Pan Interactive's latest Trek offering
Star Trek: Dominion Wars is very much what it appears to be, in that the storyline takes place during the Dominion invasion of the Alpha quadrant, where the Federation, Klingon Empire and the Cardassian Empire reside. The Dominion naturally cannot co-exist with these races and so try to get an all out war going between the three - the Federation are having none of it and instead ally with the pasty heads to gang up on the Dominion. Unfortunately, the Cardassians choose to become the first Alpha quadrant member of the Dominion, something which the Federation and the Klingons aren't too keen on. Thus, the two opposing sides get into a bit of a fight, and Deep Space Nine is in the middle of it. That pretty much sums up the story for this game, and it's very loyal to the T.V. series. All the famous characters we know and love are back - Benjamin Sisko, Dax and even Worf. Not everyone makes an appearance, but key members of the Dominion and Cardassian sides appear aswell, for example the annoying (and many times replicated) Weyoun, and the evil Gul Dukat. These characters represent the captains of the ships you will use in combat. Anyway, after installing the game and reading the manual (a somewhat rare procedure, I believe?), I was surprised to find no configuration utility in the program group. No problem, it's no doubt got one in the game itself.
Oh, it hasn't. Well, maybe it doesn't need one! Loading the game threw the various movies at me, including a fantastic introduction which was almost a continuous battle between the two sides, and showed some very tasty graphics. Good stuff. The tutorials are also in movie format, and are a little low in terms of resolutions but are still perfectly understandable. They teach you almost everything you need to know about playing the game, and the narrator has a nice voice just like the Federation computer! Possibly not quite as sexy though. *ahem* Moving along to the game itself, the ships and captains are partnered via a selection screen - you choose the ship type and a corresponding captain, and their cost is subtracted from your credit supply and put into your fleet for use in the mission. That's right, credits. No infinite money supply from the Federation/Dominion this time, there's a war on you know! If your captain and ships choices are wise, and your mission results are good enough, the mission is a success and your account is incremented according to your performance. So if you want the top equipment, you're going to have to earn it. The ships themselves have a multitude of control options, from weapon selections and preferences to sensor and tactical devices and monouveres. You won't be at a loss for what to do, and the average desktop strategist might be overwhelmed at first upon seeing the control bar. Fear not, as once you get used to it it's really quite simple. The camera is operated with the mouse (and is wonderfully smooth), firing and moving is ordered via a click of the mouse and you can group your ships Command & Conquer style. It all seems to good so far, but sadly my suspicions were confirmed when I started playing further. The missions are a little disorientating at first and it's very easy to lose track of what your ships are actually doing. Sure, there's a display indicating what your vessels are protecting or attacking currently, but visually seeing this occur all at once is very awkward. Grasping the big picture in battles is not an easy task unless you have in mind what every ship is doing. I certainly do not have the ability to do this, and while there is a zoom and a minimap available, it just seemed insufficient. Nevermind, I refuse to be deterred by such things, I shall soldier on! Straight through the first Federation mission with relative ease, and into the second, where protecting Deep Space Nine itself is in order. The graphics here are really nice - the station looks just like it does in the TV series....perhaps not as large as I remember, but you can't have everything. After destroying a few Dominion fighters I remember to save my game, and proceed to do so.
The next moment I found myself looking at the desktop. Odd, I thought, but possibly my systems fault. Back into the game and loading the mission, I find the interface of the loading screen is now flickering over the main game display, which made play quite impossible. A bug, or my system? Who knows, but certainly not what I would expect out of the box.
One reboot later and it seems to be fine, after loading from autosave anyhow. I complete the second mission and the third gives me control of quite possibly the coolest ship in the Star Trek universe - the Defiant. Equipped with a cloaking device and quad phasers, my mission was to infiltrate an asteroid field and destroy a Dominion sensor grid. No problem, I thought, and duly thrashed the ship at full speed into the belt and decloaked to fire. Before I could release a second salvo, my poor little Defiant had been turned into a small pile of floating scrap metal. Oops. As you can imagine, this game is not for the impatient; it requires tactical thought unlike Star Trek: Armada. Since each ship has many more individual options available, you have to think things through more. C&C this ain't! After trying out the Dominion missions (which are equally as good), I decide I have had enough of singleplayer, and hop to the multiplayer menu for some battles with a friend I had invited round to help me. Thankfully, this seemed much better than I thought it would be, and to be honest I prefer to play games with others rather than with myself, especially when it comes to games like this. As I explored the options available, I discovered the ability to import your own ships created with Starship Creator: Warp II. Also, there were a good amount of game type to choose from, varying from standard deathmatch to "find the founder". Credit limits are available if you want to stop someone choosing a ninja-esque fleet, and all the game possibilities are present - human vs human, human vs computer, instant action...Dominion Wars certainly is not lacking in the multiplayer department. One small note however: a patch will be released in the next 2 weeks which will fix online play. I suppose most games released recently require patches, so I wasn't concerned. Overall, I was quite impressed with the game. It remains true to the TV series and has a lovely selection of ships which should please any Star Trek fan. However, it has too many things against it for me to enjoy it as much as i'd like to, things like music over the briefings if you don't turn it off, and the inability to choose your video and sound options. Things like a restrictive 2-D space and a lack of overall control. If you're a Star Trek fan like myself i'm sure you'll enjoy playing this as much as I did, but if you're also an avid games player, the controls and general feel of the game will put you off after a while. It's not a "load up and have a quick bash" type of game, which in a way is a good thing, but it's not the easiest game to pick up either. My advice is that if you're a big fan of the RTS scene or a Trekky then you should definitely check this out, as it won't disappoint. But if you're an average gamer with a not-so-huge love of the RTS market, then i'd advise looking elsewhere for your strategic kicks.