Great concept, so-so execution, gets boring after a while...
Starship combat that's not arcade-ish, lots of tactical considerations, good graphics, nostalgia for SFB (Star Fleet Battles, what SFC was based on), good balancing, lots of ships, free-form play, great multiplayer setup, with just battles, or play in the entire "metaverse"
2-D only, you either do well or die with virtually NO chance to limp off map, some scenarios impossible, missile users at great advantage in some locations, too complex for most players, some things can be more automated
The Bottom Line
SFC2 is the sequel to SFC with more races and more ships, and a full campaign generator (with random and scripted missions). It is quite good, but after a while, it gets quite boring as the pace is often too fast to allow a lot of tactical considerations, and the battle becomes pretty much "fight only the battles you can win."
With ships ranging from the smallest "police corvettes" to the largest "battleships", plus fighters and patrol ships, you have plenty of ships to play with. Don't forget space monsters, bases, satellites, planets, freighters, and more. There are also multiple variants of the same ship type... Dozens and dozens of ships.
If you play the campaign, you start in a frigate, and work your way up. You win prestige points if you do well in missions. You use those points to resupply your ship, and when you have enough, trade in your ship(s) for better vessels. You can own up to 3 ships in your mini-fleet.
The game uses a 3D engine and you can follow the ship(s) around as they manuever on a 2D plane. Each ship has 6 shields (in a hexagonal pattern) and managing the shields with manuevers as well as the weapons is the difference between victory and defeat. There are plenty of misc. options like boarding parties (marines) that can raid other ships or go for captures, transporter bombs you can beam out as small mines, tractor beams to move other ships around, and so on.
One of the easiest ways to start is with the "missile-using" races, such as Federation or Mirak. If you can use your missiles properly, you can kill much larger ships easily if they are NOT equipped to fight missiles (with "anti-missile systems"). If they DO have AMS, then you have a big problem.So you stay on the "front" that does NOT have AMS-using ships. For the Feds, that would be the Romulan front. However, the missile users need to "resupply" the missiles as their direct-fire weapons aren't as strong, and that costs prestige points. And if they are out of missiles, the ships are nearly useless. So you end up play mission after mission, trying to keep your use of missiles to a minimum to "save" the pts, while picking the fights that you CAN win (destroyer vs dreadnaught is hopeless).
The campaign engine discourages quitting battles by making some missions mandatory. You can either accept, or forfeit. If you forfeit one of these missions, you will LOSE one of those hard-earned ships if you have more than one. This can be VERY frustrating when you are a missile-user and you're out of missiles.
Each of the races (Federation, Klingons, Romulans, Gorns, Mirak, Lyrans, ISC, Orion, Hydrans) have different design philosophies and completely different weapons and tactics. Federation with photon torpedoes and phasers are balanced and takes a beating. Klingons use disruptors with some missiles as supplementary firepower. Romulans has cloaking device with plasma torpedoes. Gorns have plasma torpedoes, heavy ships, and lots of marines. Mirak is heavy on missiles with disruptors as secondary weapons. Lyrans have ESG which generates a "solid" forcefield as missile defense and useful for ramming, supplemented by disruptors. ISC have plasma torpedoes and a special weapon called Plasmatic Pulsar device that is like direct-fire plasma torpedoes. Finally, Orions can use all sorts of different weapons... Depending on their territory.
Your missions have a TON of variety... Simple ones like "scan" (go scan a planet and leave, but some enemies may be in your way) to "raid enemy shipyard" (destroy 3 enemy drydocks with defenders) can be simple. Then there are the tough missions like "defend convoy" (or the counterpart, attack convoy) to "escape ambush" (start dead in space and you need to escape a 2-3 ship attack). Each race will also have some "special missions" that have special conditions. For example, "dilithium dance" is a mission where you need to locate 3 crates of dithium crystals among 10 cargo boxes (the other 7 blows up if you get too close), beam them onboard, transfer one each to 3 disabled ships, fend off an enemy ship, and have all ships escape (and destroy the enemy?) before the pulsar sends out another pulse (and destroy the disabled ships).
The main problem with the game is the repetitiveness. You can't advance without doing the missions, and you don't know when you'll run into one of those tough missions just when you're used up all your supplies in the previous tough battle...
The game's complexity also can turn off the newbies. Most wouldn't know what to do with the HET (high energy turn, basically turn on a dime to any directly, can be useful to suddenly bring weapons to bear). How about "erratic manuever" (zig-zag that makes you harder to hit)? ECM/ECCM (hurts enemy targeting, helps your targeting)? Point-defense mode (defend against enemy shuttles and missiles)? Marines? Shield re-inforcements? Quick repairs? Can you make all these decisions while controlling the battle AND control up to 2 other ships at the same time? Eeek... Even the tutorial missions don't help that much, as it's VERY hard to explain when to use each of the features. :-/ AND keep that all in your mind as you play the game.
Play online is easy enough... Just register your account and you should be ready to go. There are many MetaVerse servers you can join, each with slightly different rules (different costs for supplies). You can actually help conquer a sector for your site if you can buy a base, then bring it over to a clear sector in enemy territory. Of course, a base cost a BUNDLE. If you don't like the campaign, you can do skirmish or even GameSpy one-on-one battles.
Overall, this game is a bit tough to love. Newbies would be scared away quickly by all these options which they never quite figure out. Those who stuck with the game will realize that behind all the complexity is a lot of fun with combinations... But the missions can be repetitive.