Back when I joined the GO network, I swore to myself that I would one day write a game review entirely in either iambic pentameter or haiku a testament to cultural richness and poetry. In the past 18 months, I haven’t done it. Fortunately for you, this isn’t going to be the one either. Just a heads up for the future.
For those of you who haven’t played the first Armada and plan to, here’s a quick SPOILER WARNING! Skip this paragraph. For those of you who are left, Armada 2 seems to rewrite history a little. Either that or I’ve missed something. In the campaign of Armada 1, as I recall, you jump from species to species following the possession of element 001 (or something like that). You play the federation, then the Klingons, Romulans, and finally the Borg. When playing as the Borg, the last mission has you attack and conquer Earth, and that’s where the game ended. Armada 2 picks up with Picard saying “Having survived the threat of particle 001 six months ago
” Survived? Was there an expansion pack that I missed, or does he somehow equate the borgification of the planet Earth as survival? Anyone who can tell me what the deal is here would be greatly appreciated.
Anyway, it’s kind of ironic that I’m reviewing Armada 2 shortly after having reviewed Conquest: Frontier Wars because the two games are so very similar. Where the first Armada was almost an arcade game RTS, Frontier Wars was much more strategic even the combats are fought in a sort of slow motion. But it is clear that in Armada 2, the designers have tried to close that rift to some extent. Armada 2 is a much more complicated game than its predecessor was, though the combat is still more or less a clickfest. Some of this increased complication works, and some of it doesn’t, but as a whole I’ve got so say as one who was looking forward to this game, I was disappointed.
What works? Well, there are many more ship types, and many more special weapons to go along with those ships. You can build true armadas using a variety of ship types that are designed to complement each other. For some races this works better than others. The small Federation ships, for example, add almost nothing to a fleet with the exception of cloak detection. The Romulan fleet however has a small ship which can extend its cloak around nearby friendly ships as its special weapon allowing them to use their weapons and remain cloaked that’s truly handy. I still more often than not found myself making a fleet of, say, 10 galaxy-class starships and just swarming the enemy rather than trying to find balance and strategy in my fleets, but for the strategists among us, the option is there.
There is now a crude trade model enacted. If you build a trading station, Ferengi ships will automatically dock there, trading miscellaneous goods with you and paying you in latinum. You can then use that latinum to buy raw materials, either dilithium or metal. You can also sell dilithium or metal for latinum at the trade station. I like the fact that you can trade a resource you have lots of for one you have a shortage of. You can also build cargo ships and trade materials with allies. This doesn’t come into play much in the single player campaign, but I think could be a lot of fun in multiplayer games.
You can now colonize planets to gain extra crew (crew being in effect a third resource) using a colony ship. You still gain crew simply by having a starbase, but if you are building lots of high-crew ships (a galaxy class starship takes 700 crew) you’ll need to colonize a planet, and then you’ll have to build defenses around it. Certain ships can bombard planets to kill its inhabitants, and other ships can send in troops to try and conquer the planet. Planets are also the source for the resource metal if you construct an orbital processing facility to mine it, or as the borg mine it directly.
Two additional races have been added to the game, though you don’t get a chance to play them in the single player campaign. The Cardassians come with their own fleet of ships and special weapons, including an interesting bioweapon that dissolves the hull of enemy ships. Species 8472 essentially grow ships out of biomatter rather than construct them odd then that they still use the same resources as the other races. You can play all species in either multiplayer or the instant action games.
What doesn’t work? High on my list has to be the z-axis implementation. The first Armada fought in planar space, as did C:FW. Armada 2 has a 3rd dimension that is the depth of the page, and you can control the depth of your camera using either the mouse wheel or the keyboard. Ships in the z-distance appear tiny, and if you zoom in on them, a ship in near z can fill most of your screen and blot out your view. Moreover, the depth doesn't seem to affect anything of significance in the play of the game. Defensive installations appear to cover the entire 3rd dimension without difficulty, so it’s not like an enemy can sneak past your defenses by going over or under them. Ships fire their weapons out of their plane easily. So what exactly was the point? This is certainly no Homeworld. As I was describing the whole z-axis thing to a friend of mine who also played the first Armada, his first question was, “Can I turn that off?” No, regrettably, you can’t. The freakiest thing of all is that in all this 3-D-ness, all the unit formations that are available are 2D. What’s the deal with that?
As far as the single player campaign is concerned, the enemy AI is almost unfathomably weak, seeming to rely entirely upon scripted attacks as the real offense, and sending only tiny, probing forces otherwise. Throughout the entire federation campaign, a couple of torpedo turrets were capable of repelling every attack the borg mounted. This is the same race that turned a federation fleet into a derelict shipyard in the TV series? I think its greatest weakness is that the AI makes no attempt to secure its own resources or attack yours. Near a dilithium moon, build two torpedo turrets and a mining station, and watch the dilithium roll in. Also watch while the enemy sends dozens of mining ships to the moon, only to have them destroyed by the turrets. I literally watched the AI send 34 mining ships to such a death, and never make any concerted effort to attack the turrets, clearly not learning from its mistakes. Oh, and you want to know how to take down a borg nexus without losing a single ship? Build a torpedo turret just out of the range of the nexus lasers and wait for it to shoot the nexus to pieces (the torpedo range is greater). The borg will literally do nothing to try and take out that turret. Are you getting the picture here? If possible, the AI in this game seems worse than in Armada 1. Either that, or I’m smarter since playing Armada 1, which is highly doubtful.
And while I’m harping on the AI, I may as well take a stab at the pathfinding. Sometimes it does very well, steering your ships clear of damaging nebulae lying between points A and B. Other times, it will take a crazy roundabout route deliberately passing through such a nebula or in range of enemy defensive positions. I’ve also had ships hung up on asteroid clusters, planets, buildings, and each other. Some of this stuff was an issue in the first game, and there hasn’t been any improvement that I can see. Pathfinding, especially over long distances, is a mixed bag at best.
Graphically? It’s Armada 1. If they made any graphical changes other than some new ship designs, I’ve missed them. Maybe the nebula look a little better. Sounds? Those are from Armada 1 also. The only voice from the series that I can remember as I write this is Picard. I guess everyone else was busy.
I liked the first Armada. I really did. I asked the guys at GO to let me review Armada 2 as soon as I heard it had gone gold. And while the plotline of Armada 2 is almost as good as the first one, and the 30 missions cover a good spread of objectives, and some of the new ships are neat, the poor AI makes this such a paint-by-the-numbers RTS as to make your brain curdle from disuse. Cookie cutter conquest. There, I coined a catch phrase. After this one, I should go back and review C:FW again in comparison I’d probably give it a higher score. Star Trek Armada 2: the Star Trek gaming curse is alive and well.