The concept for Birth of the Federation is simple and appealing to
anyone interested in Star Trek or space strategy. Essentially you
are given control of one of the five major empires of the Star Trek
universe: The United Federation of Planets, The Cardasian Union,
The Klingon Empire, The Romulan Star Empire and The Ferengi
Alliance. In addition to these major races there are a slew of minor
races, which are not directly controlled by the player, but are part
of the interactive environment. Enticing as the concept may sound,
the gameplay has many design problems and a lot of the combat
sub-mode is poorly implemented. In addition, repetitive gameplay
and bland graphics hamper an otherwise decent game.
The classiest graphical creation in Birth of the Federation is the
slickly designed interface, which is unique to each race but not too
convoluted to hamper game control. Each unique interface is
nicely coloured and represents the style of the race as seen on the
television show, but all offer the identical commands and options.
The remainder of the graphics seemed to have suffered from an
apathetic art department in that they offer nothing new from
Master of Orion II (a 4 year old game) and often detract from
gameplay by having non-distinguishable units in combat. The
primary game screen is very similar to that of Master of Orion II
where you have a main screen showing the star map, and a few
side panels showing statistics and offering options for your empire.
Opening the system colonization screen presents an almost
entirely textual screen showing a myriad of information about that
particular colony, while also allowing the player to allocate labor
and queue production. "Uneventful" graphics complements the
usually uneventful gameplay so don't expect much.
Combat consists of "3D" models of the ships fighting it out in a
somewhat 3d black plane. Most of the time however the ships are
so small that you can't see any detail on them and their weapons
look like nothing more than a coloured line. It is possible to
change camera angles, but every time I tried this it defaulted back
to the original camera after each round, which became so
incredibly annoying that I just gave up the effort. There are
occasions when combat is enjoyable and I admit at a sense of
satisfaction in out maneuvering a superior fleet causing a great
upset battle and shifting the power in the galaxy, to me of course.
The combat sub-game is cursed by a lack of options and a horrible
camera view, which, in the long run makes combat dull.
The minor races that make an appearance in Birth of the
Federation are one of the better-implemented parts of the game.
You can conduct diplomacy with them allowing for various treaties
and agreements to be made and of course, broken. It is even
possible for some of these races to become a member of your
empire thus giving you control over their resources. Of course, if
you are feeling a tad more hostile you can always subjugate the
race, but this often results in constant revolts and future problems
in your empire. Other diplomatic possibilities include affiliation,
trade and science treaties. While this is all pretty much standard
diplomatic fare in a strategy game, the addition of many different
kinds of personalities (each minor race is considerably different) is
fresh and adds a lot to the game. Unfortunately the diplomatic
model is pretty basic and the AI lacks a lot of forethought
and logic that should be present in a game of 1999.
The research tree is abysmal. Technologies are given names such
as Hydroponics I, Hydroponics II, Engines I, Engines II etc. etc. This
is simply pathetic and should have never passed beta testing,
EVER. Research is always one of the most enjoyable aspects of a
strategy game and discovering the new cool technology first is
always one of the player's primary goals and greatest satisfactions.
But with names such as the aforementioned, I couldn't care less if I
got it first or second or last. It's also just way too easy to
research and I found the default settings worked perfectly in all
situations thus reducing any management on my part to 0, along
with the enjoyment of researching. To make this situation worse,
there are barely any unique buildings to build as most suffer the
same naming curse of the technology tree: Factory I, Factory II,
Factory III etc. etc. I also had to play on the impossible in order for
my enemies to actually have a technology lead over me, but I still
found that the default settings were the best, as often you need to
progress one level in each tech to get an upgraded building or
ship. Research is the single most pathetic aspect of Birth of the
Federation, and really its primary downfall.
If research is Birth of the Federation's primary downfall then the
absence of ship design and personalities is its second. I was
extremely ticked off when I found out I couldn't design ships but
that I had to use the stupid pre-designed ships called command I,
Command II, Strike I, Strike II etc., etc. as per usual. I couldn't
even name the bloody things. In addition to this there are no
personalities to act as leaders as in Master of Orion 2. For instance
you can't have captain Picard controlling the enterprise and
giving it big bonuses, nor can you have Gauron (or however you
spell that guy's name) commanding a Klingon battle cruiser. The
potential for this with the Star Trek license was immense, but it
was completely unused. Thus I give two enthusiastic extensions of
the middle finger to the designers for fucking with the research
and ship design so many people expected.
The cliché would be to say that Birth of the Federation only
"shines" when I begin to discuss it's sound, but gaming clichés
have ruined the gaming press so I'll refrain from using it (Didn't
think I could say something without saying it? Think again.). I was
impressed with the computer voices, which were customized for
each race and found the general beeps and clicks more appealing
than usual. Weapon fire and ship movement is essentially identical
to the TV shows, so there isn't much to complain about. While Birth
of the Federation only offered one piece per race, its music
created an environment synonymous with each race that I found
to be a great complement to the interface and speech.
Eh, ah, er, um, well, I don't know. And that concludes my thoughts
on multiplayer in Birth of the Federation. Not much to say here, the
configuration is identical to the single player game (galaxy size,
shape and minor race frequency). Games are turn based, so they
are slow and kind of boring and not even close to as fun as an RTS
or FPS multiplayer.
Birth of the Federation's greatest achievement is creating an
environment in which the player feels he is actually controlling a
specific empire from the Star Trek universe. The downfall is the
basic gameplay model, abysmal customizability options and the
lack of good ship-to-ship combat. While by all means not an awful
game, Birth of the Federation lacks the innovation and
dedication necessary for a great game in the day where money
has long been the prime motivator and games flow into the market
like fruit from the Horn of Plenty.