The Greatest Star Trek Game You've Never Heard Of
Every now and then, someone on the GameSpot Forums wants to know what the greatest Star Trek game is. Some respond with Star Trek: Elite Force, the first-person shooter. Others reply with Star Trek: Armada, the real-time strategy game. And yet others answer with Star Trek: Starfleet Command, the starship tactical combat game.
They're all wrong. The greatest Star Trek game ever made is, ironically, not an official Star Trek game. And yet it's one of the most revolutionary and influential games ever made. It's one of the first games to actually take advantage of the Internet for multiplayer. (We're talking years before Doom appeared.) It's one of the first multiplayer games to feature distinctly different player classes. It's a combination action and strategy game that features an amazing amount of depth. It's a game that's still being played today, despite the fact that it's more than 15 years old. And it's a game that most of you have never even heard of.
That game is Netrek.
If you went to college and ever hung out at the computing lab late at night, you might have seen someone playing Netrek. It's a game made by computer science students and played mainly by computer science students, which is a shame, because it's an amazingly fun and addictive multiplayer game that anyone could enjoy.
The premise behind the game is simple, and it's rooted deep in the geeky love of Star Trek that most computer science students share. Two teams of eight players each battle for control of the galaxy as the Federation, Klingons, Romulans, or Orions. Each player controls a starship, and they've got to venture out and destroy enemy starships, bomb planets, and transport armies to invade planets. Each side has seven different classes of starship, ranging from the speedy yet lightly armed scout to the lumbering yet powerful dreadnaught. Obviously, each class is good for particular duties. The scout is useful for warping deep into enemy space to raid enemy planets. The dreadnaught is useful for defense of core planets. The default class is the cruiser, and it's the perfect balance of speed and power. One player can even play as the starbase, a huge, lumbering station that can repair and refuel other starships. Naturally, that means that the starbase has got a huge bull's-eye painted all over it, and it's not unusual to see the opposing team launch waves of suicidal kamikaze attacks against it.
The game is chock-full of dogfighting; photon torpedoes and phasers fly wildly around, while starships dance around each other. But as much fun as the action is, the game is ultimately one of strategy, as teams have to coordinate their efforts in order to conquer planets. And the more successful your team is, the harder it becomes, because you'll stretch farther and farther from your homeworld, while the enemy battles desperately close to home to maintain control of its space.
The actual history of Netrek is long and convoluted, but its roots go back as far as the mid-1970s when computer science students started developing games on the expensive university mainframes in their spare time. The current incarnation of the game emerged in 1987, and it was designed to run on the Unix operating system and X Windows. But there is a Windows client that you can download and play, for free! There is a steep learning curve to appreciate all the nuances of the game, but there are FAQs available to smooth things out.
Netrek peaked in terms of popularity in the early '90s, and players began to defect to Doom and other multiplayer PC games shortly thereafter. But there's still a diehard community playing it every night. I recently started playing the game again after a 10-year hiatus, and it's lost none of its addictive qualities. If you're looking for a great multiplayer action strategy game, and you're a Star Trek fan, you should definitely try Netrek.