A stray wandering of my right index finger later, and the familiar sound of the starship’s emergency klaxon soon rings rudely and unexpectedly in my ears. Its troubling cadence long since established by years of watching Star Trek television shows and movies, the effect that it has on the other members of the crew proves to be predictably immediate, as panicked cries of “what happened!” and “who is attacking us!” quickly spill into my ears as a result (albeit in a more colourful fashion than PlayStation Universe will allow me to record).
Really, this is what sits at the heart of Star Trek Bridge Crew’s substantial appeal; not how perfectly it nails that classic aesthetic, or how satisfying it is to be playing in Gene Roddenberry’s universe in VR for the first time, but rather in the emergent storytelling that can only arise from having a quartet of excitable and often bumbling human crew members that are fully invested in their intergalactic odyssey.
From the top, Star Trek Bridge Crew does a resoundingly solid job of immersing players in the retro futurism of original series Star Trek. From the instantly recognisable retro fashions of the redshirts and other crew members, through to the iconic chirp of the bridge computers and the magical sound of that the transporter system makes, Bridge Crew might just be the most faithful Star Trek title to date.
In the campaign that serves as the core of Bridge Crew’s offering, Ubisoft’s latest has the USS Aegis and her crew exploring an uncharted sector of space known as The Trench. Rather than just being there for the love of it, your mission is to scout the mysterious Trench in order to find a new home for the displaced and devastated Vulcan race. The problem, as is usually the case in Star Trek, is that the Klingon Empire is rocking about the place and have marked the place as their territory, meaning that sooner rather than later you’ll be butting heads with the iconic warlike race.
Playable either solo or co-operatively online, Star Trek Bridge Crew allows one to four players to fill the roles of Captain, Helm, Engineer or Tactical officers aboard the USS Aegis, with a view to naturally boldly go where nobody has gone before. In real terms, what that long trumpeted maxim entails is that you’ll be cutting about the galaxy, tangling with alien races, scanning stuff and generally indulging in all that glorious ship micromanagement that fans of Star Trek have enjoyed for years.
Once aboard the USS Aegis, players can switch between the fixed positions of the aforementioned four roles with each one offering a critical function that figures into the overall success of your mission. The Engineer for example, can redistribute power between shields, weapons and other systems while also being able to dispatch repair crews to any damaged areas of the ship. The Tactical Officer on the other hand, is in charge of the weapons array, sensor apparatus for scanning ships and intrusion systems for compromising hostile ships. Finally, the Helmsman is responsible for effectively piloting the ship and can also set the warp and impulse engines to work for long distance travel.
An overseer of sorts to the entire operation, playing as the Captain allows players to dish out orders to any of three previously mentioned crew, while also being provided with a situation display that keeps you apprised of what’s going on at all times. Should you not have the necessary mates around at the time, AI crewmembers can step in to replace human folk in Bridge Crew’s solo mode. Here, the player can issue direct orders from the Captain’s chair, or, take over any of the other three positions for a more hands-on approach.
Though such roles might seem daunting, an easy to navigate set of menus makes taking on any of these roles a simple enough proposition, while an extensive set of tutorials coupled with a handy, though optional, on-screen overlay ensures that you’ll always know what you need to do in any given position on the bridge. As a result, even in the most unsure and forgetful hands, anybody can play Star Trek Bridge Crew and such concessions feel especially noteworthy in a game where the temptation to make things overcomplicated was probably quite great indeed.
Elsewhere, Star Trek Bridge Crew invites players to control its on-screen action with either a pair of PlayStation Move controllers (each one effectively emulating a virtual hand), or, the trusty DualShock 4 controller. Of the two, the DualShock 4 feels the most accurate, though perhaps the less immersive; the Move controllers feel like you’re reaching out and touching the buttons on all those shiny displays, but occasionally feels unwieldy as the twisting limb and gnarled finger movements don’t always interact with things as quickly as you need them to. It’s certainly not as bad as the likes of Surgeon Simulator, but the fact remains that the snappiness of the DualShock 4 controller arguably lends itself better to high pressure situations where time is of the essence.
Ultimately, success in Star Trek Bridge Crew is all about synergising tactical decision making with the coordinated actions of your crew, and it’s here, in that entertaining gulf of human flaws that exist where the AI would otherwise blindly follow your commands with calculated obedience that Star Trek Bridge Crew soars highest. Like the best co-operatively minded multiplayer efforts, where pressure heavy situations bring out the simultaneous best and hilarious worst out of your friends, Star Trek Bridge Crew replicates this dynamic perfectly and in doing so makes a surprising case for one of the better multiplayer games of the year.
Beyond the narrative trappings of the campaign, Star Trek Bridge Crew also offers up a set of skirmish scenarios known as “Ongoing Missions”. Divorced from the main story, these procedurally generated missions can be tackled either solo or co-operatively and do a reasonable enough job of giving the game a raison d’être after the credits have finished their roll on the relatively short-lived campaign.
Another nice bonus of the Ongoing Missions mode, is that players get to choose between piloting the USS Aegis and the classic USS Enterprise. Much more than a cosmetic change, the older Enterprise starship effectively adds another layer of intrigue to the game as the old-school displays and panels lack much of the easily retrievable information that the newer, flashier Aegis ship possesses and so represents a nice challenge for stalwart Starfleet Captains.
Though entertaining, these missions soon expose the fact that Star Trek Bridge Crew can fall afoul of repetition, as the same mission objectives for scanning anomalies and escorting ships manifest themselves over and over again. Sure enough, while switching roles helps keep things fresh in multiplayer, the fact remains that an expanded content offering, perhaps one which lets players play missions from the classic television episodes and movies of old, would have helped keeps proceedings more varied for longer.
Make no mistake, when you’re playing with a full crew of human fellows, Star Trek Bridge Crew rarely fails to fire on all cylinders, and in doing so presents itself as a compelling case for one of the better PSVR games to be released for Sony’s fledgling virtual reality headset.
Perhaps more unexpected than somebody coming out with a decent Star Trek title in 2017 however, is that the same game ended up being one of the most intriguing and entertaining multiplayer experiences to come along this year.