Sneak attacks make for great fun. That's why "Klingon Academy," Interplay's latest take on the Star Trek universe for the PC, brings such great satisfaction. Sit in the captain's chair of a Klingon Bird of Prey, slide up to a Federation cruiser like the USS Enterprise under a cloak of invisibility and de-cloak to blast away.
"Klingon Academy" sports all the nasty brutality of the aggressive, belligerent, honor-loving, horny-headed race introduced in the original "Star Trek." For aficionados, it's a sequel to "Starfleet Academy," the capital ship combat simulation.
Unlike games featuring the Federation (the governing body that sends the USS Enterprise on peacekeeping missions), "KA" is about the art of war. Klingon Birds of Prey, K'T'inga Class D7 cruisers, Relentless Class cruisers and a host of other ships are designed to punch holes in the side of enemy ships until the vacuum of space sucks out all life.
"KA" is set in the years before the Klingons and Federation made peace, an event recorded in the movie "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country." Two stars of the film appear in the game: David Warner, who played Chancellor Gorkon, and Christopher Plummer, who played the treasonous General Chang. Michael Dorn (who played the Klingon Worf on "Deep Space Nine" and made a brief appearance in "Star Trek VI") plays an instructor.
The ever-hammy Plummer lectures cadets on subjects that range from stealth to space battle environments, spouting Shakespeare just as he did in "Star Trek VI."
As a game, "KA" outclasses its predecessor, "Starfleet Academy," on several counts. Its developer, 14 degrees East, designed the ships of "KA" to fight like big naval vessels, not small fighter aircraft. In "Star- fleet Academy," everything flew as if it were an X-wing fighter out of "Star Wars." In "KA," the bigger the ship, the slower it turns, much like the combat in Trek movies.
Second, the graphics of "KA" live up to expectations for a good space combat simulation with brilliant explosions that rip engine nacelles from ships.
The game also gains strength from its story. As a cadet, you blast away in a simulated invasion, but once you graduate, you move on to "real" combat in a Klingon civil war that will determine who becomes chancellor of the empire.
The 25 single-player missions require you to master the Verbal Order System, in which you punch numbers on the keyboard to control the helm, damage control, weapons and other stations. Make sure you keep a cheat sheet at your side for the first few rounds in the simulator, because remembering the three-digit combinations for hunting cloaked ships or giving an order isn't easy.
Stealth is the weapon of choice for the captains of the Klingon Defense Forces. With smaller ships, such as the Bird of Prey, de-cloaking and cloaking during battle creates interesting opportunities for attack or for hiding to repair a heavily damaged ship.
One series of battles ends with the return of the dreaded Genesis Device from "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan."
As in most of the better space combat games, using energy wisely is critical. If you put too much energy into your shields and impulse engines, you won't have enough for your weapons.
Installing "KA" caused some problems on our test machine, and I had to reload twice to get it working. At one point, the sound was scratchy and I had echoes. On another launch, I couldn't get the movies of academy lectures that set up each mission.
While I had problems with Windows 98, I found that Windows ME (to be released Thursday) loved the game and treated it well.
The manual didn't provide enough about strategy, but the Star Trek Klingon Academy Official Strategies and Secrets book provides some insight into the game. Avoid Chapter 3 if you want to play the missions without knowing their outcomes.
And remember, be ruthless: you're a Klingon warrior.
For this review, the game was played on an 800 MHz AMD K-7 with 384 megabytes of RAM, a 32-megabyte nVIDIA TNT2 video card and SoundBlaster PCI 128. Information: www.interplay.com.