Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Dominion Wars
Deep Space Nine was usually made up of two types of episodes. The first were tedious character-based stories swathed in sentimentality, like the ones where Odo moped after Kira and turned into goo, the repellent Jake Sisko went off to war to report on the atrocities and was confronted by his own cowardice or when Dr Bashir fell in love with yet another crippled/diseased alien. Then, in the last two series of the show, Paramount must have given the creators some extra cash for special effects, and the other kind of episodes started to appear. Magnificent space battles pitting entire fleets of Federation starships against waves of Dominion vessels. Political intrigue, with alliances and back stabbings every other week, as the Klingons joined the Feds and the Cartesian’s joined the Jem'Hadar. And in the middle of it all, the DS9 space station. These are the episodes Dominion Wars tries to recreate, and while the result is an interesting mix of action and tactics, it fails to do so.
Although similar to both Star Trek: Armada and Starfleet Command, Dominion Wars is essentially a squad-based real-time strategy game. It proudly announces on its box that it features no resource gathering and no base building, which, depending on your preference, may or may not be a bonus. I know I prefer not to fiddle with factories, refineries and the rest of it. Here, you can concentrate on the best tactical way to approach each mission and micromanage each individual ship. At the start of each mission you have a limited number of credits to spend on ships, captains and crew. Captains have tactical and command skills, and experience. The higher these numbers are, the better your ships will respond and the more maneuver’s you'll be able to pull off. Since they gain experience after each mission, it's possible to build up each character in an X-COM kind of way, although for the most part it's not really worth the effort. The rest of the crew is divided into security, engineering and command. But these are just numbers that enhance performance, repair faster, repel invasions or board enemy vessels. They are effectively nameless redshirts you never get to see or care about.
You can choose to play as the Federation or Dominion, and in both cases the missions follow the episodes from those last two series of DS9 and are strictly linear. The first Federation ones are so easy you can win them without knowing what you're doing. Which is useful when you bear in mind how confusing the interface is. It's not quite as complex as the one in Starfleet Command, but there is still a lot of information and a lot of options on display. There's a scaled down map of the level, ship stats (shields, hull, weapons etc), crew left, speed controls and, most importantly, tactical controls. Here you can set your shields, divert power to other systems, guard other ships or order evasive maneuvers.
You can also choose the type of attacks, like hit and runs, and target certain enemy subsystems (engine, weapons...). Once you've mastered all this you can start employing some really sneaky tactics and, by the third Federation mission, you really need them.
This third mission has you controlling the Defiant and entering enemy space in an effort to disable a sensor array. Because this is the only Fed ship able to cloak, you have to go in alone. The all-action strategy won't work here and you soon realise you need to decloak at the right moments and pick off ships one by one. However, this involves much waiting around while your shields regenerate as it does smart decision-making.
There are some excellent ideas for some of the later missions. In one, for example, you have to rescue the maquis Thomas Riker (that's the alternate Riker, for all you non-fans) from a Cardassian ship transporting him to execution. This entails taking out the guarding vessels and beaming a team aboard to transport him back. The problem, and this is something that affects the whole game, is it does nothing to involve you with the story. Unless you watch an episode and then play the corresponding mission, you could be playing just any average space strategy. There is no sense of drama, nothing to connect you with what's going on. Sure, the mission briefings are full of plot and intrigue, but once you're out there it's a case of click on your ship and direct it. There are no cut-scenes, save the opening and ending ones, and nothing unexpected happens mid-mission (as it often did in Armada). There aren't even many recognizable voices. If you play as the Federation you have Admiral Ross (whoop-dee-doo) and as the Dominion you have Gul Dukat and, occasionally, Weyoun -voiced by the brilliant Jeffrey Combs from Re-Animator and The Frighteners. But even they only appear in briefings.
Don't be fooled by the 3D engine either. You still have to move your ship on a 2D plane limited by invisible boundaries. Add to this a few irritating bugs (see side panel) and you have yet another disappointing use of the Star Trek license.
Released too early?
The game came out in the US a few weeks before it came out here. It was so bugged, developer Gizmo released a patch a few days later. The version in the UK shops is the patched one but, as a glance at the Dominion Wars online message board shows, there are still problems. Miscellaneous crashes, save games not working and Al disappearing. I experienced some of these problems, with the added nuisance that I couldn't use the keyboard to move the camera.
There are also some gameplay bugs. I found in some of the missions you could position yourself at a certain angle and fire at enemy ships without getting shot yourself. It's a bit like those footy games where the bail always goes in if you shoot from a certain point There should be a second patch out soon, but we doubt it will fix everything. At least Gizmo is working hard to rectify its mistakes, but should the release have been delayed a couple of months?
Download Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Dominion Wars
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Dominion Wars Screenshots and Media
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