Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Quick Take: Star Trek Bridge Crew

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 31, 2017

Many years ago, my wife won a free pass to a cool starship group experience. This was back before things like escape rooms were a thing, but it was a similar (but more expensive) idea. A big ol’ trailer was set up as the bridge of a starship, everyone was given a tunic and instructions on how to play their role, and you got to go on a space adventure reminiscent of Star Trek. It was hella fun. But… if it hadn’t been for the free pass… it would also have been hella expensive. Okay, maybe not as expensive as taking the whole group out to an amusement park for a day (and definitely not as expensive as buying a VIVE VR set), but still not something you can afford to do on a whim.

A little closer to home, there’s the Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator. Sort of the same idea, but for a LAN party. I’ve had licenses for this thing forever, but I’ve only ever played the demo in a group. Of course, in the end, it’s just a bunch of laptops in a LAN party, maybe with a big screen set up as main view screen. Cool, but it’s kind of an event. And of course, it is its own thing… reminiscent of Star Trek, but from a legally safe distance.

Enter Star Trek: Bridge Crew. It’s what both of these experiences were, but taking advantage of Virtual Reality, internet play, and of course, the official Star Trek license. And from what I was able to play in about an hour and a half (solo), it’s really cool. I can’t wait to try it “for real” in multiplayer.

The beginning is … breathtaking. Seriously. It starts you in a shuttlecraft with a lot more window than usually seen in Star Trek, and you are circling around the NX-1787 Aegis docked at a space station. Suddenly, that extended Enterprise flyby scene from Star Trek: The Motion Picture doesn’t seem so bad. This serves as the main menu, where you can customize your virtual avatar and select your game. I guess I’m not totally jaded yet, because I still feel like I could just hang out in that virtual reality shuttle for a while and just enjoy the flyby.

You can play the game with a regular game controller (XBox compatible for the PC), but it’s really designed for hand-based controllers.  They act as your avatar’s hands. you move and rotate your hand to what you are going to touch, and pull the trigger to activate it. Other controller functions allow you to bring up a label overlay for your system, or bring up an order menu or a game menu.

There is a tutorial where you can learn each of the four available stations. These are helm, tactical, engineering, and of course the captain. The helm is for flying the ship in local space, and for navigating with impulse and warp engines. The tactical station is for managing shield and weapon systems, targeting, and performing scans. The engineer gets to manage power systems (including some simple but dangerous power-rerouting if need be), and repair crews. There are also some “floating” tasks that any of these three stations have access to (whoever isn’t swamped at the moment), including using the transporters and system intrusion (basically cyber-warfare…).

The captain has access to an overview of all of this, but little direct control. Instead, the captain gets an interface to give everyone else orders, change the main viewscreen, answer hails, and get the “big picture” from Starfleet with all the objectives and subtasks. Sometimes there are contradictory objectives or objectives with time limits, so it may not be possible to do everything… and the captain has to make the hard decisions. The captain can also temporarily take control of a station manned by an AI crewmember.

At the beginning of a mission, you do get to enjoy sitting in a space camera position, getting a fun view of ships and planets fly by with customary voice-overs. Maybe that’s only for the first campaign mission, but it’s cool. The game primarily takes place aboard the NX-1787 Aegis. The uniforms and virtual set are clearly inspired by the rebooted movie series, lacking only the overblown lens flares.  There are other AI characters aboard the bridge who serve an informational role (and make the bridge look less bare with only four active / human characters). In the campaign missions, they have designated dialog at certain points in the script.

As a huge added bonus, at higher levels you gain access to the bridge of the NCC-1701 Enterprise from the original TV series. It sounds like they went through extreme lengths to emulate the actual bridge from the series… to the point that it’s mostly colored buttons without labels. Fortunately, you can activate an overlay that only you can see to help you figure out what to do. I haven’t unlocked it yet, but it does look like it’s more complicated to fly, so it’s best to get used to the more user-friendly systems on the Aegis first.

I only had time for the full tutorial and the first campaign mission in solo mode, so I can only guess as to what’s in store later. Beyond the campaign there are “further adventures” that are supposed to be dynamically generated scenarios. I can’t wait to play it multiplayer with friends, but sadly, it’s still early enough that I don’t have many friends with VR systems. Fortunately, the game is cross-platform compatible via UPlay, which means Oculus, Vive, and Playstation VR players can all play together. This is kinda huge, in my mind.

From what I can see, this is pretty much a casual social game. I am totally okay with that! I think this was the right direction. I wish players could scale their personal difficulty a little, but this is not a game for hardcore gamers to show off their expertise. It’s mainly about managing more-or-less straightforward tasks, sometimes with a little creativity (especially in the case of the engineer). In the back of my mind, I was thinking, “Every one of your jobs could be automated,” and that’s pretty much the case. It’s like playing Rock Band with everyone on medium difficulty. You play your role, and if everyone does a good job, you win the mission and max out the score. Yay!

Because of the limitations of VR, everything is done by pushing virtual buttons or moving sliders around on virtual consoles. Or grabbing virtual throttles and shoving them forward. Moving forward under impulse power or warp drive is effectively the same … it’s simply a few seconds of break time (although it may give the engineer more time to get systems repaired). The game really takes you from activity to busy activity. It’s much less a simulator than a social game.

As to how it plays in multiplayer, I guess I’ll find out soon.  My first solo mission was plenty of fun trying to do everything at once as a captain with an AI crew that could only follow basic instructions, and I’ll probably have to resort to pick-up games with strangers, but I think the real fun comes from playing with friends. I think there’s a TON of opportunity to expand the game, but with the multiplayer focus, they have to be free upgrades, a single inexpensive bundle, or purely cosmetic upgrades. Anything else risks fragmenting the player base.

But there’s a very real chance that when people look back at the “killer apps” that drove sales in the early days of VR, this game may be near the top of the list. I mean, just fulfilling the fantasy of being aboard the Enterprise — or a similar but authentic Star Trek equivalent — would do it, especially when you can share the experience with others.  I wish I could stand up and just walk around the ship, of course. That would be useless in the context of the game, but cool. But for what it is, and what it does…  it’s just cool.  I’m trying to be objective about the game, but I have to resist the urge to giggle or squee because I’M IN AN EPISODE OF STAR TREK, YA’LL! That’s the point, and from what I can see so far, it succeeds.

Filed Under: Casual Games, Impressions, Virtual Reality - Comments: Be the First to Comment

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