It’s hard to imagine that Star Trek: The Original Series had just 79 episodes when you think of just how much Roddenberry’s creation inspired entire generations. Innumerable inventions were posited over 50 years ago that are in common use today, including personal communicators, universal translators, handheld computers, and even video conferencing across long distances at the blink of an eye. Star Trek: The Next Generation saw a longer run at 178 episodes, inspiring a whole new generation. With 13 movies, several hundred books, comics, and technical manuals, five tv series runs, and the upcoming prequel series, Star Trek: Discovery, millions of fans would love a chance to sit at a console and captain the ship that gave life to their sci-fi imagination.
That opportunity has arrived.
Ubisoft’s Red Storm Entertainment has built something fellow Trekkies have only dreamed of — a completely new adventure where players can not only experience the roles of helmsman, tactical, and engineering, but also the big chair — as Captain of a starship. It’s every fan’s dream come true. Mike Dunn, Amy Purcell, Laura Burke, and I strapped on our VR headsets, decided who’d be handling each role, and embarked on our adventure to find out if Star Trek: Bridge Crew was worthy of this much hype, or if it was so much baktag (It’s Klingon – you look it up).
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” -Spock
I talked about playing with an entirely AI crew in my preview for the game, but in our testing we set out with a crew of three humans (well, one was Vulcan) and one AI-driven opponent — Lt. T’Nar. Before you pick out which seat you might want to inhabit, let me tell you a little bit about how each one contributes to the mission.
Each Officer in Star Trek: Bridge Crew has a distinct and important role. The Helmsman (think Ensign Crusher) is responsible for the movement of the ship, but don’t imagine this chair as a glorified bus driver. They are responsible for setting course for Impulse jumps, designating a path for Warp, dodging debris and mines, designating targets, keeping the phaser arc trained on foes (especially important when, as an example, the port phasers are offline), and can share beaming duties with the tactical officer. They are the lifeblood of the ship as being in the right place at the right time can mean the difference between life and death.
Tactical officers (think Lt. Worf) have control of the ship’s combat applications. They can also designate targets, load torpedoes into the two launch tubes, unleash bursts from the fore, port, and aft phaser banks, scan objects and other ships, and have an important duty around specific targeting and subsystem disruption. Most smaller ships are fairly fragile when compared to the firepower of the U.S.S. Aegis, but more powerful ship require a bit more work to take down. Tactical can target subsystems for phaser fire, causing direct damage to engines, weapons, and shield emitters. They also share duties with the Helmsman as, once a target is scanned, they can intrude into their computers, shutting down weapons, shields, engines, or communications (preventing them from calling reinforcements) for a short period of time. System intrusion has a cooldown, and every second counts when you are in combat. It’s amazing what an advantage direct hull damage can provide when you are tackling multiple foes.
Engineering is a crucial part of the efficiency and survivability of a starship. There are ten power nodes that can be allocated to Phasers, Engines, and Shields. Each of those three systems can have up to five nodes in each, creating a risk/reward tradeoff on how much power each one will have at a given moment. For example, putting five nodes into Shields allows them to regenerate faster and take more damage before they are bypassed and direct hull damage occurs. Similarly, each allocated power node provides and extra 1000 kmph in speed when given to engines. Phasers do the same damage at all levels, but the distance at which they can be unleashed from as short as 7km to as far as 20km at maximum power.
The Captain has a more nebulous role. With a four player game their role is what any good Captain is charged to do – make decisions. They choose whether to hold ground and take the hits with the shields lowerer to beam stranded travellers to safety, or they tell their team to raise shields and take the fight to the enemy. They pick the targets, relay the mission parameters, and issue orders to the team. Sure, the team could ignore those orders, but it’s to their own peril. When playing with less than a full human crew compliment, they are able to bring up a menu for each AI-occupied seat, issuing basic orders to each. Check out how three humans and one AI tackle the prologue mission below:
As you can see, there are deeper mechanics at some stations. For example, power routing (“I’m givin’ her all she’s got, Cap’n!”) at the Engineer station allows a player to cross-connect power from, as an example, phasers to engines for a little more speed. Further tinkering can wring out even more power, but all of it comes at a risk. Prolonged use eventually causes system damage, and taking weapons fire can cause extra damage to all connected subsystems. There is enough to keep you busy, no matter which seat you occupy.
“I changed the conditions of the test. I don’t like to lose.” – Kirk
The test of any good Starfleet Captain comes from training, and no scenario is more famous than the rescue of the Kobayashi Maru. There are five scripted missions, along with a prologue to help you learn the ropes. Each mission takes roughly 25 minutes to complete, provided you are successful (and mission 4 and 5 make that very unlikely without a very experienced crew). Before you can boldly go where no one has gone before, you’ll need to complete that final prologue test.
The mission, as most do, starts off simply enough with instructions to do some anomaly scanning — after all, the U.S.S. Aegis is, at its heart, a science vessel. Soon after, a distress call comes in, and after that it’s off to the races. You can tackle this prologue, and all five missions solo (you’ll have to play as Captain, but you can switch to whatever seat at will), or as part of a two, three, or four person cooperative crew. You can check out this four player tackle of the same prologue mission:
The math in your head bears out — that’s about five or six hours of story-driven missions, but that’s not the end of your continuing journey.
“The unexpected is our normal routine” – Riker
Ongoing Voyages is a randomized experience made up from several mission archetypes. Rescue, science, research, and combat types, or an “All” mode that can be elements from any or all of them come together to make up the remainder of the purported “40 hours of gameplay” Ubisoft advertised at E3 of 2016. Granted, you can play all of these missions from any seat, so there’s built-in replayability in simply changing roles. I don’t know if it’ll hit that vaunted 40 hour number, but I can tell you in the last 48 hours we’ve already logged 12 hours at the helm. Watch as we tackle the second campaign mission as a crew of four below:
“The computer is notorious for not volunteering information.” – La Forge
There is one thing that will reduce the number of hours played on this title — the AI. As I experienced in the build from about a month ago, the AI, while serviceable for early missions, is downright infuriating for later or more action-packed engagements. I frequently shoved Lt. T’Nar out of her seat to get repairs going as she’d leave repair crews servicing areas that were already at 100%, or worse she’d have three idle repair crews while the shield emitters were completely destroyed. She required constant supervision as, in the fourth mission of the game she let the warp coils go completely offline even though they were our only ticket out of the system alive, and on more than one occasion it seemed like she was asleep at her panel. Put simply, there’s no substitute for a human, and Lt. T’Nar will be joining Ensign Rao in the airlock. Watch this Ongoing Voyage mission with four crew members to see the game shine at its best:
Beyond occasionally painful AI, there are some technical hitches. We had some audio chop with four players, all of us with solid broadband speeds. It worked the vast majority of the time, and we never saw any lag issues, but in a game where communication is this important, it needs to be crystal clear.
We also noticed that the invitation to join a game is rather inconspicuously tucked inside of a menu screen. If you happen to receive an invitation while on the shuttle, it shows on a small screen for a few seconds, but it’s very easy to overlook. Another confusing quirk is that a game invite would appear on the left panel display, but was not clickable. Accepting the invitation required opening another menu screen and accepting it from a different spot on the right menu.
Mike Dunn encountered some show-stopping multiplayer issues with the Rift library version of the game, but was finally able to play using a Steam copy. Other than that, by all appearances there seems to be parity between the Rift and the Vive, but given the the more natural hand gesture nature of the Touch controllers it felt very awkward to flick the index finger with the trigger to select any action on the panels. While this works well for the Vive’s wands, on the Rift it takes a little getting used to and disrupts the immersion factor just a bit. All platforms also support a controller if you are inclined, and the PlayStation VR supports Move controllers, but movement controls are truly the best way to experience the tactile nature of Star Trek: Bridge Crew.
One thing which is truly impressive about this game is just how detailed and pretty it is. While humanoid figures are, understandably, a bit stiff, avatar’s mouths move when their player speaks, fingers change their positions according to how close or far they are from a command console, and with the exception of our lone PSVR player, players articulate emotions by flipping their wrists, pointing fingers, and clenching their fists. Having worked closely with the movie studios, both the bridge and the craft are detailed and accurate to the originals, plus or minus a few lens flares. The craft takes damage in real time, showing damage to the hull (“I’m sure that’ll buff right out”) even having ceiling compartments of the bridge spring open, spewing sparks and wires. If you’d like to see it all go wrong, there’s no better way than to show you a hull breach:
Beyond the craft itself, space is beautiful. Nebulas and stars of various colors loom in the distance. The sun belches solar flares, twin stars orbit each other in a slow dance, and strange anomalies radiate strange, hazy clouds of dust and gas, delighting your eyes while simultaneously eating way at your shields. Simply sitting in the menu, riding the craft towards the Aegis, drinking in the Earth as it looms large, and space just beyond, is almost worth the cost of the game in and of itself. The wonders of space are further magnified by a one-click command allowing any player to view the area from outside of the ship, allowing you to drink in the vastness of space, judge the size of the approaching Warbird, or just view the damage your ship has taken without obstruction. During play, we kept commenting about the beauty of the alien worlds before us, and coming out of warp is a thing of wonder.
“I have been, and shall always be, your friend.” – Spock
I cannot overstate just how amazing Star Trek: Bridge Crew is when played with friends. As the game gets tense, players embrace their roles and begin reflexively answering commands with “Aye aye, sir” and “Coming about, Captain” type responses. There’s something very visceral about it, and you really felt as if you were letting your crew down if you missed a command or forgot to scan a ship. As missions got more complicated and tense, everyone settled into their role and stayed calm and collected in the heat of battle. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, and role playing the part comes very naturally. Telling your crew to prepare for warp and then issuing the command to “Punch it” never felt so good.
Your review crew:
- Ron Burke
- Mike Dunn
- Laura Burke
- Amy Kay Purcell