Close encounters of the nerd kind.
There are probably plenty of reasons why Star Trek has gone so low-key lately - maybe it’s parked on the other side of a moon, hidden in the satellite’s gravity wells! Maybe it’s hidden under a sex-pile of randy Tribbles! Maybe it’s because the last movie was god-awful and the shows have been weak since 1995! Supernerds, assemble and discuss!
Whatever the excuse, Star Trek
has gone stiff like rigor mortis
, stalking around for another breakout product. Take the latest launch
- CBS started polishing the original series with CG art and re-releasing them on weekends. It sounds like a pretty cool project, but where is the advertising? Who knew, who’s watching and who cares?
You could say the same about Star Trek: Encounters
, the first of three games announced under the new Bethseda license. It’s a fair spaceship game, but it’s very dry and will probably slip by unnoticed like most of Star Trek
Encounters is the least likely marriage of arcade-style shooters and the deliberate Star Trek action, but it works. It’s nice to play a Star Trek game with such direct control over the ship, with a bit of stealth and strategy to color the missions. There’s a good chance that shooter fans will find Encounters boring and Trekkies will miss the strategy game flavor, but I felt the piloting and tactics were streamlined extremely well for a game that only costs twenty dollars.
The game goes beyond point-and-shoot as you weave around evasively, cycling through your weapons and trying to keep your aim directed over enemy ships. Mines, tractor beams, and transporters add some variety to your arsenal, and you can prioritize systems like shields with one touch on the d-pad. It’s a handful at times but pretty engaging.
There are a few oddities: ships bounce off of planets and each other like bumper boats, and there’s some funky flying between three separate ‘planes’ or ‘heights’ in space. The ships mostly handle the same, but you’ll notice differences when you fly Klingon ships and other alien craft in the occasional level.
Twenty objective-based levels follow six major ships from the shows and books through the entire Star Trek
chronology. Each stage lasts at least twenty minutes (even the tutorial), ending with a performance rating based on number of kills, deaths and the like. Stat bonuses, multiplayer unlocks and collectible ship models offer reasons for perfecting each level, aside from just flying around in cool star ships.
The game is stingier than a Ferengi, though, when it comes to letting you play with those ships. Imagine you go to a car salesman to test drive a hot sports car. The salesman says sure, but first you have to spend up to nine hours driving every other car on the lot. Encounters forces you to play through each series in order until you can access the newer ships, and even those campaigns are too short. (Only two missions with the hot little warship? What?)
I hate to make it sound like a chore. The gameplay is certainly here, butthe game itself does nothing to draw you in. William Shatner delivers surprisingly muted, anonymous introductions to each episode before a series of anonymous text boxes explain your objectives. A little radio chatter would punctuate the action, but the game is deadly silent. Encounters throws a few hooks out there, like a planet-killer boss, but it doesn’t follow through. If I saw that planet-killer kill a planet, I would be interested in stopping it... but it doesn’t, so meh! Who stays with a game that can’t follow through like that?
The single player campaign is accompanied by three multiplayer modes: a straight-up face-off, a survival contest and a showdown between two teams of ships. It’s a little thin, but it’s well-connected to the single player game through unlockable content. The most modern ships you’ll see in multiplayer are those you’re currently seeing in the campaigns, and this game needs every reason it can muster to get you through those stale episodes.
Encounters looks alright, dropping a few pretty nebulas and stars in your flight path. The ship models are detailed enough to inspect in the extra gallery feature; the HUD is clear and minimal, but the colors can get a little too dull at times. The camera is a hyperactive, egotistical puppy - when it isn’t launching in the direction of your right analog stick, it’s zooming in for beauty shots of your ship. It makes for a pretty snapshot, but damned if you can see what’s happening around you.
Star Trek: Encounters can be fun but feels strained for a full title. I’d definitely love to see this again with voice acting and big multiplayer matches, because it’s fun to play. It would be even more fun, though, if I had more ships at my disposal earlier, in a campaign that weren’t so linear, or so dull. Still, for twenty bucks, this is a game worth probing.