Star Trek Encounters tries to blend together the Star Trek universe and Geometry Wars into one game. Star Trek really hasn’t got its fair representation in video games, most of them being pretty poorly. Sadly, Encounters doesn’t really break the mold. Encounters feels like it’s a budget game, and in essence it really is. If you’re looking for a quick Star Trek fix, though, this game might be worth checking out. It hits up a lot of the little details, but with a fairly light approach, and doesn’t dig too deep into the source material. Just don’t expect anything groundbreaking.
The game is pretty detailed. It picks up on a lot of the appeal to Star Trek with it’s futuristic and uniform design of spacecraft. It does a good job of bring the Star Trek universe into the game as far as ship and base design. It doesn’t do such as good job on ambient space, however. Most of space is open and boring, and the few differences in the level are far from good looking. Despite the detail of the ships, most of it’s hard to enjoy the graphics, because they feel too bland. If you’re used to Playstation 2 level graphics, it should be on par with more titles.
The battle effects look very much like Star Trek, it’s just too bad the camera is zoomed out so far you can’t really appreciate the smaller details. Speaking of camera, you struggle with the camera a far bit in the game, and that can prove annoying. It doesn’t detract from the gameplay greatly, but occasionally you’ll wish the camera didn’t move so much away from centering on your ship.
The music captures the feel of the game fairly well, though it won’t inspire you to do heroic feats. It just makes you feel a little more at home for Trek fans. William Shatner provides his voice to the game, but it feels completely uninspired. Which is a feeling you get a lot throughout the game, so get used to it. As for the gameplay sounds, they are authentic and definitely add a lot when you’re doing battle with classic torpedo and phaser sounds. While the sounds are both solid and authentic to the traditional Star Trek universe, they also don’t really excite or inspire. They are also not used a enough, a lot of the time things are far too quiet.
If you haven’t played Geometry Wars, the concept is pretty simple. You control your ship with the Left Analog, and fire with the Right Analog. Instead of directly firing in Encounters, though, you aim your sensor grid. You in turn can fire your weapon manually, or lock on to multiple targets. Sadly, there is also blind spots on your ship where your sensors cannot sweep. This turns out to be a real pain in the neck when you are in the middle of a firefight, and are unable to target an enemy ship because you are not positioned just right.
Things don’t get much easier, you’ve got to control a lot of different aspects. You have to determine the plane a ship is one. There are three separate planes: upper, lower, and central. Sorting out which plane you should be flying on gets hard to manage, and whenever you let go of the button you revert to the central plane. You’ve also got to manage your ship health, power levels, and other little tweaks that aren’t properly explained. You never get a sense that changing any of the features makes a big impact, nor do you get a good HUD to show you your status. It just doesn’t feel that coherent. In the end the controls are simple compared to some Star Trek games, but somehow they still manage to confuse you.
The game is focused around the Episode mode, where you play through different Star Trek eras. It’s kind of unfortunate it’s a linear progression, and you can’t skip ahead to any era you want to play. You are constantly commanding new ships, which all have their own special traits that go along with them. This isn’t terribly exciting, as most of the ships actually feel very similar. It’s too bad they could differentiate a bit more. The plot and storyline is very light, and it’s hard to get immersed in the Star Trek universe.
There is more than just the Episode mode, though. You can setup various types of skirmishes, from deathmatch, to waves, to other rule sets. It’s pretty much the same principle: kill your enemy in a bland arena type atmosphere. You’ll probably want to stick with the Episode mode with a bit more variety in missions and some meaning to killing enemy after enemy.
Don’t expect a lot with the Episode mode’s variety, though. The mission design is particularly bad. It tries to establish different objectives and missions to make things have more variety. For example, you need to trace down “Warp Signatures” with your sensors to follow an enemy ship, or carry along a wounded ally with your tractor beam. Encounters fails to make these differences in missions any fun. Most of the time these added bonuses feel tacked on and lack any depth, making them more of an annoyance than an interesting change of pace. Then, the difficulty level of missions is really wonky; you constantly go from incredibly easy streches to ridicolously hard. Add to that an already bland mission structure, boring plots, and uninteresting visuals it’s hard to get too excited.
Getting down to the bone, though, combat can be pretty fun. The explosions are nice, and the sound effects definitely make battles feel pretty authetic. Add to this it should be fairly easy for new Trek fans to pick up and score some kills, it can have some light fun. Once you scratch the surface, however, you realize that the combat isn’t that deep, either. You can switch between Phasers and Photon Torpedos usually, and get a handful of other little tricks like mines, tractor beams, away teams, and more. While combat can be interesting from time to time, it also becomes very repetitive after awhile.
For $20, this game obviously isn’t trying to break any boundaries. It’s a quick fix for Star Trek fans. It does offer quite a bit of gameplay, though, and a bit of variety with several options. You can go head-to-head with your friends in a multiplayer mode. You can run through the Skirmish mode if your interested in fictional setups between certain types of ships. The game is focused on the Episodes mode, though, and you wish it were a bit more interesting.
For fans of Star Trek, it should be worth a look, especially for the price. Just be willing to live with the shortfalls of the game, and try to get your $20 out of it.