Space, the final frontier. Who could have dreamed, 50 years ago this year, that Gene Roddenberry’s space cowboy series would have gained such a huge cult following in the time that its been on-air? There have been a few series-related games that have come out, so how will the latest and possibly the biggest measure up in the tale of the starship tape?
Star Trek Online is vast. The MMORPG from ARC Games, Cryptic Studios and long-time genre publisher, Perfect World Entertainment was released on console to coincide with the show’s 50th anniversary, after being out on PC for quite some time. It’s a great thing that the game has made that leap from PC to console as well.
As with most MMORPG’s, you start off by choosing a faction and character. Instead of your usual barbarians and wizards, however, you get the chance to become a Star Fleet officer, a Romulan Warrior or a member of the Klingon Empire. Your paths will take different turns depending on what you choose here. The Federation stands at war with the Klingon Empire once more. Other races are taking their sides and there are the usual incursions from series mainstays such as the Klingons, Gorn, Species 8472 (Undine), and the relentless Borg.
The action, as you’d expect from a Star Trek title, comes thick and fast. As a Star Fleet Officer, I was thrust straight in to commanding my own ship, after a little on the ground training of course. The ship you are assigned at the beginning is the base vessel in its class and as you progress through the many relentless missions (do they not get shore-leave?) that are thrust upon you, you get the opportunity to upgrade bits on it. This is quite fun, trying to figure out what you can afford and which bits give you the best balance, but you want to be in the thick of it, right?
The missions themselves follow fairly standard patterns. You fly into Quadrant Space. While there, you use the ship’s Impulse Engines to glide towards the system you need to be in. Once you’re within a few Light Years of that System , you can then engage Warp engines and arrive at your given destination. This is probably the most pedestrian part of the game. I found the time spent flying the U.S.S Determination within a few Light Years of Vulcan and wherever else I needed to be, a bit of a waste of time. Surely, it would be more sensible to warp to the Star System, then Impulse your way to the necessary planet?
Semantics aside, once you’re in the vicinity of your target, the mission follows a pre-determined path. Your task is laid out and you’ll either battle and prevail against overwhelming odds or you’ll scan an area or sneak up on something and listen in. In most missions, you’ll lead an away team beam-down too.
The away missions, while ignoring Star Fleet orders that the Captain and First Officer shouldn’t be on the same away mission, are interesting. They reflect the more traditional MMORPG third-person perspective and will have you following the directions on your map in the HUD to given locations. Here you’ll get to shoot your phasers at the enemy while trying desperately not to allow your shields to run out of power. There is usually a small side-mission to complete, such as fire-control or placing spacial charges although it does feel like you’re led around by the nose a little for these.
Complete your away mission unscathed and you’re likely to have found yourself beamed back to your ship and under immediate heavy fire from an escaping enemy. In truth, the ship to ship combat is the best part about Star Trek Online. Once you’re in range, the enemy will usually engage you on-sight. This is a good and a bad thing all at once. There are a lot of times where you’ll be outnumbered, and your targeting computer will only target one enemy at a time. Don’t panic too much though, once that ship’s shields are down you can usually defeat it with a well-placed full-spread photon torpedo or two then it’s on to the next, as long as you have enough hull integrity and shields left yourself.
The in-space fights in Star Trek Online are aided by the fact that the graphics are fantastic. There’s nothing like gliding your vessel to a dead stop next to the Enterprise-D or the U.S.S. Defiant. I only wish there were more open-ended missions rather than the regimented forays you have to go on initially.
It’s early days for Star Trek Online though, and this may change as the game and community develops over time. For now, I’ll content myself with the hum of the warp-engines during the ‘factor 5’ sequence and leave the ring of phaser fire and photon torpedos in my enemies’ ears.
Star Trek Online is a good start to what could, hopefully, be the defining Star Trek title for many fans around the globe. It’s daring to push to that Final Frontier and with a little mission tweaking it could be one of the few MMORPG’s that hold my attention for more than a few months. Overall, the graphics are good, with some slightly dodgy character animation, but the starship visuals more than make up for it. The inventory and upgrade mechanics feel a little clunky, but I put this down to simply getting used to how it all works, and there are a lot of options to get used to in this huge universe.
Star Trek Online should be the go to Star Trek title of choice. It’s sumptuous starship visuals and intuitive space battles lend themselves well to the genre and while the away missions are a welcome change, it feels as if the character animations and mission mechanics needs a little tweaking to get them just right. That being said, with the title being free to play, it’s a great introduction to a different kind of MMORPG.