Star Trek: Elite Force 2
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Call Me a purist, but there was something very wrong about the best Star Trek game available being based on one of its weakest TV incarnations. Voyager - Elite Force might have surpassed the plethora of mediocre-to-atrocious Trek games we'vthad to put up with in the past, but that doesn't excuse having to listen to Captain Janeway between missions. So when it was announced that the sequel would cast off its matronly-skippered guise and settle instead on the glowing baldness of one Captain Picard, the world cheered with enthusiasm. Well, I did anyway.
The only cause for concern might have been the more dubious move from developer Raven to Ritual Entertainment, a company that hasn't produced much of interest since the ancient SiN. The use of the increasingly dated Quake III Arena engine was another area of worry. Having played the game to completion in its Beta form though, we can already confirm that Elite Force II is every bit as good as Raven's effort, and in some ways a whole lot better.
In fact, the first thing that strikes you when you first play it, is just how similar to the first game this is, with all the small refinements and improvements you expect from a sequel. As before, you command the elite Hazard Team, sent out to do all the violent, dirty jobs those alien-hugging Federation officers won't touch. The first mission works as a transition between ships, set as it is in the Borg sphere seen in the very last episode of Voyager before they finally reach Earth. Unfortunately, the inside of a Borg ship isn't the best place to start a game: very small corridors, identical looks to the original (it almost feels like a cut and paste job) and enemies that have been so overused you can't be bothered to shoot them any more.
Things improve almost immediately though, as the story element kicks in and you find yourself consigned to a teaching job at the Starfleet Academy, a beautifully realised campus that you can explore at your leisure before being spotted by the eagle-eyed Picard. It's a shame more of the game doesn't take place here, as the outside locations under a pleasant blue sky would make an excellent - and different - arena for repelling alien invaders.
Nevertheless, the move to the Enterprise continues the feeling of freedom and exploration, although, like Voyager before it, it's a shame so much of it is reduced to corridors with doors that don't open. Despite the real voice of Patrick Stewart as Picard (listen out too for Dwight Murdock Schultz reprising his Barclay role as well as the great Jeffrey Combs), it doesn't really feel quite as it should, partly because Voyager's irritating Tuvok is the only other major character (taking a temporary post here now that Voyager has disbanded), and because the Enterprise we all know from the TV series was destroyed a few films ago.
Still, your first mission inside Federation space puts you in classic episode territory: exploring a friendly vessel discovered drifting in space, with its crew either missing or dead. It's not quite System Shock 2, but the atmosphere builds up nicely as you discover bodies floating in the zero gravity and catch glimpses of whatever did the damage fleeing just out of the corner of your eye.
But elsewhere, atmosphere usually takes a backseat to pure action. Whether it's crawling alien creatures, Romulans, Klingons or some of the other species (details of which we're forbidden to divulge), the job is to blast (or, even better, vaporise) them out of existence.
The action takes place in several locations, expanding the original game's scope to include more away missions and outside settings. The best parts though, are the ones in familiar surroundings: battling some intruders on the bridge of the Enterprise with Picard by your side and taking a zero gravity spin on the outside of the ship's hull.
But while the whole thing is much longer than the first game, it doesn't often degenerate into non-stop mouse-button bashing, preferring instead to develop the story, add a few twists and generally keep you on your toes in more than the action department.
Not that there's anything approaching a proper, meaty puzzle (what game has anything like that these days?), but much of your time is spent exploring alternative routes and finding ways to take down force shields. Because of this, the tricorder plays a much more prominent part, providing information on anything you want to scan, detecting trip-wires and cloaks and pointing you in the direction of the next objective.
If You Hit Him Go To Page...
One of the best features in the first Elite Force (and one not all players realised was there) was the way certain actions forked the story slightly in two directions. So, for example, in one mission I was meant to rescue a fellow officer. I failed and received a bollocking from Tuvok, as well as reproaches from my teammates for the rest of the game. I thought it was just scripted to happen that way and that the rescue was in fact impossible. It wasn't until I went back much later that I realised it was possible, and that the outcome changed people's reactions from then on.
For a while I thought this had been removed from the sequel - after failing to rescue someone in the first mission it was game over. But in fact, the device had been developed even further, with certain key moments offering a choice of dialogue responses that shape your relationship with other characters.
The Light Fantastic
It's subtle things like that - and the addition of some diverting sub-games - that make Elite Force II a bit more than another licensed hack job. However, these are the kind of details that will only be noticed by those looking for them. For the rest, Elite Force II is likely to be seen primarily as a straightforward, if enjoyable, shooter, with the small difference of sci-fi weaponry rather than the conventional machine-gun arsenal. This is quite a big difference you might think, especially when you consider that laser blasters, phasers and other futuristic arms (including those in Voyager and the Jedi Knight titles) are often deeply unsatisfying. How can you compare the sense of realism you get when a solid piece of metal thunders out of your gun barrel and ricochets off a wall into an enemy's yielding flesh with a bright beam of light that resembles nothing more a powerful torch beam?
Luckily, this is something Ritual has obviously taken into consideration, and the weapons in Elite Force II are by far the best of their type, beefed up for a greater feeling of solidity. Apart from the usual phaser and compression rifle, you get to play with an assault rifle (which has the nice punch of a shotgun to it), infinity modulator (the weapon from the first game that no Borg-fighter can do without), sniper rifle, grenade launcher, lightning gun (not only fires bolts of electricity, its secondary fire lets out a stream of gas that can be ignited for maximum burn value), quantum burst torpedo (a rocket launcher that can be guided) and radiation gun (the ultimate weapon here).
While there's plenty that will appeal to the general shooter audience - and not just a hardcore sci-fi fanbase - it's issues like these than make Elite Force Il's battle against its rivals more of a struggle. After all, how can a game that uses the Quake III engine and is closely modelled on the first Voyager outing compete with giants like Doom III and Half-Life 2? The answer, of course, is that it doesn't even try. Ritual hasn't set out to change the face of the action genre or introduce any groundbreaking gameplay concepts. All it wants is to create a solid and enjoyable experience, with enough violence to keep shooters happy and enough story and details to keep Trek fans the same way (most will be content with the moment when you can ring Picard's door and hear the familiar shout of Come!).
In that respect it looks like the developers are on course to achieve their target and, if the almost complete build we played is anything to go by, the June release date looks a dead certainty. There's a playable demo floating around the Internet so download that and decide for yourselves.
This Is A Man's World
But It Don't Mean Nothing Without...
Voyager- Elite Force not only had a Margaret Thatcher helming your ship, it also offered you the chance to play as a male or female character, both called Alex Munro. This was really only an aesthetic choice, but it's still sad to see the option absent this time round. It's a lazy mistake, since it was definitely much more fun playing as a girl, especially when you got to 9ee yourself in the mirror. Surely another skin and a different set of voice recordings would have been a small price to pay to keep her alive. Still, it does mean that Ritual has been able to develop your relationship with the other members of the Hazard Team without any gender misunderstandings.
Multiplayer Stays In The Holodeck
Although it would have been nice to see the online side of Elite Force II move on from what was essentially a Quake III mod, there are at least some new modes to look forward to. The main one is the Bomb Disposal one, which is basically a plant the bomb scenario, though here both teams have a device to plant. There is a Modifier in which the job of the other team is simply to defuse though. Other Modifiers include Disintegration (aka instagib). Control Points, Elimination and Specialities, in which runes collected give you a specific character class (infiltrator, medic, technician, demolitionist, heavy weapons or sniper). Other than that there is the usual assortment of deathmatches and capture the flags.
Download Star Trek: Elite Force 2
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Want Fries With That?
The story, too, falls some way short of being highly engaging. The main problem remains that this is essentially just another run-of-the-mill shooter, where the plot elements and attempts at fitting it all into the Star Trek universe hang rather uneasily around the gameplay. Folks may enjoy drinking McDonalds milkshakes out of a Star Wars themed container, but the Yoda head doesn't change the contents. It's all just fancy wrapping, is it not?
What's more, not everyone can use the same engine as a three-year old game (tweaked, of course, as these things are wont to be) and expect it to look great. Some developers, like Raven, might be capable of still making the Quake III engine look good, but for nearly everyone else it's just about had its day. And when you're using it to create lots of small corridors and brown alien worlds that fog in the near distance (rather than the blue-skied open settings of Medal Of Honor, for example) it's all the more noticeable.
However, being able to walk down the Enterprise, catch a turbolift to sickbay, stop by the holodeck and make your way to the bridge before visiting the captain will give fans something to cheer about, and it's touches like these that lend the game some character. However, the only recognisable characters are Picard, Barclay and an interloper from Voyager, Tuvok. It's nice to see such friendly faces, but it would've been even nicer to see Riker strutting his ridiculous John Wayne gait, Data tilting his head as he fails to understand yet another joke, Troi wearing tight outfits and experimenting with accents, and LaForge banging his fist into the palm of his other hand in a further example of the gee-whiz, Adam 'original Batman' West school of bad acting. But I suppose you can't have everything.
And while it's always good to have some downtime between missions where you can just explore and listen to officers chatting, the immersion is cut short by the old trick of making most doors inaccessible and having little to interact with. But at least the effort to provide some freedom has been made, and this effort should be applauded (if quietly). But, of course, creating a game that could rival Deus Ex or Morrowind in depth is usually well beyond the reach of a licensed title.
Prepare To Engage
In line with the rest of the game, the enemy Al is solid yet unspectacular. Your most challenging (and most recognisable) opponents comprise of the Borg, Romulans and Klingons, all of which display an admirable if never overly-challenging level of Al. You'll see them taking cover, popping up and firing off a few rounds, and then taking cover again - or running away when they feel they are outnumbered. The Borg, of course, will simply walk at you, adapting to your weapons and generally scaring all and sundry out of their wits. But we're used to that. What's more, you'll also come across some bosses who, although tough, shouldn't cause you too many problems, and are generally fairly easy to dispatch with the wide array of weaponry at your disposal.
As in the first game, the best moments here are the occasional big firefights, where a spectacular laser battle ensues against a horde of enemies while members of the Hazard Team fight by your side. These are all-too rare, though. You're either trailing off on your own or sharing a narrow corridor with a couple of teammates (who will irritate you very quickly with their propensity for shouting out "There's another one!" over and over again). What adventuring there is falls under the usual FPS hokum equivalent of a puzzle. You find a locked door and then someone explains that you have to find a terminal to restore its power.
At least the tricoder is used often enough, and there's one very interesting mission where you infiltrate a base disguised as a Romulan (with their version of a tricoder). The idea - used to such good effect in several episodes - adds some much-needed variation.
Still, there's no denying Ritual has achieved what it set out to do: deliver more of the same but in bigger doses. And for the most part, there's nothing too wrong with the whole package, as it does provide plenty of action over a series of levels packed with varying Star Trek baddies. And if that's what you're after, you'll probably just about walk away satisfied when it's all over. In fact, it's unlikely anyone will feel cheated or too disappointed if they walk into the shop, look on the back of the box and pay their $30 smackers for this game. Unless there are still some people out there who harbour delusions about the integrity, originality and creative power of this industry.
Where Every Other Game Has Gone Before
With such a rich universe to draw from, the biggest missed opportunity is Ritual's failure to produce anything other than a standard FPS. At its worst, this is hardly distinguishable from hundreds of others and reduces the whole 'boldly go' agenda to wiping out thousands of aliens. And getting to fight off invaders alongside Picard on the Enterprise bridge doesn't make up for it Since that is exactly what Ritual was hired to do though, the most glaring missed opportunity is that the Starfleet Academy level (easily the best looking, with an expansive outdoor setting with blue skies surrounded by buildings) is just somewhere to spend a few uneventful minutes. It would have been great to fight off an invasion on those grounds, fighting alongside panicking cadets.