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SummaryStreamlined, but not necessarily better
The GoodSimplified and streamlined interface, ability to customize ship, TNG setting, return of officers, dynaverse server still works
The BadCampaign simply shuffles you from one hex to another without giving you some chance to rack up more points, combat is still 2D and streamlining means a lot of the tactical thinking in the first two are gone from the third one, bugs and lack of "final" patch
The Bottom LineSFC3 is definitely streamlined, but the end result is a game that has lost a lot of the nuances without really gaining much in return.
SFC3 is a sequel to the previous Starfleet Command titles, where you drive starships on a 2D field (though the ships and planets are such are 3D). This time, the setting is ST:TNG universe, so you get all the nifty TNG ships flying around.
The interface is extremely streamlined. Energy allocation is minimized. Weapon overloading is eliminated mostly (though you can overcharge your phasers and torpedoes slightly). Seeking weapons are gone (and so are the defenses). Electronic warfare is gone. Transporter bomb is gone (though you can still lay a mine). Shields were reduced from six to four.
What do you gain in return? You get the ability to customize your ship by upgrading (or downgrading) parts in equipment, weapons, shields, and engines. Need more weapons? Add them, but beware of power requirements. Need more power? Add a bigger warp core, but beware of fitting in your impulse engines and thrusters. And so on... There will be trade-offs. You also gain the ability to target specific parts of the enemy ship. Want to reduce the enemy's firepower? Go after his warp core. Want to stop him from moving? Hit his impulse engines. And so on.
The problem with the game is it has lost a lot of the tactical depth (some say complexity). Each of the four races now has the standard complement of beam and torpedo weapons (yes, even the Borg). Each has a special weapon or two, but they don't *do* much. For example, Federation gets the pulse phaser and the quantum torpedo. The Klingons get the polaron torpedo (goes THROUGH shields), while the Romulans get the myotronic beam (stuns enemy weapons). The special weapons don't DO that much to the game as they aren't really THAT different.
The complete removal of seeking weapons means the game has been reduced to manuever and firing arcs, and that's it. As each ship's firing arcs are fixed, the only things you CAN affect are manueverability (i.e. turn rate) and speed, and some of that you have to adjust during the ship's design/refit phase.
One could use a 'tactical warp', where you warp either to a different location or all the way out of the sector (and disengage). You can't pull a "Picard Maneuver" here, but you can do it so you get to use both fore and aft weapons.
As the the ship is never short on energy (unlike SFC1 or SFC2), most of maneuvering is moot, as a ship can move a full speed AND arm all weapons. Then it becomes a series of steady bashing as you hope to reduce enemy's manueverability while he does the same to you.
You get a set of crew now, as your top officers will gain experience after missions, and as their skill levels rise, you will get more out of the ship. Engine will produce more power, ship will turn faster, weapons will hit harder, and so on. However, this wasn't really documented in detail anywhere (except in the official strategy guide, I guess) and thus you don't "feel" much happening except it's another thing you've "gained" after that mission.
You're limited to a single ship now, instead of a 3-ship squadron in SFC1 and SFC2.
The ships are fairly faithful to their counterparts in the TV and movies, but not completely (as they must be balanced to play). Some ships have weird design decisions (for example, the Sovreign-class has more weapons pointing to the rear than to the front!). Some ships were created specifically for this game.
The campaign is fairly well written, as you get to experience the story from all three sides: Klingon, Romulan, and Federation, albeit in sequence. Some of the mission are rather puzzle-like, while others are straight combat. And some of them WILL have you tear your hair out as they're quite difficult, even on the Captain (easy) difficulty level. And despite it happening on a hex map, you are simply shuffled from one hex to another as you need to get to that next mission. You can play conquest campaign, where you basically kill or be killed, and forget all this "story" stuff.
The AI can be challenging and occasionally surprising, as they DO try to keep a downed shield away from you while you hit it, and they will use marines and such, albeit not as aggressively as the player.
If you don't want to play alone, you can play on a Dynaverse server where you can influence the map based on the results of your battles against AI or live enemies.
There are several bugs and such that prevented some missions from getting completed. Activision and Taldren had some disagreements, and a final patch was STILL not released as of this review (Oct 1, 2003). A beta patch is available for now.
Overall, the removal of some features in SFC3 in the name of streamlining may have removed a bit too much. The four races now felt like the same race with minor tweaks and different looks. The ship design is sorta cool but doesn't REALLY give you the design freedom you're looking for, as there are only that many combinations that are any good. You somehow feel that this game COULD be more interesting...