Star Trek in video games: Elite Forces and Bridge Commanders

Between Star Trek’s cinematic debut in 1979 (which featured three Oscar nominations, by the way), to the travesty of a game-based-on-the-rebooted-movie in 2013, we’ve been treated to a mixed bag of games of varying quality. With Star Trek Beyond releasing this past Friday, I felt it would be appropriate to revisit some of the ‘Trek games I’ve enjoyed over the years, so what follows is a list of Star Trek games that is neither comprehensive, nor a “best of the best” list. Instead, this is a random set of games in whose worlds I, along with many other Star Trek fans spent more than a few dozen hours inhabiting.

The point-and-click years

Star Trek The Next Generation - A Final Unity

Star Trek The Next Generation - A Final Unity

The first Star Trek game I ever played was Interplay’s 1992 adventure game, Star Trek: 25th Anniversary. Gene Roddenberry’s wonderful vision of a utopian future translated well to the most popular genre of game in the early nineties: the point-and-click adventures. Seamlessly transitioning from the Enterprise’s bridge to an away team on a planet surface, Star Trek: 25th Anniversary (ST25A) really made players feel like they were a part of the TV shows or movies. I mean, it had its problems—space combat could be unreasonably difficult, and away team missions featured some insta-deaths which can make Dark Souls look like a LucasArts adventure.

Actor DeForest Kelley's last performance as Dr.Leonard McCoy was in Star Trek Judgment Rites

Actor DeForest Kelley's last performance as Dr.Leonard McCoy was in Star Trek Judgment Rites

1993’s Star Trek: Judgment Rites fixed all its predecessor’s problems, with optional space combat which also featured adjustable difficulty, and a story arc which spanned the whole game (unlike the independent episodic arc of Star Trek: 25th Anniversary). The CD-ROM versions of both ST25A and Judgment Rites features voices from the original cast. It’s also interesting to note that it was in Judgment Rites that actor DeForest Kelley last played the role of Leonard “Bones” McCoy.

The crew of the Enterprise is always preparing for imminent death in Star Trek 25th Anniversary

The crew of the Enterprise is always preparing for imminent death in Star Trek 25th Anniversary

A couple of years later, Picard and co. would get their due. Spectrum HoloByte’s Star Trek: The Next Generation – A Final Unity would make its way to personal computers everywhere. In addition to bridge combat and away missions, A Final Unity also added diplomacy, a tactical layer and an open-world exploration system. Before Mass Effect, A Final Unity allowed you to travel to various systems and bases. Players could learn more about the world of TNG from Data’s Ops console, and free exploration of the Enterprise was possible — visit everything from the holodeck to engineering and the transporter room.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine - Harbinger had its fair share of issues

Star Trek Deep Space Nine - Harbinger had its fair share of issues

The transition to first-person was inevitable. The 1996 PC game, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Harbinger, saw this happen. DS9 is widely regarded as the most complex of the Star Trek shows, given that it often dealt with dark and sometimes controversial subject matter. In Harbinger, the player did not take control of one of the members of the crew, but instead, as an envoy who’s been assigned to Deep Space Nine upon the discovery of a new race in the Gamma Quadrant. Unfortunately, as with any nascent technology, the 3D tech in Harbinger didn’t look great then and it has aged poorly. Thematically, the game does justice to the DS9 license, and while the adventuring elements such as solving puzzles and conversing with characters is great, the action sequences ultimately let it down.

The strategy years

In the mid-to-late nineties, everyone was pretending to be a military general. The influx of real-time strategy games such as Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft and Starcraft series as well as Westwood’s Command & Conquer saw everyone trying their hand at it.

Star Trek Armada - Formulaic strategy gaming on a galactic scale

Star Trek Armada - Formulaic strategy gaming on a galactic scale

Needless to say, the RTS years were Star Trek’s least original period. Having said that, Star Trek: Armada (Activision, 2000) and Star Trek: Armada II (2001) were definitely enjoyable experiences for Trekkies despite being largely formulaic. Star Trek plots are generally well written (particularly in the later years of The Next Generation), and Armada did well to borrow elements from TNG, DS9 as well as the movies. Playable factions included the Federation, Borg, Romulans as well as Klingons. Players could fulfill their lifelong dream of amassing fleets of vessels and wage war on a galactic scale

It wasn't hard to shamelessly enjoy Star Trek - Away Team

It wasn't hard to shamelessly enjoy Star Trek - Away Team

Someone at Activision, who owned the rights to publish all Star Trek games from the late nineties to the mid-2000s had also played X-COM and Eidos Interactive real-time tactical game Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, it would seem. This led to the misstep of Star Trek: Away Team (which I will admit without shame to enjoying thoroughly). Widely panned, Away Team was a poor attempt at bringing Commandos style gameplay to the Star Trek universe. But its characters had way cooler abilities such as Vulcan mind meld, cloaking equipment or the literal ability to set phasers to stun/disintegrate. And you beam down to mission locations. Sold? Well, I was, and I would still recommend it to anyone who can put up with no enemy AI and lack of any attempts at meaningful storytelling.

Starfleet Command & Bridge Commander

Star Trek Bridge Commander is the definitive space combat game set in the Star Trek universe

Star Trek Bridge Commander is the definitive space combat game set in the Star Trek universe

The Interplay (and later, Activision) published Starfleet Command games are the definitive starship simulation experiences set in the Star Trek universe. The games were unforgiving, featured a steep learning-curve, and yet were able to deliver a rewarding, galaxy-conquering experience at the end of a campaign. By the time Activision published Starfleet Command III in 2002, the series was finally made accessible. Aside from the difficulty, my only gripe with the series was the lack of fast-paced space battles—something Star Trek: Bridge Commander accomplished with great success.

The Starfleet Command games were notorious for their steep learning-curve

The Starfleet Command games were notorious for their steep learning-curve

Bridge Commander for me, is Star Trek’s TIE Fighter. Putting the player in the shoes of an Imperial pilot, TIE Fighter featured exceptional storytelling filled with galactic conspiracies and combined it with immersive space combat missions, making it arguably the greatest game of its kind. Star Trek’s space battles aren’t the same, however, often featuring the equivalent of Star Wars’ ‘Capital’ ships waging immense battles against each other. Everything from the scale of starship combat, the attention to detail on the bridge, and sheer complexity of the game’s mechanics really made players feel like they were in control of a starship. Issue orders to individual stations or take direct control of the USS Dauntless and USS Sovereign. Star Trek: Bridge Commander still holds up reasonably well despite being 14 years old—too bad it’s nearly impossible to get a hold of a copy.

Years of Pew-Pew

The Star Trek Elite Force games were good modern shooters in the early 2000s

The Star Trek Elite Force games were good modern shooters in the early 2000s

The late nineties also saw the birth of the modern first-person shooter, and Star Trek wasn’t going to be left behind. Just as Star Trek: Voyager was concluding its run of 7 seasons, Raven Software and Activision capitalized on the show’s popularity with the release of Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force, a first-person shooter. The highlight of the game was the single player campaign (the game also featured a 32-player multiplayer mode), featuring a story tied into the plot of Voyager’s sixth season. Playing as a member of Voyager’s elite security team (‘Hazard Team’), Elite Force will see you undertake a variety of missions featuring skirmishes against popular Star Trek foes including the Borg and Klingons.

Elite Force’s sequel, the cleverly named Star Trek: Elite Force II improved on its predecessor in every conceivable way, with better graphics, gunplay and atmosphere. Borrowing a trick or two from Half-Life’s book, Elite Force II featured sections of exploration and puzzle solving (using your tricorder), inevitably leading to combat of some kind. The story tie-in was great, once again, with player-character Alex Munro being assigned to the Enterprise after his/her stint with Voyager.

The Elite Force games, I would argue were great games on their own, and would have been just as well received even without the Star Trek label attached to them. They were developed by studios with a pedigree in creating first-person shooters. The first game was developed by Raven Software (Hexen, Heretic, Soldier of Fortune, Quake 4), while the second by Ritual Entertainment (SiN).

Star Trek Online is a mediocre Free to Play MMO

Star Trek Online is a mediocre Free to Play MMO

While you can download the mediocre free to play MMO Star Trek Online on Steam, a lot of these games are not available to purchase as a result of intellectual property issues between Paramount and Activision. You can find some of them on Steam and gog.com as well, but your best chance to get a hold of the rarer kind would be via eBay or Amazon. Incidentally, there’s a PC copy of Star Trek: Armada 2 on sale for a whopping Rs 41,400 if you’re interested.


Published Date: Jul 23, 2016 03:12 pm | Updated Date: Jul 23, 2016 03:12 pm