined anywhere in the game or manual. The only action you can take is to tap the screen, supposedly to initialise the auto-recharging of your shields, with the trade-off being less energy for recharging your weapons. Unfortunately this doesn't actually appear to be automatic and must be manually executed repeatedly, which means switching tabs a lot during the thick of combat. The whole process could easily have been mapped to a single button or better still totally automated. Considering that you have no other control over energy distribution and the impact to weapon recharging is barely noticeable, this ends up being more an annoyance than a strategic option.

As noted above there are icons for your weapons available on all tabs, but sadly these icons never change, so the only way you'll know if you have weapons in the correct facing which are ready to fire is to have the Weapons tab up. This will provide you with multiple ways to fire your arsenal and show you which weapons are ready and which can be fired at your current target. You can fire weapons individually by tapping their icon directly, by using the large ever-present icons referenced earlier, or by clicking an "Overcharge" icon which will put more power into a weapon to deliver greater damage at the cost of a longer recharge time. In Starfleet Command overcharging your weapons also included the risk of damaging them, but this has been dropped along with the rest of the damage control functions. Given overcharging is the fastest way to bring down enemy shields, we saw little reason to do anything but overcharge weapons making the presence of multiple icons for firing totally unnecessary: players would have been better served by simply having the large icons for phasers and photons light up when available.

The Navigation screen allows you to control your speed and heading or warp to a new planetary system. Using the touchscreen to change heading proves a bit sensitive and involves frequent course corrections. During combat you'll end up having to constantly tap your weapons since you'll never know when they're ready to fire, so in practice we found that holding the DS and using the D-Pad and shoulder button to control speed, heading and targeting whilst keeping the weapons tab up for fire control (with frequent shield recharging via tab-switching) proved the best option. Of course you can play the entire game using buttons, but there's a fair amount of chording involved and it feels pretty clunky and "un-Star Trek."

The real-time aspect of the game is the main reason the controls are such a problem. Adapting a turn-based board game to a real-time format was controversial in Starfleet Command, however it was largely accepted because much of the strategy was retained. Having jettisoned pretty much all the strategic elements of Starfleet Command, the combat in Tactical Assault is pretty uninspiring. The 3D effects are quite impressive on the DS, but the lack of camera control and overly zoomed-in view combine with a lack of radar for an often frustrating experience.

When you're not targeting another ship the camera is behind your vessel which takes up a very large chunk of the top screen real estate. Once you're locked-on the camera will lock-on to your target as well, which is fine for ensuring you have active weapons trained on them at all times and keeping your strongest shields facing them, but pretty poor for avoiding obstacles like asteroids, planets and space stations which your ship can – and will – collide with, often ruining your day. Given the amount of scanning that goes on in the series and films you'd think you'd have some kind of radar scope, but apparently your helmsman plots his course by looking out the window unless there's an enemy ship around. Of course these obstacles are supposed to have some kind of strategic use like hiding from an enemy or avoiding fire but, again, without a damage control aspect you're really just forestalling the inevitable and given you can only see where you're going by turning your back on the enemy you're trying to evade, you're probably just better off trying to stay away from anything that isn't shooting at you.

There's some fun aspects to the missions like changing your alert condition from green to yellow to red, and you can sometimes scan systems or ships or hail them, but these are often only allowed when a specific event in the story provides for it; definitely a missed opportunity. One of the better aspects of the game is that via hailing of other ships or space stations you can trigger different story events and sometimes you'll be given a choice of mission direction, such as pursuing enemies or limping back to a starbase for repairs depending on how well your last engagement went. At the end of each mission your performance will be given a medal rank which will result in the awarding of points to enhance certain aspects of the abilities of your key bridge crew, directly translating into performance increases for your ship. These RPG aspects are easily the strongest part of the game, but sadly they are very minor compared to the combat which ends up being monotonous and frustrating, especially given you must complete the fifteen missions of the Federation campaign in order to get a shot at the Klingon campaign.

If you want a break from the campaign you can try out skirmish mode, where you pick one or more ships of Federation or Klingon affiliation (Romulan, Gorn and Orion ships are gradually unlocked during the two campaigns) and duke it out, though you'll be dealing with the same gameplay issues outlined above. Endlessly turning your ship around to try to get your active weapon arc in the right position becomes even less interesting without the mission structure around it, though if you have a friend who also owns this game, the prospect of local multiplayer might make it a bit more engaging.

Conclusion

It's a sad fact that the Star Trek licence is rarely used to deliver a quality gaming experience and Star Trek: Tactical Assault is unfortunately not an exception to that rule. By focusing on pointless 3D visuals (ships only move/fire on a 2D plane), the developers have neglected both the controls and the strategic elements that made this game's inspirations so well-regarded.

If you're a die-hard Trek fan you can probably have some fun with this game, but be prepared for frustration and a lot of mission replays due to senseless deaths. We can only hope that any future attempt at a Star Trek game on the DS will be better executed than this.

More Stories

User Comments (12)

warioswoods

#1

warioswoods said:

Looks like there was a breach in the quality containment field. Core ejection imminent.

Starkiller

#2

Starkiller said:

Not again. Well, there are some good PC Star Trek games, so not all hope is lost. :)

warioswoods

#6

warioswoods said:

I want more science-ing in my Star Trek games.

Data & ReadingRainbow tackling some engineering dilemma with a ridiculously far-fetched solution is more important than phasers.

Chozo85

#7

Chozo85 said:

I own the PSP version which is very similar similar, although obviously lacking the touch screen elements. But based on that I agree with pretty much everything you have said. The combat lacks any kind of strategy and frequently degenerates into running around in circles. The missions were also dull and uninspiring. It is indeed a shame that the license is rarely exploited to its full potential, especially on consoles. Whilst some of the PC games can be quite good, console Star Trek games are usually not very good.

Sean_Aaron

#8

Sean_Aaron said:

Honestly I would have been happier if they had just ported Star Trek Conquest to the DSi. Bethesda's stewardship of the license has been pretty abysmal.

I keep hoping someone will do a game that has something to do with exploration or story, but it's been a very long time since anyone tried.

The shining star of Star Trek ship combat games for me is Klingon Academy, the cut scenes and story were great and the battle command system really made you feel like you were controlling a big capital ship. As long as we're resurrecting old Interplay games on the Wii, how about that one?

warioswoods

#9

warioswoods said:

@Sean

"I keep hoping someone will do a game that has something to do with exploration or story, but it's been a very long time since anyone tried."

It's also been a long time since anyone tried doing that with the feature films. ;)

Well, that latest reboot was an improvement over the last 2 TNG films, but still relied on making Star Trek into an action-packed blockbuster. I'd like the franchise to prove that it can still create a story (or a game) that doesn't need a moment of explosions or dazzling visuals in order to capture our attention.

J_K

#10

J_K said:

Review is too harsh point wise, really unfair at a 4. Also a few things are off too. Shield recharge you can choose to turn on or off, but you can infinitely leave it on until your reserves are spent or the shield is back to full so there is no endless tapping back to that screen even on hard difficulties as it's not needed. I don't understand the complaining about the wise choice of the weapon circles on all screens because if you need to fire in a pinch it's better than wasted time switching back to the weapon panel. There is an outright uninforming lie about weapons, as you DO know when they recharged, and which has recharged. On the weapons panel when they're ready the green or blue(torpedo) bank is lit, and when not it's dim, and if blown out it's jagged in black over a gray circle.

The game has a few bad design decisions though which is fairly noted such as the inability to see floating rocks if your camera is locked elsewhere as you can blow right into them. Also, you're stuck on a 2D plane, which while it makes it easier to track one down, you're in a flat space which kind of sucks and opens you(and them) to more beatings. In the end the dogfights end up being a pack of circles and figure 8s. A really cool, well the best part of the game isn't the main game, it's skrmish. Either alone with up to 3 enemy bots (or make a team however you like) or against a few buddies that mode is by far the best.

The game isn't a 4, but it's no 8 either, a good solid 7 would be fitting as it's functional and can be fun.

Sean_Aaron

#11

Sean_Aaron said:

I saw no evidence the shield recharge continued automatically. If I'm taking damage and the shields only start to repair after I tap the screen and this continues to be the case then I'd say it's broken - it may be a difference between the European and North American release, but I always had to tap the shield screen before I'd see the arrows indicating a shield recharge was happening.

And I do note that the Weapons tab indicates weapon recharge, that's not my issue, my issue is you have these large buttons for Phasers/Disruptors and Torpedos on every tab which never change colour regardless of weapon readiness. The ONLY WAY you know if you have a weapon that can be fired is to be on the weapons tab which is pretty crap if you wanted to steer the ship and control speed with the stylus. I suppose you could just constantly tap the two weapon icons, but I wanted to play a Star Trek game, not a "Star Chicken" game!

Bottom line: when they simplified things from Star Fleet Command they simplified the wrong things. There's no point to having the ability to trigger separate weapons because you cannot target more than one ship at a time, the entire weapons tab could have been dumped and the two weapon icons simply indicated whether or not you could fire at any given time; possibly with an icon to indicate recharge status. The separate tabs are a big waste of space, we don't need three different wireframe drawings of the ship when there's little for players to interact with in them, you could have had one for move/fire and the other a full-blown damage control screen with actual power allocation sliders for weapons, shields, movement. And dumping the 3D in place of an actual Star Fleet Battles 2D hex map and going turn-based also would have been better. You could have packed in even more from the game like ECM, tractor beams or boarding parties and larger battles with more ships and better team based AI (one of the more annoying things is working with apparently suicidal Federation Captains and then having a mission fail because they got destroyed rather than having the sense to go to a nearby starbase).

I'm sorry, a 7 is way too generous, there's no way I'd even give a reserved recommendation to this game.

Leave A Comment

Hold on there, you need to login to post a comment...