Recently I found myself watching an episode of Star Trek: Voyager involving the Borg (the best Voyager episodes in my opinion) and afterwards I couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to take control of The Collective and send a load of Cubes and Spheres zipping around the various quadrants assimilating species at will. Now in the past I would have been able to try this out for real thanks to a brilliant RTS game, possibly my favourite RTS game ever, known as Star Trek Armada II. Even though it's over 10 years old now, its popularity has hardly dwindled at all, after all a used copy on eBay can still set you back upwards of £30! But what makes it so good? Well, I'll tell you!
The story behind the campaign centres around a Borg plot to invade the Alpha Quadrant, and involves a variety of races that should be well known to Trekkies, although you'll only be able to play as The United Federation of Planets, The Klingon Empire, and The Borg Collective. Once you've worked your way through the campaign, chances are you'll jump into the Instant Action section of the game as well as the Multiplayer, which I for one found far more enjoyable and easily wasted days on end playing through. These sections of the game also offer you the choice of being a part of the Romulan Star Empire, the Cardassian Union, and Species 8472, in addition to the races I've already mentioned.
Essentially the gameplay is the same for all the races, you need to gather resources in order to build more stations and units, before launching an offensive against your enemies, so pretty standard RTS stuff! Of course there's a little more to it than that; special weapons differ between the various races, as do perks and weaknesses, so chances are your tactics'll depend on who you're playing as. Your ships' systems should be monitored closely, for example if life support fails on one of your ships its crew complement will start to drop rapidly and you'll have to transport reinforcements on board from another ship in order to continue repairs and prevent it from becoming derelict at which point the Ferengi will turn up to drag them away (unless of course you've turned them off in the menus, which I'd highly recommend). Extra crew members can also be gained by sending colony ships to establish footholds on the various planets that are littered about the maps.
Of course, before you get into any of this, you'll have to pledge your allegiance to one side or another. So which race should you try out first?
The most fun I've had playing this game has been when I've been the scourge of the universe and decided to take control of the Borg Collective. Building a huge base populated with Cubes is great fun and the Borg have the added advantage of being able to use their enemies' strengths against them simply by assimilating technology or ships that you feel like using. They also have two ridiculous units at their disposal in the forms of the fusion cube and the tactical fusion cube, which are constructed by combining 8 normal Borg cubes or 8 tactical fusion cubes into a behemoth of a ship that's virtually indestructible.
As you'd expect the Klingons can deal a tremendous amount of damage when you need them to, but you can fall back on stealth options as well if you so choose and set up ambushes by leaving cloaked Birds of Prey scattered about for unsuspecting enemies to stumble upon. It's also fairly hard not to join in with their battle cries in the heat of the moment as you order them to head towards on honourable death, or an easy victory that they can sing about over a case of blood wine.
If sneaking around is your thing then forget about Birds of Prey, you'll find yourself much more at home amongst the Romulans. Pretty much every one of their ships is outfitted with a cloaking device including their Warbirds which carry a special weapon that drains the shields of enemy ships and tops up their own, allowing you to easily finish them off with a barrage of disruptor fire and a few well timed photon torpedos.
I'd say that the Federation offers you a great balance of defensive and offensive capabilities, as well as providing you with plenty of choices when it comes to the composition of your fleets, and of course having the chance to take control of the USS Enterprise should bring a smile to any Star Trek fan's face.
Last up are the Cardassians and Species 8472 who sadly just aren't that much fun and you'll probably only find yourself taking them out for a spin when you're bored and fancy a bit of a change.
Getting into the middle of a full on battle is edge of your seat stuff that requires you to hit your enemies' weak spots at just the right moment, so you'll need to keep your wits about you otherwise you'll have to limp back to your base with only a handful of ships from a fleet that's taken you half the day to build up. They're also great fun to watch as phaser fire is exchanged, photon torpedoes fly about in all directions, and special weapons are deployed at key moments.
What Star Trek Armada II provides is an exceptional fan service that still has a thriving community today who still come up with mods for the game because it continues to provide people with a huge amount of enjoyment and it's extremely well loved. I should also note that I've only given a brief outline of the core game, some of the more recent mods have allowed players to take control of new races including the Jem'Hadar. For those of you who've never played it before I'd advise you to give it a go, especially if you're a bit of a Star Trek geek, just bear in mind that it's phenomenally addictive and will devour your spare time if you let it!