Star Trek: The Next Generation: Klingon Honor Guard
With So Many Quake-Style Games Due for release this year and so many using the same 3D engines, it's becoming increasingly obvious that to get noticed you've got to come up with something different. MicroProse plan to release two Star Trek games this year, both set within the Next Generation universe and both using the Unreal engine. First Contact will be similar in style to Generations in that it will loosely follow the plot of last year's movie and. true to the Star Trek ethos, the emphasis will not be on combat, but on exploration and puzzle solving. Klingon: Honor Guard, on the other hand, will be much more of a blast fest; although according to producer Jay Luss it will not be just another Quake clone in Next Gen clothing: "There will be a heavy strategy element in Klingon - it'll be more like GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64. You'll have to be careful about what you do; you'll have to have a strategy and use cover - not just go in guns blazing, or you'll just end up dead."
As well as taking full advantage of Unreafs impressive coloured lighting effects and getting to grips with the level designing tools, Luss and his team have been spending a lot of time developing character artificial intelligence routines: "At the moment we're working on different Al traits for different creatures," he enthuses.
"You've got your average grunt who'll just come after you and probably end up as blaster fodder, but you've also got Andorians who are a bit more intelligent. They'll weigh up a situation and act accordingly. If things look bad they'll go and get help and then come after you. If they get injured they'll go looking for health. If you stumble into a room they'll order the grunts to attack you, and maybe slope off to get reinforcements. The idea is that you'll really have to think about how you tackle these guys and be a little bit more careful about what you do or you're gonna pay the price."
Although Klingon uses the Unreal engine, it's definitely got a certain look about it. Like Generations, there will be loads of different environments to explore stretching over 20 levels that include ice caverns, space stations, a Klingon city, a space station and a detention centre. Was Unreafs superior level designing capability a factor in which 3D engine they decided to go with? "We went with Unreal over Quake II for a number of reasons. Basically Unreal is more feature-rich and it's got a good look to it - much better than Quake II. It's also got a good learning curve and the Unreal script is very good. We've been getting new builds all the time and we're very impressed with what can be achieved. Because we've got seven unique environments, each with their own particular look, we've had to include loads of different textures and effects, and the Unreal engine handles this really well. The Quake engine is undoubtedly quick and works well with confined levels, but there is a trade-off. Some of our levels are absolutely huge, and many are set outside. The Unreal engine may be a little slower, but it's more versatile and the overall performance is better. For example, we've got coloured lighting in software as well as hardware, and we've got inertia - when you're exploring the ice level you'll slip and slide all over the place. Unreal also allows us to go to town with the character design. We've got loads of frames of animation in there, and when you get up close you'll actually be able to see what kind of weapon a character is holding."
Pace and patience
A look at the screenshots on this spread should be enough to convince anyone that Klingon looks the business. The water and lighting effects are quite stunning, and the attention to detail is almost overwhelming. Ambient light flickers over creatures as they move about a room, and distant Klingon chatter can be heard echoing down corridors. The fact that the levels look quite different also gives you an immense sense of scale, and the feeling that you're walking around a world that's inhabited by living, breathing characters.
Klingon quite clearly isn't just another Quake clone. But what will make it stand out from Sin, Half-Life, Duke Nukem Forever and Daikatana? "We've obviously got a rich sci-fi world to draw inspiration from," argues Luss. "This is the first Star Trek action game and we're gonna make sure it kicks ass. The character Al is beyond anything else we've seen, and the way we're designing the game means that you'll have to really think about how you're gonna get through to the next level. Our characters will back off and shoot and run for cover, and if they think they've got the upper hand they'll come after you. Each level will contain certain Star Trek-style challenges and you'll have to achieve certain objectives to progress. We're really concentrating on the pacing of the game to give the player a new experience. Some levels you'll just have to go in guns blazing, others you'll have to use stealth - shoot out lights, hide, watch and wait. Some levels will have alarms, so you'll have to be extra careful to avoid getting noticed. It will be very different from Quake, believe me."
There are also plans for some pretty cool weapons and 'devices' that have been borrowed from other games and tweaked. "You've got your disrupter pistol and rifle, a flame thrower, a rocket launcher, a grenade launcher, a laser shotgun with two beams that split into six, a plasma weapon which is very similar to the BFG, and then there's your dagger. As well as using it for hand-to-hand combat you can throw it, and if you manage a direct hit you'll get an instant kill. We figured that as it's so hard to use we'd better reward you for trying! Also, you've gotta remember to pick it up or you'll just lose it forever," enthuses Luss.
"At the moment we're working on an anti-gravity belt, magnetic boots - as seen in the First Contact movie - which will allow you to walk up walls, and we've got three different types of camera that you'll be able to leave in rooms to spy on other players. There's a static camera, one you can move and one that moves and shoots, which will be great for ambushes in multi-player games. We've got loads of ideas to incorporate yet. It's gonna be great."
From what we've been privy to so far, it looks as though Klingon: Honor Guard will be more than a match for the numerous other Quake killers that are about to hit the shelves over the next few months. If the frame rate remains high once the levels are completed, the Al lives up to expectations and the rich Star Trek tapestry is fully absorbed throughout, it looks like we'll finally get a game that can compete with Nintendo's GoldenEye. Let's just hope they can pull it off.
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Editor Wells had a look at this in the States a few months ago, and returned home suitably impressed, surmising that it will be more than a match for the numerous other Quake-killers (as well as showing off his obligatory new trainers). A playable version has since turned up at Zone towers, and his prediction would appear to have been borne out, with the game already using up copious valuable man hours - and not just by those whose idea of fun is to attach a Cornish pasty to their foreheads and attempt to dislodge some particularly recalcitrant phlegm.
Here's the deal then - for non-Star Trek fans first. You are some bloke with an array of dangerous weapons at your disposal. By magic, you arrive at a series of extravagant and bewildering locations. There's little time for sightseeing though, as it transpires that everyone wants to kill you. These foes come in many shapes and sizes, encompassing crabs, dogs, scary monsters, flying robots and, of course, the aforementioned pastywearers (chin gloves and Chelsea boots optional). Your new-found enemies display varying degrees of intelligence and hostility, and if you're not careful you're going to get yourself killed, or at least have an eye out. Don't worry though, as you magically come back to life at the beginning of each location and do it all over again, using the experience of your previous lives to good effect, employing guile, cunning and superior firepower. Things blow up, there's claret all over the damn place, and the whole thing is a right old laugh. Smart.
T For Tedium
Now clear your throats for the Trekkie version (Trekkie, Trekker, dullard, virgin, whatever - get a bath). While training - supervised by Kurn, son of Mogh, brother of Worf - for induction into the Klingon Honour Guard, an assassination attempt is made on the Klingon High Council and its leader, Gowron. Korek, the leader of the Honour Guard, orders you to active duty in order to pursue the assassins to their safe house in the Klingon capital city. Once you have dealt with them, you learn from Korek that they had all recently escaped from the Klingon prison on the Rure Penthe asteroid - a highly unlikely feat. Insider help is suspected and you are dispatched to the ice world to investigate, along with Captain Kurn, who becomes your mission advisor.
Upon your arrival, a full-scale riot is in progress, seemingly instigated by the warden, who is heavily guarded. Take him out and you can examine the communication logs, confirming your suspicions and also revealing an incoming message from the Kor-Van, an Andorian freighter traced to a small-time smuggling operation on the planet Qualor 11, and headed by an Andorian called Thress... And so on and so forth. You get the picture: some easy tasks to get you used to the interface, and then the learning curve increases with some full-on missions, all the while maintaining the illusion of a fully immersive story, with dramatic cut-scenes preceding each task.
K Is For Klingon
By basing the game around the Klingons, the developers aren't restricted by the constraints of the human characters, only too aware that slaughtering Captain Picard, for instance, would probably cause a great deal of upset among nervous, shambling loners who keep their video collections in numerical order. They're on fairly safe ground with the Klingons though, and Klingon: Honour Guard is effectively a Star Trek spin-off movie starring you, the player, which, depending on your state of mind, could be one of the greatest things in your life, or simply an entertaining way of killing a few hours until the pubs open again. Basically, it's Star Trek: The Next Generation with the tedious dialogue and sexual undertones replaced by extreme violence and gratuitous bloodletting. In line with the pretend reality of the Star Trek universe, the blood appears in lurid shades of pink or green, depending on whose mutilated corpse it is oozing from. The early version that we're playing features an excessive amount, which will probably be tempered before the final build.
Another area currently causing contention is the d'k tahg dagger, which is the player's default weapon. Apparently, the BBFC (British Board of Film Censors) are concerned at the stabbing motion, worried that young children could attempt to emulate it -something that would certainly liven up double maths on a Monday morning. This is a bit of a curious quibble, considering that they are quite happy with the slashing motion, not to mention rocket launchers, grenades, bombs, and the killing of small dogs. This is, after all, a work of fiction.
The outcome has yet to be decided though, and it may turn out to be the case that the game receives an 18 rating, thus encouraging only adults to perpetrate heinous acts of violence, specifically against people with overtly furrowed brows and curiously deformed hands.
Harsh But Fair
For those prone to panic attacks if they're not watching BBC 2 at six o' clock on a Wednesday evening, the game has all the attention to detail any self-respecting compulsive obsessive could realistically hope for. Beard-fiddlers will immediately recognise the voices of veteran Klingon actors from the series, including Tony Todd as Captain Kurn, Robert O'Reilly as Gowron and Gwynyth Walsh as B'Etor. And there's more. You've got Andorians, Attack Droids, Chalnoths, Lethians and Nausicans. What ain't you got? You ain't got mates.
Big name licences can often be shit, and there is a lengthy list of movie tie-ins that have proven to be a case of hype over content. MicroProse appear to have found a healthy balance though, and the Star Trek endorsement isn't being allowed to detract from the action, or vice versa. Although Klingon: Honour Guard is extremely faithful to the Star Trek universe, more important is the fact that it's shaping up to be a very good 3D shooter, pushing the Unreal engine to its creative limits. You'll be able to decide for yourselves next month when we generously bring you an exclusive review and a playable demo. So check it out, you funk soul brutha.
We did the Star Trek comedy last month, so for now let's concentrate on the game (for the hard of thinking, it's a 3D action game based around Star Trek: The Next Generation). Fact: all 3D action games are the same, and only a liar, a charlatan or a cheat would claim otherwise. Doom, Duke, Quake... it's all the same meat, different gravy, ad infinitum. But as long as people buy them they will continue to be churned out at pace, constantly pushing the envelope further until it eventually implodes. As technology improves, and ideas are continually stolen and tweaked, it provides a perpetual evolution of what is basically the same idea.
Generally, it becomes a case of throwing in a token storyline and dressing it up in increasingly flamboyant trousers. For the time being, Klingon is sporting the finest pair of kecks in town, thanks in no small part to the all-singing, all-dancing Unreal engine, which has been further enhanced. The game is also boasting a hefty label in the form of the Star Trek licence. This has to be one of the most ideally suited tie-ins available, the two Cactivities' of PC gaming and Star Trek proving far from mutually exclusive (along with an insatiable appetite for pornography and the complexion of a pepperoni deep pan pizza).
So how have MicroProse gone about making their 3D action game stand out from the crowd? Well, the Unreal engine is as good a start as any. Klingon: Honour Guard is the first external game to utilise it, although the developers of Duke Nukem Forever recently made a late switch to it (allegedly after a representative spent two hours solidly playing Klingon at a recent trade show).
The engine is undeniably state of the art, and allied with MicroProse's tweaks it provides Klingon with all the graphical bells and whistles anyone could reasonably hope for. The prerequisite pyrotechnics are all present and correct, with the game featuring all manner of elaborate explosions as well as more coloured lighting than the inside of a madman's head. Realistic smoke effects, impressive underwater tomfoolery, and intricate architecture all add up to a graphical feast. If looks great. And smart. And ace.
But what game doesn't look fab these days? With the advent of 3D acceleration, any old monkey can toss out an outstanding-looking game, and extravagant eye candy is increasingly taken for granted. Although Klingon is definitely one of the best-looking games yet, it is still only one example of many varying degrees of excellence. So what makes it so good (seeing as you've clearly already checked the score, you idle scum)?
What it comes down to is cunning design, novel features, innovative implementation and good old-fashioned story telling. Reading between the lines of most plots, they generally revolve around legging it round some improbable locations, picking up carelessly discarded keys and letting yourself in. If anyone challenges you, shoot them in the face with a dangerous weapon -also left lying around - carve them to ribbons with a sharp instrument, or bludgeon them repeatedly about the head and neck with either an impromptu club or your bare fists. Of course, Klingon doesn't deviate wildly from this template, but it does at least attempt to make some effort to validate it.
Thanks to the heritage afforded by the well-established Star Trek universe, the action is entwined around an elaborate story, taking you to a variety of disparate locations, encompassing seven different types of environment. There are 19 missions in total, spread over 26 different maps. But rather than simply throwing you into the action without warning, high production value cut-scenes describe the task ahead in detail, while uncovering further elements of the unfolding story. It really does feel as though you are part of an ongoing saga, and to all intents and purposes it is an interactive movie, although without the tedious pre-rendered Dennis Hopperness that this usually entails. The cut-scenes are presented either through video clips from the Holodeck, or using the game engine, with both methods seamlessly melding the action to the story.
Of course, the cynic could argue that if you want a story, you should buy a book. Thankfully, Klingon: Honour Guard is far more than a glorified fairytale.
The action is on a par with any of the recent 3D shoot 'em ups, and the combat can be incredibly fierce, as well as extremely realistic. Different characters have applicable Al traits, so some will simply lunge wildly at you with seemingly no concern for their personal well-being, whereas others will duck for cover, raise the alarm, or - if they've got any sense - run away screaming like a virgin. It all adds up to some involving skirmishes, with the close-combat stuff proving particularly effective, imparting a real sense of violence.
Stealth also plays a crucial part: sneaking up behind someone and plunging a dagger into their back is at least as effective as a volley of gunfire, and furthermore it doesn't attract unwanted attention. As for the locations, they clearly rule, and also fail to suck. The detail and variety is impressive, encompassing such tackle as the bleak ice world of Rure Penthe, a Klingon Bird-of-Prey and a fully working city, replete with a railway station, a shop, a nightclub and even a whorehouse. It all adds to the impression that you are inhabiting a real world, with people going about their daily business. The dirty, filthy Klingon scum can be observed getting pissed up and generally doing Klingon nonsense, quite happily carrying on with their lives until they are alerted of your presence.
On the novelty front, a lot of very cool touches make for some interesting action. For instance, if you inadvertently throw your dagger into a wall out of reach, shooting it with a pistol will knock it to the floor, enabling you to retrieve it. This won't necessarily endear you to the opposite sex, but is a nice touch nevertheless. Also, wingmen are included in the form of Bot-style reinforcements, which can be called in for a limited time to help you out of particularly tricky situations.
Gadget-wise, a Tricorder enables you to detect enemies through walls and floors, buying a few crucial seconds. Also, some handy combat goggles provide three levels of zoom, facilitating some nifty sniping action. The anti-gravity boots are another rare treat, enabling you to perfect your Lionel Richie impression. Conversely, if you're not wearing mag-boots when strolling around the outside of the space station, you'll get sucked into the black void of space and die.
Throughout the game, your character displays plenty of Klingon attitude, laughing maniacally and barking all manner of nonsensical phrases. Ultimately, though, what makes the game is the tension. Your heart beats like a mother as your health reaches worryingly low levels, in the knowledge that trouble is always around the corner and death is never more than a slap away.
The Star Trek series has spawned some shit games, and a first-person shooter is the one everybody has been waiting for. It's a beautiful thing, and fans of the genre will find plenty to keep them occupied until the next so-called Quake-killer arrives.
For the Star Trek devotee, Christmas has come early and Klingon: Honour Guard will have you making like a chimp for the foreseeable future. As for normal people, it's almost enough to make you watch an episode of Star Trek. Almost.
There's Little Doubt That The Star Trek: The Next Generation licence is very lucrative and MicroProse are obviously very keen to hold on to it. The thing is, licences can be as limiting as they are fruitful. In the case of ST:TNG, not only do the cast get final approval on how their characters look on-screen, but everything has to be passed under the hypercritical eye of Paramount to ensure that the licence isn't harmed or damaged in anyway. In other words, the crew can't act out of character in any way, so they'll never be involved in merciless killing or deathmatch shenanigans -they'll kill the Borg, but only when it's necessary. And that's part of the reason why Klingon Honour Guard is being developed. People want to run amok in the Star Trek universe blasting everything in sight - they want Star Trek Quake, and that just wouldn't wash with Paramount. As a result, the developers have decided to use the UNREAL engine to create a game set within the Star Trek universe, but features none of the characters from the series. Yep, they've gone Klingon.
The action begins with the player engaged in advanced training supervised by Kurn, son of Mogh, brother of Worf. The final training mission is halted when assassins attack the high council and the player receives their first 'real' mission: to battle their way to the final level and find out who is responsible for the assassination attempt. In other words it's a full-on blast and hack fest (the player is able to blast their opponents with disruptor fire or fell them with vicious hat'leth strikes).
A quick play around one of the early levels was enough to confirm that Klingon should more than satisfy most Trekkies, with 15 expansive levels including space stations, starships and alien cities and nine weapons, five of which have been created especially for the game and according to MicroProse's Derek Leish "The look, sounds and weapons of the Klingon Empire will be recreated to exacting detail." There'll also be two modes of play: a plot-driven campaign and multi-player deathmatch mode which will support modem, LAN and Internet play. The polygon characters look crisp and well animated compared to the voxel-based characters that are being used in MicroProse's other Star Trek: TNG game, First Contact, and the environment looks as good as any other game that uses the UNREAL engine.
The release date is far off and the game is still going through the play-test mill while the programmers chew on new ideas. According to playtester Ken Schmidt they're hoping to achieve something on a par with the awesome GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64: "We need to distinguish ourselves from all the other first person shoot 'em ups out there. It's gotta have replay value, especially in single-player mode. If we can keep people playing it once they've completed, we'll know it's a good game."