Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator
I admit it. I’m a Trekkie. I even enjoy Star Trek III and find the Director’s Cut of the first movie to be nicely done. As I type this, the new movie, ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ hasn’t been released in the US yet. I don’t really mind ‘JJ Trek’, since technically it was set up as an alternate reality. That means at the end of this little side trip, they can go ‘POOF IT’S A DREAM!’ and go back to normal Shatner-reality. Thank God. I do hate excessive lens flare, but that’s another discussion. Time marches on, as they say. I suppose after almost fifty years, at least one reboot was bound to happen, right? Over that four decade time span there’s been a crap ton of video games made with the Star Trek license. Some are amazing (see: Klingon Academy) . Some weren’t released (Star Trek V). One of the first console games, and the first Star Trek arcade game, Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator, is begging to be rediscovered, and with a new Trek movie, now is as good a time as any. The Retro Critic has covered a few Star Trek games, but I decided to go way back. Is it logical to continue to play this old game?
Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator takes place in, well, a simulator. Remember that scene in Star Trek II (or 2009.. ugh) with the Kobayashi Maru simulator? That’s you! Well.. if you were Kirstie Alley commanding the simulated USS Enterprise. The game is by Sega and was released in 1983. Initially an arcade game, later ported to home systems and computers, the game managed to create an atmosphere of danger. You’re faced with a multitude of threats, including Klingon ships, flying anti-matter saucers, and Nomad, that floating self aware robot from the Original Series. Like the Kobayashi Maru scenario, it’s also unwinnable, as the game is played indefinitely, until the big E is destroyed. Each level of the game is broken down into six ‘sectors’. Some have you facing several Klingon ships,where you must defend a starbase, and yourself, from destruction. Other sectors consist of a maze, where you must navigate the Enterprise through a slow moving asteroid field or a meteor shower.
The last sector in each level has you facing Nomad, that talking self aware space probe scene in the Original Series episode ‘The Changeling‘, who is dropping small mines throughout the entire sector, hoping to destroy you. Defeat or evade him, and the entire level repeats at a higher difficulty. You are not alone in this, as the previously mentioned starbase can be docked with once per sector to replenish your energies a bit, but more on that later. The game is points based, which bonuses being cumulative for every sector that you do not dock with a starbase. As a result, you’re better off docking as little as possible for maximum pointage (is that a word?)
The game screen is divided into three parts – a top down tactical – type display showing your location relative to other ships, star bases and other things in space, a ‘view screen’ display which has a large cross hairs to target enemy ships with, and finally a status display, which uses little colored blocks to indicate your shields, remaining warp power and photon torpedoes. It’s rather remarkable how well this works on the consoles of the time. Even though this game was originally a vector game in the arcades, I think the home conversions look better. The ships admittedly do all look like little blocks, with the 5200 probably being the best appearing. Regardless, this is how a tactical screen would look, right? Everything is happening in real time. As you are moving, so is everything else. There’s also a goofy “Anti matter probe” which moves completely opposite of you, yet somehow you’ll always manage to crash into the damn thing since the tactical map loops around edge to edge. Even the VIC20 had a release of this.
The various ports handle sounds as best they can. A red alert klaxon sounds if your shields are knocked down to one or less power. There are sounds for every game function. On the 2600 they are passable, with them being a bit better on the 5200, as expected. The Coleco version has very nice sounds, but sadly the graphics don’t make up for them. The Coleco can’t handle smooth animation easily, and this game showcases that. The arcade version shines, of course. You even have the voices of Spock and Scotty in the game!
The controls for this game are interesting. The original arcade unit had a spinner along with some buttons for each function. The Atari 2600 was limited. How do you handle several actions with a one button joystick? COMBOS! That’s right, pull back on your stick and press the button, you get warp speed! pull back and a torpedo fires. Since people in 1982 were stupid, there was a controller overlay, a ‘combat control panel’ that slid on top of the joystick. It was usually installed for 30 seconds, only to be removed since it got in the way of holding the stick. The Coleco and Atari 5200 had the benefit of more buttons on their controllers, however the 5200 was saddled with that clunky joystick. A shame that the game didn’t utilize it fully. In general, the Enterprises turns stops and goes like it’s on rails. I don’t remember the ship turning this fast. Torpedoes are also invisible and seem to work within a range of two or three ship lengths. Chekov aims well.
If I want an in depth Star Trek game, I’ll fire up Star Trek Online. If I want a ‘realistic’ sim, I’ll go with Klingon Academy. If I want a quick space shooter, I’ll head right for this game. Easy to play, not too much of a ‘simulator’, but there is some strategy involved regarding docking, how to attack, and saving your torpedoes. There’s no in depth plot, there’s no planet side action, no dialogue, no maintaining and balancing ship’s power, no Scotty yelling he ‘canna do it cap’n!’… Just a ship flying around fighting enemies that get progressively harder and harder to beat. With a new movie out/coming out, depending on your location, Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator is a logical choice for a Fair Shake.