The game starts with a single screen opening sequence narrated by William Shatner, akin to the TV series own. However the codec's bitrate was reduced so low that your enjoyment is marred by the web streaming feel of the presentation. Final Fantasy III on the DS using the same codec, Act Imagine Video Codec, created a dual screen masterpiece with no noticeable picture or audio problems. In campaign mode the game tends to draw you in after the first few missions. Battling other ships is surprisingly freeform, a strong AI makes you use every feature of the ship interface. Yet the lack of supportive detail on the screens kept me wishing this was just the beta release of the game.
The focus of the game is completing the mission based campaigns. Logs and transmissions with other vessels are used to tell the game's story. I really enjoyed the short time required to view these. Infrequently these communications give you a response choice. I liked this twist in gameplay, more DS games need this feature. Playing the game is simple, you are given a mission at a starbase by Starfleet personnel and then warp from sector to sector satisfying the orders given. You often get caught in multiple battles in a particular mission. Some missions even allow you to pick your battles. One mission in particular gave me the option to conduct a counterattack once the objectives were reached. After choosing to continue, I warped to a Klingon controlled sector, I quickly got schooled on how arrogant I really was. Three photon torpedoes hit my shields within the first thirty seconds tearing apart my forward decks. Luckily, I checked the warp list and found a starbase listed. I issued the warp command just as a Federation vessel ahead of me broke up!
As you finish missions you are given points that are usable towards upgrading your crew. To remphasize the point, you are not upgrading the ship but your crew. Yet again these upgrades are abstract, you place up to three points to a particular upgrade path. An explicitly defined percentage increase or strength of each crew members' skill would help make these tactical decisions.
Touchscreen interaction is not needed to play this game. The mandatory tutorials in the first missions skillfully guide you around the control pad and touchscreen features. You can use the touchscreen to navigate the ship's systems. The only real problem is that the Field of View during the battle can cause you to hit planets, starbases, ships and asteroids. You really are a danger to yourself and any moving object nearby. To get around the problem, I would randomly change targets to view any objects that are in my path.
You can scan other ships or sectors in the game as well. The results are only more dialogue from your crew about the mission and cannot be scanned again. Scanning should be thought of as part of the plot, once read it has no further use. Scanning reinforces the game's title "Tactical Assault", if you want a space simulator look somewhere else.
The campaigns lost their appeal after the first round. The storyline was no longer fun because I already knew what happened.
Skirmish mode has to be the most appealing section of the game for those seeking replayability. I played skirmish mode to get practice for the campaigns. The AI is unforgiving, you often find the enemy sneaking up on you. If the enemy has cloaking abilities, the will use it and can often make you curse Klingon relatives like an experienced Star Fleet captain. Several unlockable ships are available. The ships can be unlocked in campaign mode. Skirmish options are: Map Type, Ship Select, Difficulty, Crew Level and a custom menu that allows you to modify the difficulty directly. Within the custom menu, you can choose from several unlocked ships and assign each of the four ships to one of four sides.
Five map types are available: H'atoria, Gorath Sector, Camus Sector, Japori and Carraya.
Four crew levels are available: Ensign, Lieutenant, Commander and Captain.
The following ships are unlocked at the start: Federation Frigate, Federation Destroyer, Federation Light Cruiser, Federation Heavy Cruiser, Federation Dreadnaught, Klingon Frigate, Klingon Destroyer, Klingon Light Cruiser, Klingon Heavy Cruiser.
The following ships are locked: Federation USS Excelsor, Romulan Frigate, Romulan Destroyer, Romulan Light Cruiser, Romulan Heavy Cruiser, Romulan Dreadnaught, Gorn Light Cruiser, Gorn Heavy Cruiser, Orion Destroyer and Orion Heavy Cruiser. You can unlock these ships by completing missions in campaign mode.
All these options combine to create a fun Star Trek battle simulation. The enjoyment is short lived because at the end of the battle the results screen just summarizes your results and does not store these results anywhere. Why did the developers stop at this point? Why not record these results or reward the player with points?
The characters are flat 2D, 256 color, portraits. The battles however are a different story. Good 3D graphics are used during space battles on the top DS screen. Very little clipping can be seen and the rendering quality of 3D objects is richly detailed. You can easily see damage on enemy ships and star bases. Smoke, sparks and floating pieces of vessels are a common sight. The bottom screen is a brightly colored menu that looks like it came right out of the show, except the finite details are missing.
The soundtrack and effects are just your typical canned Star Trek cliches. I played with audio off most of the time.
I am a life long Star Trek fan. Any game that is released under license as Star Trek should live up to the legend, in my humble opinion. If Bethesda had taken a few cues from Beluga and released Star Trek: Tactical Assault as a full RPG simulation like Freedom Wings, this title would have been legendary among the SciFi community. As it is now, Star Trek: Tactical Assault features strong realtime battle interaction and a decent storyline on the DS platform. Sparking engines and colored shields are a poor way to deliver tactical data to a user. Limited upgrade paths and a lack of customization hamstring this game to a one time experience that would be fun for a beginning gamer or die hard fan looking for a collectible. The high price is another draw back, a $20 price point would have lowered my expectations back to Earth.
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