While fate may protect the Enterprise and her crew, it can do little to protect a dying franchise from lousy games given a sci-fi skin and the tag "Star Trek", as is the tendency with franchised software. Yet fate has thrown another curveball at this critic and aforementioned IP - this game is not only fun to play, it makes some hard gameplay decisions, most of which really work. However, these decisions do not include things like difficult A.I. or multiplayer - a reality which limits the potential of this title to the point where it feels like an irrelevant addition to an increasingly irrelevant franchise.
On it's surface, Star Trek Conquest is a strong entry-level strategy game clearly geared towards the Wii's casual player-base. The slow (i.e. turn-based) pacing of the game, with simple controls and rule set, can be enjoyed by anyone who has ever had the nagging urge to conquer the universe.
Everything present in more "advanced" turn-based strategy games are there - build mining outposts for cash, research new technologies, create new ships to build your fleet, construct starbases and fortify the systems you control - its no Galactic Civilizations, but it's all there. Heck, you can even control one of six different races, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and super-weapon.
The scope of this game is significantly less grand than what most would expect - your average four player game likely has less than eighteen systems for the Trek races to fight over. Plus, at any one time, you can only control three fleets led by one of three race-specific Generals. These Generals specialize in attack, defense or movement, and gain experience after battles, eventually granting them increased abilities. This design decision limits the player to three "pieces" to move about the play field, and forces players to use a bit more strategy than simply amassing a huge fleet and parading about the galaxy.
When a player invades a new system, they will fight a battle with one of the player races, or a random non-playable race like the Xindi, the Borg or the Ferengi, to name a few. From here, the player can opt to have the battle calculated and ended "quick and dirty", with relatively heavy losses, or one of the more advanced options. Simulation mode gives you a detached view of the battle, wherein the game icons shoot at each other until the other team is destroyed. In this mode, you can control whether more power is given to weapons or shields, which has little effect on the outcome of the battle, and does nothing except appease your need to feel important.
Arcade mode allows you to take control of one of your ships, and lead the actual battle by pointing and shooting in an over-head battle reminiscent of Star Control. The controls are clumsy, and I found the computer did a much better job of controlling my ships than I ever could. As such, I usually went with "Sim Mode" for battles, a strategy a recommend to anyone who hopes to enjoy this game.
The six races (Federation, Klingons, Cardassians, Romulans, Breen and Dominion) each have three ships at their disposal, which can be summarized by "small", "medium" and "large". This is a little annoying, as it forces the player to rely solely on the largest ships available for the last half of the game, while the smaller class ships are made completely useless. Your average campaign lasts around an hour, and you can save your game at the beginning of every turn.
The majority of my complaints come from a weird place - the execution of the franchise. First off, for the Federation, you can control one of three Generals - Arron, Savar, or Bullock. Two of them were in a single episode of The Next Generation, while the other is a throw-away from Deep Space 9. Where's Picard? Sisko? Hell, even Janeway would've been nice. Similarly, the Star Trek theme, be it from The Next Generation, Deep Space 9 or Voyager, is completely absent. There is no licensed music whatsoever.
There's also a lot of stuff out of whack in terms of continuity. Why would the Breen, the Dominion and the Cardassians be different races? They're all on the same freaking side! Why can't we take out the Breen and play as the Borg? Why is the Xindi in the game at all? Weren't they only relevant hundreds of years earlier?
How come there are female voices for the Jem Hadar? They're all clones! There are no females!
Speaking of which - the voice acting is terrible. In fact, I can confidently say it is the worst voice acting I have ever encountered. It honestly sounds like they got two interns together with a tape recorder and said "Congratulations! Today you're a Vorta. Now read these lines and get them to the audio guy before lunch."
Likewise, the quintessential "Computer Voice" for the Federation computers (fans of the series will know what I mean) fails to make an appearance. Another unforgivable oversight for a Star Trek licensed game.
I also found I left the experience looking for more "Star-Trek-y" things to do. I never got to board an enemy vessel. I never had one of my ships assimilated by the Borg (despite the Borg's second-tier appearance in the game). I never got to defeat the Klingons at Deep Space 9, then form an alliance with them to fight the Dominion. I didn't even cloak my Bird of Prey. All the terribly geeky things I've always wanted to do are at my grasp, but someone forgot to spend the extra production dollars to get another feature or two working.
The largest omission by far is the complete lack of multiplayer - online or local. Even if other players could surmise an opponent's strategy by watching their turn, I rather would have rather dealt with this than not play at all. Failing to include multiplayer is nothing short of criminal.
The lack of multiplayer becomes especially apparent when the game is really easy. Only six player games on the hardest difficulty setting gave me any trouble. Reduce the number of players or difficulty level, and I conquered the Alpha quadrant in a snap. Throw in the fact that you can't skip the lengthy opening cutscene (consisting entirely of text), and you have a game with a lot of problems.
The main fault of Star Trek Conquest seems to be its target demographic - casual gamer Trekkies. Unfortunately, the casual demographic of the Wii seems to have given someone an excuse to cut features absolutely necessary to the strategy genre. Plus, I'm not sure how one can really apply the term "casual" to the term "Trekkies".
The basic game is fun to play, but is marred with cut features, useless game modes and franchise left-overs. While this may seem somewhat forgivable to your average gamer, any trekkie will weep looking at what their beloved series has become - a loose skin pulled over a modest game.
Regardless - this is a classic example of a solid game suffering from poor execution. I can't recommend this title at anything but the lowest of price points, or as a rental for someone who has already beaten Mario Galaxy and just about any other first party Nintendo game. The Star Trek franchise fails to live up to even the lowest of expectations as a game, and anyone interested in the ultimate fate of the U.S.S. Enterprise will have to wait until the next film is released in 2009.