10:55:49 on July 05 2001
Dominion Wars: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: Reviews - Games
Game Review Written for TrekWeb by Ken R. Miller
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Interactive
Designer: Gizmo Games
Game Site: www.dominionwars.com
System Requirements: Windows 95/98/ME/2000, PII 266 MHz, 64 MB RAM
Before I delve any further into the review, I’d like to apologize for the delay between the release and this article. Problems with moving to and from one place along with address confusions have delayed this writing somewhat, and for that I humbly apologize. Moving along…
When Dominion Wars was announced last year, I approached every tidbit of news with a skeptic’s eye. Simon & Schuster’s past forays into gaming have been lackluster at best (Who Wants To Beat Up A Millionaire, Panty Raider, Starship Creator) and the track record inspired more than just a slight feeling of anticipated disappointment. Luckily, my worst fears were set to rest when I popped DW into my computer. While certainly not without flaws, Dominion Wars is an entertaining and challenging strategy game with enough good points to warrant a look. The game is a little unpolished and pretty easy, but in the end I found myself enjoying the game and looking forward to an improved sequel down the line.
As with the pre-release betas of the game, Dominion Wars doesn’t fail to impress visually. The in-game explosions and weapons are well done, and most of the ship models have high polygon counts and sharp detail. The audio effects are exactly what you’d expect from a Star Trek game, with all the requisite transporter, torpedo, phaser and engine sound effects. The in-game engine moves fluidly, especially in combat, and shows care on the part of the developer, Gizmo Games, to create an enjoyable game play experience.
Dominion Wars follows the story threads of the DS9 war arc faithfully. Those of you familiar with the last two seasons of the show will recognize many of the missions as ones either enacted on screen or discussed. The game does a good job of involving players in operations “behind the scenes” so to speak. As an added bonus, the actual actors did the voices of Admiral Ross, Weyoun and Gul Dukat for the mission briefings. While unfortunately not accompanied by video or cut scenes, the vocal renditions do much to add authenticity to the game. The game pits the two major sides, Federation/Klingon Empire versus Dominion/Cardassian Union, at the player’s disposal. Neither side is overwhelmingly better than the other, although specific advantages like the cloaking device and pulse phaser are available to either side.
The game’s moniker that DW is just “pure strategy and glorious combat” is mildly misleading. The game involves quite a bit of management, whether it be in the briefing room or on the battlefield. Before hurling yourself headlong into combat, you’re allotted a certain number of credits, which increases depending on your successes in the previous mission. These credits are used to select the ships in your fleet, captains and additional crew for those ships, and upgrades to those ships. Once in the game, these factors can make or break a harried situation. Engineers and better skilled captains are more expensive but provide faster repairs and better chances of survival on the front lines.
The actual combat is handled by managing your ships, either as a pack or dividing them into teams on the taskbar. Moving your vessels is easily done either by directing them with the mouse or using the mini-map. The taskbar is designed well enough to give you quick access to all your ships and their functions. This setup, along with preset hotkeys, makes for a very playable control scheme similar to Starfleet Command. The learning curve is fairly moderate, but the game’s challenge will come from the actual missions and not from the control setup. While it’s easy to have your ships duke it out at one another, DW gives you the option of using different attack patterns against your targets. While one of the games stronger points, it ends up also being a weakness because the maneuvers that are in the game are very limited and basic in nature.
So we have a solid control scheme, good graphics and audio and an effective game play engine. Despite these strengths, Dominion Wars has a few flaws that should be addressed. The single most glaring flaw in my mind is the seemingly low production value. The menus are undeniably spartan, and the mission briefings lack any life save for scrolling text. Things like video clips of Admiral Ross or transition scenes between missions would have greatly increased the overall look and polish of the game. The manual is pretty slim, as are the tutorials, and gives the impression that Simon & Schuster was pinching pennies to get this game out the door. The game just seemed to lack life without these features. I’ve also encountered a few bugs, one of the more annoying ones being my ship’s occasional habit to crash into planets rather than steer around them.
As for the actual game play, points are knocked off for the sometimes simplistic nature of combat. In the long run, battles end up turning into circling matches as they did in Starfleet Command. It’s also too easy to switch between the enemy and friendly command ring on the taskbar during the heat of battle. While managing the menus is something mastered fairly quickly, it is frustrating early on to look for the “lock on enemy shields” command and find the “engage cloak” command instead. The A.I. is rather unimpressive sometimes, with sheer numbers often being the player’s source of defeat rather than a crafty computer opponent. A personal issue that I have with most modern games is present in DW as well: the camera. I’ve yet to find a game with a well designed 3D camera, and it’s more than a minor annoyance when your camera moves in funky rotations while a Jem’Hedar strike cruiser pounds into your hull.
These gripes are major enough to keep Dominion Wars from being a truly great game. Overall, Gizmo Games has given players an enjoyable and solid Star Trek game that is challenging but not frustrating, sharp looking and sounding, and easy enough to pick up and play. Simon & Schuster needs to pump a little more money and production quality into promising projects like The Fallen and this game and leave software like Panty Raider to the bargain bin developers.