Science fiction games have traditionally concerned themselves with interstellar conflict, and Mindcraft's Rules of Engagement is no exception. By the 24th cetury, the Federated Worlds have grown, expanding through known space, and are now meeting hostile resistance from a mish-mash of alien races and rebel forces. Sound familiar? Apart from being a scenario uncomfortably close to a multitude of other sci-fi games, ROE draws from Star Trek for most of its inspiration. Having failed the test for originality, does ROE have what it takes to be a valid contribution to your games collection?
On opening the box, the thick wad of rules can be found. To be fair, the rulebook is laid out in a linear fashion, and the first chapter is a very helpful warm-up tutorial.
Once into the game, it's sophistication and depth become apparent. A series of menus and selection screens guide the player through the myriad choices and decisions required of a Fleet Commander. Send an order and the subordinate commander receives and acts upon it some time later. Some captains even choose to ignore commands; this realistically illustrates the 'fog of war' problems faced by commanders.
The dull graphics may turn away many cynical players, and it's true that they have all the visual splendour of an amateur drama production, but with so much information to supply it's ahrd to see how else they could look. A control panel at the top of the screen uses icons to access sub-menus, and everything is entirely mouse-driven.
It doesn't take long to learn the system, although keeping track of all the variables can be a pig. As mentioned, multi-ship operations are the trickiest - it's hard enough putting your own ship through its paces, let alone three others.
Likewise, everything moves in real time, so there are few opportunities to sit back and relax, except when your armada is en route to an enemy location. Combat is a very complicated business with both ships blasting, circling and trying to hammer down the enemy's shields for a killing blow. At times like these, it's best to put trust in your captains and leave them to their own devices.
Trekkies will be glad to know that nearly all the sound effects in thee game have been inspired by Star Trek. Communicating with other ships causes a whistling sound to make Spock proud, and firing the Enhanced Beam Weapons will bring a tear to the eye of any Roddenberry fan.
But the game is just too complex. During combat, manoeuvring, fighting and defending are too demanding, forcing the player to concentrate on one instead of all three simultaneously.
The combat movements are similarly tricky. 'Halt' is a waste of time until the opponent is rendered harmless, and 'Position', while providing the good guys with plenty of chances to fire, unfortunately does the same for the enemy. 'Shadow' keeps you relatively out of harm's way, but trying to get a fix on the enemy is slippery work indeed.
The missions are helpfully classified according to difficulty, and strategy tips are included for good measure. Apart from the obvious ship combat, patrols and outpost assault have been included - the latter being especially enticing with the IGS link.
A full mission creation facility adds to the already impressive long-term appeal of the game, and it's a shame that there's no facility to link two Amigas and battle it out with a human opponent.
Despite this, the emphasis is on running successful campaigns, nursing your alter ego through the scenarios whilst gaining promotions and decorations - and with three difficulty levels and 21 scenarios, I defy anyone to finish this quickly.
I was happily surprised by Rules of Engagement. So many space combat games of late - such as Starflight II and SSI's Renegade Legion Interceptor - have been disappointing that it's a pleasant change to find a good example of the genre.
The graphics may be discouraging, but they give the player exactly what he or she needs to get stuck into the game. Nevertheless, I wouldn't recommend this to novices or those who like simple-minded blasts, but for those who are hungry for a slick and playable space combat simulator, this is easily the best around.