In addition to being one of the longer titles in strategy-gaming history, Star Trek: The Next Generation -- Birth of the Federation has a few other notable aspects. Not all of them are good, unfortunately, but all is not lost. This is a case where the preponderance of gameplay is solid enough to tip the scales to the positive side and should appeal to most fans of the Star Trek universe and keep them playing for a fairly long time.
To get the most enjoyment from this title, the player must satisfy two essential criteria: they must be familiar with and enthusiastic about the Star Trek: The Next Generation series, and they must enjoy micro-management carried out on a very large scale. The first requirement is important because the game's roots are firmly embedded in the realm of The Next Generation and, as such, contain no references to the original series other than generalities like starships, the Federation, and "boldly going where no one has gone before." The enthusiasm factor is imperative since it impacts on the amount of enjoyment derived from the second aspect -- micro-management.
The micro-management is a double-edged sword. If you're a true Trekker who doesn't mind rolling up his sleeves and diving deep into the machinations of running a universe from nearly every conceivable aspect, Birth of the Federation will certainly be an immersive and satisfying experience. For those who like computer-assisted help in handling small details and requirements of day-to-day operation, the game's AI management is somewhat limited in a couple of cognitive areas, such as planet development and resource management. These limitations loom large in respect to the game's most glaring problem: over-emphasis on combat.
For those fans who followed the original series and want to conduct business in terms of peaceful exploration of new frontiers, be advised that having a significant and powerful starship fleet in Birth of the Federation is mandatory. Although you can control any of the five major races in the game, each with specific qualities, attributes, strengths, weaknesses, agendas, and attitudes, it will become necessary at some stage to defend or conquer other races. Indeed, the two single-player victory choices deal with domination (60 percent of the entire galaxy's population and solar systems) and vendetta (you must completely eliminate the two major races pre-set as the mortal enemies of your race). In either instance, heavy combat will be required. Some relief can be had through the capability to limit galaxy size and the four options to control the number of minor races encountered.
Although there is an option to allow the AI to manage your planets and resources, it becomes a massive chore in the late stages of the game. Unfortunately, the AI doesn't always make the best choices and, subsequently, the player must keep a sharp eye on every single planetary system under his or her ownership. One feature I found to be unnecessarily tedious was the game facility for re-deploying and combining starships into specific task forces.
Despite the aforementioned criticisms, the fact remains that the overall gameplay is entertaining, immersive, far-reaching, enjoyable, and stimulating. There is enormous appeal for fans of the turn-based strategy genre and, while it may not fulfill everyone's expectations, it certainly provides a vast number of customizable features that guarantee fresh and diverse gameplay from a myriad of approaches. Without doubt, the designers should be given high marks simply for having the foresight to produce a long-overdue turn-based strategy game set in the Star Trek realm.
Particularly impressive is the structure of the game world itself. The five major races are extremely true to their television counterparts. If you want to excel in ferocious and deadly combat from the start, select the Klingon race. Foment disorder through clandestine and subversive techniques as the Romulan Star Empire. Perhaps greed and profit is your overriding ambition -- if so, the Ferengi Alliance will do the trick. Military order, rigid discipline, and conquest fuel the fires of the ruthlessly efficient Cardassian Union, making them natural enemies of the Klingons. Or, you can turn to the diplomatic and peaceful galactic exploration tenets of The Federation of Planets. The single thread that runs through these five races, however, is the requirement for substantial combat prowess as a means to their ends, whether it be forced or initiated in nature.
An in-depth resource management model focuses on energy, food, and industrial concerns inherent to each system, with a more universal approach to credits and the need for dilithium crystals (the reaction catalyst for starship travel). The area of technological advance is wide-ranging but depends upon a somewhat rigidly constructed and systematic development of new products in six possible fields (biotech, energy, computer, propulsion, weapons, and construction). Development of each item in the technology database is dependent on earlier requirements being met.
For multiplayer gamers, the Birth of the Federation offers victory conditions similar to those of single player games, although a Team Play option demands that allied empires control 75% of the population and inhabited solar systems. A chat screen, optional password protection for games, and tactical and strategic timers can be configured to control the rate of play. Up to five players, each representing a major race, are supported in multiplayer mode, with availability of computer-controlled races if needed or desired.
Comparison to other space-based strategic games is inevitable but the gameplay of Birth of the Federation nicely carves out its own stylized niche in the genre. It doesn't hurt that it's built on the venerable Star Trek franchise, either. From morale impacts, trade routes, and new systems to explore and exploit, to energy management, construction, and ship building (more than 50 models), the game is filled with literally dozens of multi-faceted aspects of control that require seamless integration and interaction in order to achieve success. Challenging gameplay, attention to detail, intelligent decision-making, and a sense of adventure combine to overcome most of the shortcomings of Star Trek: The Next Generation -- Birth of the Federation.
Graphics: Definitely has a Star Trek feel to it, even if it is the Next Generation. Sharp detail on technology components and dozens of starships available. General star field screens are nice with excellent view of zoomed in solar systems. A very definite color pattern is utilized in determining on-screen ownership by the five major races with uninhabited sectors reflecting a sixth color. Depiction of the major races is exceptionally well done with detailed representation featured for all 30 minor races as well. A totally functional overlay system allows for ease in identification of various on-screen aspects of each system.
Sound: Rarely does one experience near perfection in computer games of any ilk. This game is one of those rare cases where the sound and music combine to create a veritable feast for the ears. Voice acting is outstanding and the music induces the same feeling of spatial interaction last heard in the Star Trek movies.
Enjoyment: Little customization capability provided for starships and most other visual aspects detracts a mite. There are too many minor and potentially annoying bugs to simply ignore and game lag can be a problem in the latter stages without a high-end machine. A selective patch containing an extra summary screen here or a tad more customization capability there would result in the game being outstanding. As it is, my enjoyment level was ultimately as high as I anticipated and hoped for, however, my predilection toward any Star Trek related endeavor may at some level account for my ability to overlook the shortcomings and enjoy the game from a "bigger picture" perspective. It should also be noted that the Borg contingent is alive and well within the game and add a sort of wild card to all race interactions.
Replay Value: With five major races to choose from and dozens of customizable game options including galaxy size and control over the number of minor alien races, replay is not only possible but a must for any serious Star Trek fan.
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