Add 20-sided dice, Trekkies, and the spittle of George Takei. Blend for ten minutes.
Star Trek: Tactical Assault takes the starship battles of the original Star Trek series and brings them to life. Unfortunately, combat was hardly the main appeal of that show, and Tactical Assault fails to bring any of the personal drama, glory of exploration, or bad acting that made the show great. Even more unfortunate is that the game's representation of Star Trek battles is very faithful – the lumbering pace and minimal weaponry are intact.
You have to appreciate the ambition of the game design. It attempts to merge action-oriented space combat with the tactical tension of naval battles between huge, slow ships. But in straddling the line between action and strategy games, Tactical Assault isn't good at being either one. The gameplay is far too laborious to work in an action sense, but the strategic elements are too shallow and repetitive to make for an interesting strategy game.
Over 90% of the gameplay involves locking onto a single enemy ship and blasting it with your phasers and photon torpedoes (or the Klingon / Romulan equivalents) until you can break through its shields and blow up the ship's hull. Shields are split into six arcs that form a circle around the ship, and each arc degrades or regenerates independently of the others. The idea is to concentrate your fire on the weakest section of an enemy's shield, because then you can get to its hull without worrying about the other shields. Defensively, you have to constantly rotate your ship so the strongest shield is facing your opponent. It's not a bad mechanic, but the ships move and rotate very slowly, and the weapons recharge very slowly, so a good chunk of the game is spent just waiting for fresh phaser banks or running away from battle until your batteries have time to recharge. You can shunt emergency power into the weapons or shields, and each successful mission gives you stat points to modestly increase speed or weapon effectiveness, but these elements hardly save the game design.
The other problem, as previously stated, is that this rotate-and-wait mechanic makes up practically the entire game. You can only focus on one enemy at a time, and once it's destroyed, you move on to the next target. When all the enemies in one sector are gone, you usually move to another sector and repeat the process for two or three other ships. Navigation takes place on a mostly empty 2D plane. You only control one ship per mission and have little coordination with wingmen. Every mission is the same. The tactics only change if you get a ship with cloaking, which calls for equally protracted hit-and-run maneuvers. The Federation ships are all slight variants on the same design, and the same goes for Klingon and Romulan fighters. So on and so on and so on. It's all very repetitive, with the minute details only meaningful (or even noticeable) to hardcore Trekkies.
No matter how much you love Star Trek, no one can escape the curse of off-screen objects. See, combat requires that your view be locked onto the target, which helps you rotate shields and pay attention to the enemy's firing patterns. But the locked view makes it nearly impossible to see what's going on around you, and every now and then, it's inevitable that you will fly right smack into a large asteroid or a friendly starbase. The camera is smart enough to sense an imminent collision and pull back, but this gives you maybe two seconds to react, which is usually not enough given the slow ship controls. Words cannot express how infuriating it is to play to the end of a fifteen minute mission, in which you plowed through seven or eight identical ship battles, only to randomly crash into an object right before you warp home. There's literally nothing the player can do in this situation – it's purely the game's fault, and considering how challenging the game is already, these unavoidable mission failures are positively inexcusable and are enough to make you want to quit playing for good. So I did.
Tactical Assault has one-note gameplay and many other problems, but I can still see its appeal for true Trekkies whose desire to set up classic battles from the series and movies will help them overlook almost anything (as they have through dozens of terrible Star Trek games over the years). For general strategy gamers or even moderate Star Trek fans, including me, there are more reasons to avoid this game than to play it.