Star Trek: Bridge Commander

The various Star Trek computer games have resulted in their share of well-meaning duds – great concepts that promised this or that but ultimately failed to please either fans of the Star Trek universe or computer gamers in general.

4_1 Arguably the first “true” command perspective simulator of Federation capital ships (and in some respects a spiritual cousin to the 1999 Interplay tactical wargame Starfleet Command), Bridge Commander is a two-tiered space combat / strategy game that allows the player to command from the bridge of a Galaxy and, later, Sovereign-class heavy cruiser (that would be approximately the Enterprise-D and Enterprise-E) or in an external tactical view-this is where the resemblance to Starfleet Command comes in.

This is not some kind of simulator back at the Academy, where your actions amount to passing or failing an exam. In this game, command is thrust upon you-a junior officer-when the ship you are serving aboard gets caught in a mysterious stellar catastrophe. The resulting death of your captain, the destruction of the ship, and your lucky survival jumps you to a command of your very own. Wet behind the ears and with an untested crew, you are tasked with the responsibility of finding out the cause of this massive explosion. Let’s hope you stayed awake during those command classes back at the Academy. But all is not lost, Captain Pickard and Commander Data (the voices of Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner) will be on hand to give out sage advice.

In the first-person bridge view, you are essentially an immobile and mute captain (The Captain Pike Sim, as the folks at Activision like to call it). In easy mode, the surrounding bridge crew will carry out your every command. Face a bridge officer and a list of commands will pop up for you to chose. Each officer has his or her own specialty AI (weapons officer, science officer, navigator, etc.) and will carry out orders (and alert you to problems or events) to the best of their abilities.

You will retain the same crew during the course of your missions and will learn more and more about their personality, weaknesses, and strengths as the game progresses-using each to effect the best solution to a problem is one of the skills a captain must master. At medium difficulty, you will have a more hands-on experience and will exercise more control over your ship’s actions (choosing destinations, weapons, targeting, etc.). In hard mode you get to be an overachiever and do it all yourself.

18_1Bridge Commander’s many levels of participation and control seems to offer a great deal of leeway in how you develop your command style. Should you go for the kick-butt, lone gunboat diplomacy of a James T. Kirk? Or is the philosophical, sensitive, and committee-favoring Jean-Luc Picard more to your liking? Perhaps something in the middle? Remember the captain of a Galaxy or Sovereign class starship is in a unique and specialized position. You are at the frontline of Federation defense and exploration. You are responsible not only for the crew aboard your ship but for the Federation that you represent.

The game follows a story-based style of gameplay where missions-roughly about seven to eight-are grouped within episodes. And episodes are grouped within seasons. You can play missions in any order within episodes (or even skip missions), though not playing a mission may close out that mission for later play. Missions will further your main story (the investigation) and involve a variety of tasks including interceptions, escort, diplomacy, encounters with the Cardassians, Klingons, and Romulans-and, of course combat. Though you can play out battles from the bridge, the exterior tactical view is the recommended (and most fun) option. The external interface gives you screens and monitors for keeping track of your speed, shields, weapon status, and position, while your crew will also keep you informed of any important events.

Bridge Commander is one of the most realistic and captivating starship simulations ever made. Few sci fi games get to be this immersive, and you don’t usually see this kind of originality in gaming either. Playing it gives you the feeling of being a part of the “Star Trek†universe like few computer games have done before.

System Requirements: Pentium II 233 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 500 MB HDD, Win98

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