Star Trek: Voyager Elite Force
Star Trek: Voyager Elite Force (ST:VEF) is not your typical Star Trek game and as soon as the cheering dies down, I’ll tell you why. While most of previous video games based on the Star Trek franchise have been commercially effective, it was a rare one that was better than mediocre. With such a rich universe and dozens of unique characters, it is surprising that the first Star Trek game in recent memory that really works is this first-person shooter game.
When the crew from the USS Voyager (the latest Star Trek incarnation and the only one still producing new episodes) defends itself from an attack by a hostile probe, the ship and crew get transported to a starship graveyard. It seems that a Bermuda Triangle in space is sucking up ships left-and-right and some conquest hungry aliens are behind it. Your character, Ensign Munroe, must help run odd jobs as part of a new Hazard Team. Whether the Captain calls for beaming to an alien vessel, fixing a leak in engineering, or defending the Voyager from cockroaches the size of Volvos, you’re her man (or woman). While both the story (and the newly introduced characters) are second-rate television material, they make for a quick-paced background to some heavy-duty action sequences. Though there is a little too much action for a typical Star Trek episode, there is a nice dose for a thinking-man’s action game.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
The actual controls and gameplay should be familiar to anyone who has played Half-Life, Quake, etc. (which means everyone reading this). You attack baddies, defend teammates, and hit switches while trying not to get killed. Being that there will be many fans of the show playing this game, I’m glad that the designers opted to have at least some quantity of real environment type puzzles. Not only do these decision points partially change what happens later in the mission, they provide a nice change of pace from mindless action game mechanics. While the quality of the puzzles compare favorable with a game like Half-Life, there were not enough of them to warrant a score as high as a game of Half-Life’s caliber. All in all, the game seemed a little brief, only taking me about 15 hours to beat on the lowest difficulty level.
Of course, multiplayer is encouraged -- this through the use of Quake style arenas, new character skins for all of the Star Trek characters, and some interesting themed levels. You can also play through the multiplayer levels against computer controlled bots if, like me, you have a slow Internet connection.
Using the new Quake III engine, ST:VEF looks amazing. Both smooth and detailed, the ships and characters are lovely to look at. Your teammates move around you, taking point, gesturing, opening doors, talking (watch their lips move!), and generally being helpful and a nuisance at the same time. The weapon effects are superb, with lightning crackling, phasers flashing, and your Personal Photon Torpedo Launcher (YES! You heard right!) causing burn marks on the walls. There are a few video scenes showcasing ships maneuvering or firing, but most of the cinematics are done within the Quake engine. None of the cinematics are spectacular, but they serve to forward the story. The scripted sequences that occur while you are playing, ala Half-Life, do much more to set the mood.
I may have been able to adjust the audio for better error-free playback, but as it was, the crewmembers' comments would often skip and stop abruptly. The quality of the actual voice acting was generally good, with the name actors doing their job enthusiastically. I had to groan at a few of the especially campy lines (come on people, even Star Trek: Voyager isn’t that campy), but most of the dialogue drew me into the idea that I was playing along with an episode of the show.
Pentium II 233Mhz, 8 MB 3D hardware accelerated video card, 64 MB RAM, and 650 MB hard drive space.
Just a little before the end of ST:VEF, there is one section that frightened the daylights out of me. Not one of those shock-induced jumps caused by monsters falling from the ceiling, but an actual case of the cold sweats. That was when I knew that ST:VEF was not just a great Star Trek game, but a really great game in general.