Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary Edition. (computer game) (Evaluation)
by Keith Ferrell
At last: a Star Trek adventure that boldly goes where no other has gone
Star Trek has an interesting software history. Ideally suit: ed, it would seem, for translation to interactive entertain= ment, Star Trek has nonetheless fared poorly. Even as an endless series of paperback and hardcover novels climbed bestseller lists. motion pictures set box office records, and plastic models, comic books memorabilia, and conventions added tens of millions to Paramount's coffers interactive Star Treks sparked little fire:
Not for want of trying, There was an Atari arcade and cartridge game with an emphasis on action. There were several text adventures, including one, The Kobyashi Alternative, that remains among the finest text games ever produced. There was an adaptation of the fifth motion picture, and a long-rumored interactive version of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was released spottily.
Not for want of trying, indeed, but it may be that no one tried very hard. Now, there is Interplay's Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary Edition, and it's quite an achievement.
Star Trek is all about context. Mel Brooks once pointed out that successful entertainment virtually always deals with "families in a house." On Star Trek, the family was Kirk, Spock. McCoy, and crew; the house was the starship Enterprise. That context, refined to the point of cliche over nearly five dozen television episodes and half a dozen movies, is a comfortable place for millions of fans, who tend not to like surprises, turning to both old and new generations for familiarity, not innovation.
To have an interactive Star Trek hit, you have to find and reproduce that comfort level, deliver that familiar contextual security blanket. Make the reader, or viewer--or playera part of that family inside that house.
That's what Interplay has done, and it has done so very well. The family feels like the Star Trek family, c. omplete with black sheep and familiar adversaries. The universe about which the Enterprise and crew ramble reminds us of the universe brought to us by NBC back in the 1960s. Where new elements have been added--some aspects of the program owe debts to the Star Trek motion pictures-they are easily and unobtrusively incorporated.
Interplay made many wise decisions. The game consists of a series of episodes, each with an opening title, giving the feeling of another installment in the TV series, And the sixties' TV series is what the game celebrates. Despite a few non sequiturs, this is the old Enterprise crew--the tatty velour uniforms, the faces relatively unwrinkled, bellies not yet expanded by middle age, hair still pretty much their own.
The program has two levels: interactive story sections focusing on characters and other sections focusing on starship combat and navigation. The character-oriented sections are by far the more successful, with a lean and effective interface, striking animation and illustration, and some pretty good dialogue.
The combat and navigation sections are the only sequences that take place aboard the Enterprise, and it's unfortunate that interaction with the starship and its crew is so limited. Upon reaching destinations, however, the game moves to its next level and truly comes into its own. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and security officers beam to planetary surfaces, the interiors of other spacecraft, or space stations; there, they deal with the challenges that face them. Just like the TV show, no?
The first episode, Demon World, serves as a good shakedown cruise for the entire game. You begin, in fact, during war game exercises against another Federation ship. Upon completion of the exercise, Starfleet issues orders and you set course. Achieve standard orbit and beam down.
Planetscapes and ship interiors are striking and vivid. A simple interface lets you move, pick up, talk, use, or look. Communicators, phasers, trlcorders, and medical gear are all operable.
Perhaps unavoidably, the episodes are essentially sequences of puzzles and problems. (Then again, puzzles and problems underlay much of the television series.) Answers and solutions are not always obvious, and it's worthwhile trying to pick up, use, or speak with any item or entity on a screen. Also, try various approaches to problems in different sequences; if you fail at one item, try it again after completing other sequences.
Pay close attention to the world around you. Use the tools at your disposal and the special skills of your crew. Talk to each other. While the game risks your suspension of disbelief occasionally with wholly inappropriate dialogue options, for the most part the characters converse at a level comparable to that of the average TV scripts. And, of course, some of the favorite lines from the TV show are incorporated here.
The problems and the armatures around which they are built communicate a vibrant Star Trek feel. The mood of the episodes varies. There are cosmic mysteries, actionoriented plots, vast alien creations, even a comedy of sorts. Each episode is different, and skills and technologies acquired in one are sometimes available in another.
Best of all, there is a long episode, essentially a two-parter, that actually could have served as a script for the old series. All of Gene Roddenber ry's favorite motifs are here: an alien god, a plea for peace, Kirk and company-- which is to say humankind-- on trial. At the end of this episode, the program achieves a moment of emotion rare in software, and its authors are to be commended.
Only occasionally does the game lose its consistency, but when it does, the inconsistencies are annoying. In some episodes, all members of a landing party fire phasers simultaneously; in others, where firepower is more crucial, only Kirk fires.
Unfortunately, the climax of the program seems a bit of a letdown, at least to me. Vengeance, the final episode, is in some ways the most challenging, and yet in other ways it counteracts all that has gone before. Resting upon reflexes rather than reflection, firepower and arcade skill rather than insight and intelligence, this episode feels almost out of place.
Documentation is commendably slight yet gives you the information you need to begin. Getting started takes a while: Decompression and installation on a fast 386 required the better part of an hour, and there were occasional lockups while graphics loaded.
Special note should be made of the sound and music in the program: These aspects are used brilliantly to enhance the illusion of Trekkiness, with incidental music as well as main themes beautifully reproduced.
If anything, the game is too short, although there are dozens of hours of entertainment here. It's just that you might not want this Star Trek to end. We can hope that Interplay is permitted to do further episodes in the Trek saga. I'd like to see, for example, a fulllength game, a novel- or moviesized episode.
Perhaps Interplay will give us such a program. Certainly this one, and any subsequent products that manage to achieve its level, should boldly go through the roof.