It took a few years, but Star Trek fans finally got the Federation-based starship combat sim they had hoped for with Starfleet Academy. Made by Totally Games, the same folks who brought us our favorite Star Wars games, Bridge Commander thrust the player into command of Galaxy-class USS Dauntless after the captain is killed during an away mission gone bad. When stars start going supernova without warning, the player is sent by Starfleet to investigate, revealing a conspiracy that threatens to destroy the Federation.
Players eventually upgrade to a Sovereign-class ship and are tasked with uncovering the mystery through exploration, diplomacy, and combat, with the latter being where the game really excels. Players can choose to give orders to various bridge crew members (raise shields, fire at will, divert emergency power to engines, etc.) or take direct control of the ship via an exterior camera view. But don’t let this direct control mode fool you into thinking you’re involved in a starfighter dogfight. These are massive capital ships, and they feel like it, with slow turn rates and devastating broadsides when multiple phaser arrays line up. Bridge Commander really captured the feel of capital ship combat in a way that few other games ever have.
In addition to the story, which plays out as a series of overarching “episodes,” players can pilot a wide variety of other ships in single- or multi-player skirmish mode. A dedicated community has also produced countless mods and add-ons to the game, including new ships like those from the J. J. Abrams Star Trek films, and a group of fans are actively building their own spiritual sequel to the game, called Star Trek: Excalibur.