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Reviewed: Star Trek: Tactical Assault
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: November 16th, 2006
Page: 2
Tactical Assault is a Star Trek title based on ship-to-ship combat, rather than away-team or single player combat. Fans of the old Starfleet Battles table-top game and Starfleet Command series (Interplay's old line) will recognize a lot of thematic elements, from the six-quadrant shield system (SFB used a hexagonal grid for movement) to the nomenclature of vessels, discarding the "named" classes of ships in favor of light cruiser, heavy cruiser, dreadnought, etc.

While this gives the older players a little insight into the game system, Tactical Assault offers a few crucial differences. For one, the ability to slow down or pause the game is gone, and combat is limited to control of a single ship. This allowed Quicksilver to design missions that challenge the player individually, rather than encouraging swarm tactics, and make protecting allies and working with them a matter of reading their movements rather than simply issuing concurrent orders.

Quicksilver also added a bonus for advancement; in addition to more powerful ships, players can specialize their crew's abilities, to increase propulsion and maneuverability, weapon recharge times and damage, emergency power availability, and more. Each mission can give zero, one, or two upgrade points depending on how well it is completed, leading possibly to future success or failure. Even in finishing a full storyline, however, there are more possible upgrades than points available, so picking and choosing is necessary.

 

Federation ships can recharge shields.

Klingon ships come bristling with weapons.

Knowing what your officers can do is
 an important part of winning battles.

Each faction in the game also has their strength and weaknesses. Federation ships are defensive juggernauts, able to recharge their shields, and have well-rounded weapons (generally, equal weapons facing a given direction), but their weapons are relatively weak. Klingon and Romulan ships have more forward-facing than rear-facing weaponry, but Klingon shields are weak in the rear while Romulan shields are weak in the front, and neither can recharge shields; instead, each have access to a cloaking device, allowing them to become undetectable while waiting for weapons to recharge or to get in position for a better strike.

Klingon upgrades can be difficult to decide upon. Romulan birds of prey are strong, but don't do well
facing the enemy head-on.
Federation ships are well rounded, but their
weaponsaren't as devastating.

Graphically, the PSP version of the game looks a bit better in terms of the ships, but this comes with a certain loss of interface to the DS. On the DS, the lower screen functions as an LCARS panel; while every function is duplicated by the control buttons, it's fun and cleaner at times to issue orders switching between shields, helm, and weapon displays. The PSP takes full advantage of its graphical hardware to render gorgeous views of the ships and arenas, but at the cost of a not quite-so-pretty interface that doesn't seem to quite fit the Star Trek universe as well. In addition, remembering all the key shortcuts on the PSP can be difficult, and it's easy to mis-enter a command at the wrong moment.

In terms of missions, thankfully, this isn't just a run-and-gun title. While some missions (especially on the Klingon side) are all about carnage, there are also missions that require diplomacy and well-picked dialogue choices, and even a few missions that can be finished fully with no battle at all. There are failure conditions for each mission, of course, and also no way to escape battle before the scripting engine will allow you to, but as a whole, the missions are well programmed, even if the storylines don't branch based on decisions made during the middle missions.

The game also offers a multiplayer head-to-head option on both platforms (sadly, not compatible with each other), as well as "Skirmish" mode in which the Romulan and Orion ships can be taken for a spin; additionally, gamers who are gluttons for punishment can go through and try out different upgrades (going up the weapon improvement route in a Federation vessel is considerably more difficult than enhancing shields for staying power, as an example) or even refuse to upgrade their ships and attempt to beat the end missions with no enhancements at all.

For a first outing on the portable platforms, Tactical Assault is definitely a strong one, and well worth picking up.

Bethesda was kind enough to provide the screenshots for this review as well as giving us a chance to ask the Quicksilver design team a few questions: Rantz Hosely, Quicksilver's Creative Director, stepped up for the challenge and gave us some great answers. Our questions are in blue, his answers in tan.

Michael: As an old player of the Starfleet Command series (and Starfleet Battles table-top game) this looks to be heavily Battles-based, including the ship descriptions. How much of it came from the old table-top source and how much is new, and is it fun designing a game using table-top rules?

Rantz: Starfleet Battles is more of what you could call a ‘linage inspiration’ in regards to Tactical Assault than anything else really.  While a lot of SFB’s rulesets were brought over to Starfleet command, there were changes that occurred in order to make it work within a real-time computer environment.  Tactical Assault however is not Starfleet Command on a handheld device.  There are similarities between the two, which is natural given the type of game, the subject matter, and the fact that Tactical Assault was created by the same developer behind the original SFC.  But the ruleset for Tactical Assault is completely different than SFC, and hence is completely removed from SFB in anything but inspiration.

Michael: When testing, did you try out some of the slightly "out of ordinary" ideas, like gamers who might try to buy all the weapon upgrades in a Federation ship? It adds quite a bit of difficulty to the game. If you left it in intentionally, why?

Rantz: Yes, it was definitely one of the ‘angles we wanted to try in tuning the game, where the player could allocate all of their campaign points towards speed, turning and shields for example, and actually have that be a perfectly effective upgrade path if they choose to ignore or downplay the other avenues, so that there wasn’t just one right answer in terms of upgrading.  For us personally, as players, those are the kinds of things that would always make us go back and replay games to get different versions of ship upgrades, and see if the ‘weapons bristling’ road is easier than the ‘tortoise shell’ route.  Actually, having valid variable paths that the player can choose and mold to their own preference (both in the story part of the campaign track and in the crew upgrades) was critical to taking a new crew and actually having them mean something in the Star Trek universe.

Michael: The DS has a touch screen, while the PSP has better graphical capabilities; while I'm reviewing the DS version, I did try out the PSP version, and I found the PSP controls clunkier but appreciated having some of the information (like weapons readiness) on the same screen as the battle. Did you have more fun designing for one or the other, or any concerns on this?

Rantz: The main concern, or thing we wanted to keep in mind was making sure that one of the handhelds didn’t get short shrift.  Too many times you get a situation where one of them is the obvious inferior version that was just slapped together and we thought that if we’re going to do both version, then it was critical to make sure that each version plays to it’s respective strength.  For the DS, that was definitely the tactile nature, so we really played up the approach of the player being ‘on the bridge’ in the helmsman seat ala’ Sulu or Chekov, right down to the running lights below the ‘viewing screen’. 

With the PSP’s aspect ratio, and our ability to do special textures such as bump and specular mapping, as well as the number of lights and so on, it became obvious that the way to go with that version was to create the ‘70mm Wrath of Khan’ presentation.  Really emphasizing the cinematic aspects of the game.

In terms of designing them, the core game mechanics are identical, so it really came down to user interface differences and hardware specific differences in terms of implementation.  Of course when you get into that… well, that’s where the ‘fun’ of making games comes in, isn’t it? (laughs).

Indeed it is, as well as the fun of playing them and enjoying them - so, thanks so much for the great answers and good luck on your next project!

 


Added:  Thursday, November 16, 2006
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Score:
Page: 2/3

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