May the Elite Force be with you.
When a game relies on one cool feature to support mediocre gameplay, we call it gimmicky. When a game has a couple cool features but still basic gameplay, we say it's decent. But when a game brings lots of cool features together and ties them into the beloved Star Trek universe, we call it Activision's new Star Trek: Elite Force II.
Developed by Ritual Entertainment, Elite Force II is a solid, fun first-person shooter. With the coolest boss battles this side of the MGS series, a detailed story supported by good writing, outstanding voice acting and multiple romantic endings, it's certainly a force to be reckoned with.
You play as Lieutenant Alex Munro, who at the beginning of the game single-handedly exterminates hordes of Borg, wrecks their ship and saves Voyager, which then makes it back to the Alpha Quadrant through a wormhole. You are part (and also the whole) of Tuvok's Hazard Team, a specially skilled squad created to deal with situations too hairy (or scaly) for a regular Away team.
Unfortunately for you, your teammates are morons and constantly need to be rescued, but fortunately for them you're armed like a Texan and have mad FPS skills.
Upon returning to the Alpha Quadrant, the team is split up and you get...a teaching position!? Swallowing your bloodlust, you wallow in the pedagogical mire until Captain Picard sees you for what you are - a god damned human apocalypse - and decides to put you and your team to good use on the Enterprise. Exploring first, burninating second.
The missions are mainly linear, straightforward affairs. While occasionally there seem to be different paths, actually taking them doesn't always work. Furthering this somewhat twisted sense of freedom are dialogue options used to create the illusion of choice without necessarily offering it. At one point you're taken prisoner, and your captor tells you to give him his girlfriend back or die. You can either say "OK, I never liked her much anyway," or "We don't trade...blah blah...Federation yackity shmakity..." As obviously wrong as the first answer seems, I thought it might anger my captor into doing something brash, like killing me or breaking stuff. However, upon saying "Take her" the game simply ends, and a screen tells you to pick your answers more wisely. It's quite disappointing. If the guy had killed me after I gave my answer I would have been satisfied, but just having the game mysteriously 'end' was irritating.
However, as far as romances go the dialogue options are well implemented if a little PG. Unfortunately, Elite Force II's dialogue options never deviate from the straight and narrow path of what a thoughtful, righteous Federation Lieutenant would say. I suppose that keeps him in character, but it also seems to limit the game a bit.
At any rate, Star Trek fans will appreciate the plot and attention to detail. The Trek universe really comes to life in Elite Force II.
The gameplay is standard for an FPS with lots of strafing and jumping and killing things. However, two things specifically set it above the fold: Bosses and level design.
There are several boss and sub-boss battles in Elite Force II, and they're all good (except for fighting the Nausicaan in the cage, which is way too easy). The best boss battle involves an aging Klingon and his war-machine; the guy has tons of weapons, takes forever to kill, is extremely aggressive and requires nearly all of your ammo. Very nice.
Most of the in-game scenarios are impressive as well. There's always a correlation between the plot and whatever you're doing at the time, so the gameplay never becomes dislocated. My personal favorite was going out onto the hull of the Enterprise and sniping Idryllians who were trying to hack into the ship's computer, and then manning a blaster photon cannon and destroying enemy ships. A one man army, all the way.
But the enemies don't really put up much of a fight anyway, at least in terms of AI. Elite Force II opts for the quantity over quality, so you'll find yourself exterminating wave after wave of moronic nasties rather than actually have to think your way through a smaller number of smart ones. It's too bad, as some strong AI would have really taken this game to inspired new heights.
The fifteen weapons make for some nice carnage. You get a federation issue phaser which never runs out of ammo, which you'd think would suck, right? Wrong - the alternative fire on the phaser packs enough punch to be useful throughout the game and is very helpful against regular enemies when you're running low on ammo. Nearly every weapon has two modes of fire, so there are plenty of ways to dispatch evil doers.
The puzzles in Elite Force II are fine if a little repetitive. The two main types involve your tricorder; one is basically Pipe Dream and the other has you manipulating some numbers to get a couple wavelengths to match up. The latter puzzles are very easy once you figure out how the parameters work, but some of the later Pipe Dreams puzzles are tough. The real meat of the game is the action, and the puzzles never keep you from that for long.
Graphically, Elite Force II is a mixture of good and great. The game runs on the Quake III engine and Ritual did a great job tweaking it to make it feel fresh.. Kleeya, the female Idryllian, looks amazing, by far the hottest video game chick I've ever seen. Hooray for softcore!
The same goes for the sound. The effects are fine but the music is sweet. Parts of Elite Force II (specifically the parts involving insects that chew through metal and have acid for blood) are straight out of Aliens and the music is appropriately intense. The voice acting is superb, with Patrick Stewart and the guy who played Tuvok lending their actual voices.
Elite Force II shoots par for the course by including decent multiplayer options. While not a new Counter-Strike, the game features some cool multiplayer arenas, even if the play modes are ubiquitous (Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and a Defuse the Bomb sorta thing).
Star Trek: Elite Force II is full of impressive features and offers very solid FPS fun. A strong sequel all the way, and with a little attention given to linearity and dialogue options/romances, this series could go where no FPS has gone before.