The Many Faces of  . . .  Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator

by Alan Hewston

Just in time for Star Trek: Nemesis, we  continue our 20th anniversary salute to the arcade hit, Star Trek: S.O.S.  This game was released in conjunction with many Trekkers consider as their favorite Trek movie, Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan.  The arcade game was based upon a simulation of battling Klingons and Nomad, but all the action is in 2 dimensions. Coincidentally, ignoring 3-D attacks (above/below) was Khanís fatal tactical error in the movie.  2-D (or pseudo 3-D) is sufficient for this excellent simulation game.  Fascinating - ST:II is the only Trek movie that
does not have an actual Klingon or Klingon ship in it.  The other 9 all do. Instead, the beginning of the movie shows us Lt. Saavik taking the famous Kobayashi Maru test / simulation.  This is the "no win situation" that only Kirk had defeated.  [But  he cheated by reprogramming the simulation.]  So, just like most video games, "Star Trek: S.O.S" puts you in that no win
situation Ė eventually you WILL lose this game.  It is a logical conclusion.

The manual says that you run the Enterprise (hereafter shortened to E!) play the role of Captain Kirk, but itís more like playing Sulu, Chekov & Scotty combined as you have complete control of the helm and weapons.  Use the sensors and view screen to take immediate action based upon what you see and hear.  You have both impulse and warp drive and phasers and photon
torpedoes.  It may sound a bit simple, but there is a lot going on, making it one of the most complex arcade game to that date - definitely one worth learning.  Too bad the original arcade monitors were prone to catching fire, making them really rare today.  See  RT #7 where Tom does one of the first Many Faces of reviews.


<Defend your Star Bases and find and destroy Nomad>

Arcade: by Rob Zdybel, Sega 1982 & Home Versions: unless noted, all by Sega
1983: Vic 20 (Eric J. Popejoy), C64 (Joe Sengir), 2600, 5200, Atari 8 bit,
TI-99 (Sega & later by Texas Instruments).  Finally, in 1984 the
Colecovision port.
Rumor Mill:  Intellivision version was in the works by Sega.
Other Trek games, close but not the same:  ST: Phasor Strike, í79
Microvision, and for the Vectrex, 1982, ST:The Motion Picture, an excellent
game where you battle Klingons in true 3-D action.

Home Version Similarities:  All versions have:  Star Trek theme music at the beginning; only one E! (ship) per game with an unlimited supply of phaser fire; SBs must be defended and when docked with add 1 unit to your otherwise limited supply of photon torpedoes, warps and shields; more points are scored for not using the SBs; enemies & their weapons will damage E!, once they are close, not just on contact; all other damage from ramming, collision with debris, or Klingon plasma bursts shows up as a reduction first in shield units, then torpedoes, then warp units, the next hit ends your simulation; there are 10 sectors (levels) of increasing difficulty on all home versions that I have manuals for, compared with 40 missions at the arcade.  None of the home versions offer any gameplay options, but the CV does have a choice of 4 difficulty levels. Every
version does at least a decent job with sound effects, such as phaser and photon fire, enemy weapons, impulse and warp drive, docking, nomad moving about, and the drones draining away anti-matter.  Your score remains on-screen until the next game begins.

Additional home version elements, except for those Missing In Action (MIA) <listed here>: six <C64> rounds to each sector, first two rounds facing Klingons, the third round <TI, C64, Vic, CV> is a time-limited bonus re-supply round where up to 4 SB can be found, alternating every sector
between an asteroid field & meteor shower; two more rounds versus Klingons, and the final round versus Nomad, his weapons fire <CV> & mines; after nomad has escaped or is destroyed, the next sector begins; the scanners display the Klingons in distinct colors which determines their purpose - to attack A) the E!, B) SBs or C) when SB are destroyed all Klingons will ram the E! <Vic & TI - all Klingon ships look alike>; a solitary, unique colored Klingon ship is a secret anti-matter saucer/drone that attaches to E! to drain warp units; a signal alerts you when you have phaser lock on a Klingon <TI, CV, Vic>; an on-screen indicator with up to 6 colors alertís you to the E!ís remaining shield units <CV & TI>; a red alert sounds when your shields are gone <Vic & TI>; an overlay for the controllers came with many of the versions; up to three <2600> SB must be defended which are green (and/or filled) then turn blue (and/or empty) when docked with, then
flash red <TI, 2600, Vic> once their shields are half way gone; your photon torpedoes show up on the scanner and explode into a ring of effective area (2600, 5200, 8 Bit); music plays when you destroy Nomad (TI & Vic); a pause is provided for a few versions except the (2600, C64, Vic).

Have Nots:  Vic 20 (31)
My first reaction was that SOS is too complicated a game for the Vic, but we saw how good the Vic "Robotron 2084" could be.  The Gameplay is good enough (6) to be playable.  The biggest problem is the action is s-l-o-w-e-d when facing the full compliment of Klingons.  The above MIA
game elements also hurt the Vic version a lot.  This is the only version with a high score stored.  The Addictiveness is decent (6) enough to keep you going.  The Graphics are mediocre (5) and detract significantly - but every element is displayed - albeit poorly.  The Sound is a bit harsh
sounding, but overall is respectable (6) and save for missing music after destroying Nomad, I think that every sound effect is included.  The Controls are responsive (8), but the E! seems to move too be controlled too slowly compared to the other versions.  When all action is slowed itís even
harder to turn, as compared to moving forward.  Also note that all systems without a controller that can be held so that 2 fire buttons (phaser plus photons) are easy to use without any error or accidents - were penalized 1 point.  ie all but one home version of SOS.

Have Nots:  Atari 2600 (39)
My first reaction was this is too good a game for the 2600.  It is scaled down but very worth while.  If you like simple games, rate this one higher. The Gameplay is impressive (8) and is pretty much all there.  The limit of 1 SB instead of 3 and thus fewer attacking Klingons keeps it from being
among the best.  Fewer Klingons also cuts into the randomness of the Klingon threat. Addictiveness is enjoyable (8) - a pause would surelyhelp.  Graphics are limited and blocky, but good enough (6) to catch most of the gameplay elements.  There are no visible E! photon torpedo fire.Itís still there in the gameplay, just too bad it was not added visibly. Sound is a bit limited in variety and quality, but still sharp (8) and nothing is missing.  The Controls are super (9), but hurt by the complexity of the game and only 1 fire button.

Have Nots:  Atari 5200 (39)
My first reaction was that the 2 "Wico controller" fire buttons really work well.  The Gameplay is fantastic (9) the best out there, having only one trivial MIA.  The Addictiveness is enjoyable (8) with great replay value, but I did not add in the usual bonus for the pause button <pause>.
Fortunately the manual warns you that after 2.5 minutes the game resets. Ah Ďcmon, what good is 2.5 minutes.  The Graphics are smooth and effective (7), but not in the neighborhood of the medal winners and completely ignoring photons on screen is a shame.  The Sound is all there and pleasant (8), but just not quite as good as the medal winners.  The Controls are pretty good (7), but the steering is a disappointment considering two excellent fire buttons on a Wico controller. Perhaps its just poor programming as too many accidents happen steering and warping the E!
Quick, pinpoint firing and maneuvering control is also lost, and forget about the standard controllers.

Have Notsl: Atari 8 Bit (41)
My first reaction was why canít I see my photons fire.  All comments about the 5200 apply here as they did not change the game, other than the obvious controller differences.  The pause button is the <select> button - making me wonder if I ever missed that before.  This seems like a poor choice, but is used in other 8 bit games.  Itís only one keystroke away is the only other button used in the game, <reset>.  Likewise, the non-ambitious programming continued as the 2.5 minute pause is still in vogue here. Dooh! The Controls are outstanding (9), but again, only one fire button. This game can be found on cart and disk.

Bronze Medal: Colecovision (42)
My first reaction, typical of many CV arcade games, this version is too darn hard on level 1, not to mention difficulties 2 through 4.  The Gameplay is impressive (8) save for the MIAs. Although a shield color indicator is lacking, a unique enhancement is a circular display of shields around the E!, just like the movie displays.  Also, despite lacking the bonus round, there are unique bonuses given at 20K and (I think) upon completion of each level.  Another unique element is that Nomads mines when destroyed may lead to a chain reaction.  The Addictiveness is enjoyable (8), with the best use of the pause <*>, but that is erased by the difficulty of the game.  Itís so difficult - whatís that point of the harder difficulty levels.  The Graphics are sharp (8) and detailed, but not as colorful and smooth as the C64.  Sound is wonderful (9) with the best Trek music of them all and all the effects done well.   Controls are a mixed bag (I tried both controller choices 1 & 2 for 6 different controllers).  The best I got was a (9) well done, by using the Super Action controllers.  These should have yielded a 10, but they honestly do not work right.  Hoe did this make it out of play testing?   You need to select the Standard Controller option and then get partial use of the SA Controller.  At least youíve been warned.  This is the only version with any rarity and could  set you back about $20.

Gold Medal:  Commodore 64 & TI-99/4A (43)
Another tie this month.  Despite their significant differences, Iím certain that youíll agree they both deserve a medal.


<C64 version really looks nice, but is not without its flaws.>

Commodore 64
My first reaction was that the Klingons do not move enough.  But upon closer inspection the difficulty builds up more gradually here.  And it appears the Klingons are programmed to stay put and fight cautiously (not much honor and glory in that).  They prefer to stay safely out of your
phaser range and pound you with torpedoes.  But, once you run from them, they will pursue.  The Gameplay is very nice (8) but the MIAs drop it a notch below the Atari computer. The sector/round is not displayed unless you destroy Nomad.  The Addictiveness is pleasant (8) and Ďtis very much a
version that youíll want to play over & over.  The gradual increase in difficulty is great, but there is no pause, as both the disk and cart versiosn, the <F7> does not function as a pause as it says in the manual. I tried ll other buttons as well.   The Graphics are wonderful (9), easily the best with no baggage.  Sound is great (9) where the music and all effects are on par with the CV. The Controls are fantastic (9), but again, thereís only one fire button.  If I scored 100 points total, this one would barely eclipse the TI.  Available on cart and disk.

TI-99/4A
My first reaction was that the talking was too limited.  It sounds really cool, but thereís only a few phrases, "Entering Sector X.Y", "Damage Repaired Captain", "Avoid Mines", and "Excellent Maneuvering Captain".  I may have been too generous scoring the Gameplay as pretty good (7). Itís not much better than the Vic and too many elements are MIA.  You may be tempted to boldly take you to playing another version.  The Antimatter drone is very effective and stubborn in this version.  The Addictiveness is outstanding (9) and gets the top billing with a fun version that has a
working pause

.  This button stinks for some games, but thereís no problem finding a good break in the action to locate it.  Graphics are sharp (8) and the Nomad round really fills up with action as Nomadís
weapons and mines stick around for quite a while.  The shields are uniquely displayed on the viewer as a mesh that is lit up when you are hit.  The Sound is awesome (10) of you have the Speech Synthesizer peripheral.  The music and effects are probably not as good as the CV, but pretty much all there.  The Controls are well done (9), but only when using an Atari controller.

 

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