Ubisoft’s long-awaited Star Trek: Bridge Crew, the co-op space sim that puts you at the bridge of your very own Federation vessel, is nearly here (coming out May 30th), but we’ve had our mitts all over a pre-release copy for a few days now. Wherever you may fall on the spectrum of Trek fandom, Bridge Crew promises more than just a genuine Trek experience with its exciting gameplay and social component that is sure to immerse.
Star Trek: Bridge Crew Details:
Stepping back a bit from my affection of the many iterations of Star Trek universes—explored in the recent re-boot films and older TV series spanning back to Star Trek (1966), aka “The Original Series” (ToS)—what I experienced in the last few days with Bridge Crew was a profound realization that I am not a Federation captain, not yet anyway.
Piloting the fictional vessel, dubbed the U.S.S. Aegis, on an exploratory mission to the uncharted sector ‘The Trench’ in efforts to find a new planet for the Vulcan race after the Romulans destroyed their home-world, I quickly found out that when the Klingon Empire is breathing down your neck and real people are counting on you to make the right decision, that I still need a lot more time with Bridge Crew before I can put on the well-deserved swagger of a Kirk, Picard, or Janeway. That’s not to say you can’t have your ‘captain-y moments’ in the beginning campaign with your friends though, but when the goings get tough, role-playing that Starfleet swagger quickly deflates in front of the very real barrier of 2 Klingon warships and 4 scouts coming in for the kill.
And even though the game promises only 5 ‘episodes’ that range from 20-30 minutes of gameplay a piece, the difficulty level spikes significantly around the last two missions, so be prepared for the likelihood of an entire play session getting scrapped because you didn’t get a critical instrument back on-line while taking heavy fire. Despite some hypothetically quick mission times, you can easily invest several hours alone trying to beat the last two campaign missions.
I found the campaign mode, which can be completed with or without a fully-manned, live crew (AI can fill in the gaps), to be much more difficult as a lone player. Because AI can’t really take on detailed orders like, “avoid that gravitic mine while running away from that anomaly while shooting at the upcoming Bird-of-Prey,” you sometimes have to jump into the AI’s position to get what you want out it. You can also issue crew-wide orders to the AI from your captain’s chair that make some things a bit quicker, like aligning warp vectors and repairing critical ship functions, but that’s not really what Star Trek: Bridge Crew is all about.
When playing alone, I found that micromanaging a ship’s AI effectively photon-torpedoes the fun right out of the sky. Instead, the soul of the game is more about becoming an effective communicator with like-minded players and having those deeply surreal moments when your ego jumps into the shoes of a bridge officer commanding, responding, and caring about the world around you. Those are the deeply satisfying moments of the game, when you can cheer for victory and bond—even with perfect strangers.
Without going too deep into each station’s duties (you can a video of the full explanation here), the intensity of the enemy and the various objectives flying your way can quickly overwhelm any station. Besides requiring effective communication between players, the game hinges on your ability to keep systems repaired, and correctly balanced for the task at hand.
As a captain in the co-op mode, you keep an eye on mission objectives, and also the game’s three maps; a local map, an impulse map for farther objects of interest, and a warp map displaying far-flung locations. Only mission-relevant locations can be accessed during the campaign mode, so exploring is a bit ‘on rails’ as it were. Here it’s your job to efficiently order the crew according to their roles and keep an eye on everyone as they go about their individual jobs.
At engineering, you can overcharge engines, phasers, shields at the expense of all other systems, or lower your output entirely to maintain a low profile radar signature for moments of stealth, a requirement for some missions. Engineers can repair everything except your hull, meaning once your shields go down, you’ll be accruing permanent damage.
Tactical can fire torpedoes in limited supply, phasers that need charging, and subsystem intrusions that let you knock out the enemy’s engines, phasers, etc. Helm’s job is to maneuver the ship from point A-B, keep targets in sight, and be on point when it comes to aligning impulse and warp vectors for quick getaways.
Outside of campaign mode, Bridge Crew also offers ‘ongoing missions’, which serves up a selection of procedurally generated challenges available in both solo and co-op mode. These entail rescue, defend, attack, and exploratory missions. To add another level of difficulty, you can also fly the original Enterprise (NCC 1701) during ‘ongoing missions’, which is more powerful but less stealthy. To my surprise, the old Enterprise is fairly dead-on with screen accuracy, replete with a charming array of unlabeled flashing lights and buttons (you can toggle labels on if you need help).
In the end, Bridge Crew is more about ‘pew pew pew’ and less about peaceful exploration than I personally care for, but that’s probably better for everyone’s enjoyment in the long run.
The look and feel of the game is nothing short of amazing, and fans are sure to appreciate the attention to detail. The ship’s interior, although taking after the J.J. Abrams re-boot films (love it or hate it), thankfully lacks the director’s penchant for lens flares and dramatic camera angles, instead putting you in a very real, very well-crafted ship’s bridge. As the ship accumulates damage, consoles predictably start exploding, sparks fly everywhere, the walls catch fire, and NPC redshirts even fall to the ground after they’re electrocuted to death. It all brings a sense of danger into the forefront as your immaculate ship is torn to pieces.
Space exteriors are graphically less involved however, and seem a little too cartoonish to be believed. Science buffs will undoubtedly shake their heads in anguish when they see the game’s lumpy-looking stars with equally lumpy-looking planets far too close to each other. That’s not a big concern, but it does detract a bit from the game’s wow-factor personally.
As for the interior, controls are logically represented and well-labeled for each station. Some buttons become unresponsive during and a bit after impulse and warp travel is concluded though, which isn’t exactly helpful when you’re trying to get a jump on your respective duty. This leaves you effectively tapping a button until the game decides you’re allowed to use it; a small annoyance, but you get used to it.
Avatar creation falls slightly flat because its done via a collection of very rough presets, letting you choose between man or woman, Human or Vulcan, and a number of ethnicities via a slider so you try to create something unique. You can also make them stockier, older, and cycle through a few hairstyles and colors. I never really found an avatar that fit me though.
While playing, the avatars didn’t really much matter though since you’re either looking at the backs of heads or directly at a console. In any case, your companions’ gestures and their voices, placed in 3D space thanks to positional audio, rounds out any misgivings the avatar creator might have.
Thankfully the game lets you play either with gamepad or hand controllers, which means anyone with a high-quality VR headset can join in. Players with hand controllers will notice that console screens actually act as barriers to your virtual hands, which is helpful when it comes to accurately hitting a button. While this technically screws with your body’s proprioception, or the ability to innately understand where your body parts are without looking, it didn’t really bother me after hours of play time.
As a seated game, Star Trek: Bridge Crew is an exceedingly comfortable experience. With the bridge and consoles acting as physical anchors, and the ship’s slower turning radius and speed, you’re likely to have minimal problems if you’re usually averse to artificial locomotion-induced nausea.
The developers at Red Storm Entertainment are well-studied when it comes to VR game design, and offer plenty of near-field space debris and particles to give you the sense that you’re moving in space without the discomfort inherent to artificial locomotion.
The big question remains whether Star Trek: Bridge Crew will be a flash in the pan with an initial period of hype, or a long-lived success with a steady player-base. I can see myself logging on and playing through the campaign with buddies and maybe even making the procedural missions a weekly addition to my routine amongst friends (as long as everyone is having fun). Even playing with random people was a blast, but the fact remains that fresh content like new campaign missions, ship types, and greater multiplayer-driven game modes, are all needed to keep users interested and coming back to have what I would consider one of the most fun social gaming experiences I’ve had to date.
A special thanks goes out to social VR industry pro Shawn Whiting, Road to VR exec. editor Ben Lang, and a random English guy by the moniker ‘the_weird’ for helping with the review of this game.