There are so many good things about this game that it's impossible not to wish the developers had carried their ideas a bit further. The attempt to capture the feel of the original Star Trek series and the more recent Star Trek movies is admirable, and the game's player interface is truly noteworthy.
Despite these excellences, though, Star Trek: The Rebel Universe suffers in the end from an unexpected tediousness of play, and a realization that one of the popular series' most attractive attributes has not been included.
Too bad, because in many ways Star Trek: The Rebel Universe is more than superb.
The game casts the crew of the Enterprise into a sealed-off section of space called the Quarantine Zone. Within that zone, a host of Federation starships have turned traitor, owing of course to a Klingon plot, and Kirk and the folks must find a way to stop the rebellion from spreading. This demands visiting star system after star system, trying to keep the Enterprise alive while searching for the solution to the problem.
The game screen includes one large primary display, with seven surrounding secondary displays. In fact, there are more than eight screens, since many of the individual displays have subdisplays, but only eight are shown at one time. Accessing any display means simply pointing at it and clicking with the mouse.
Seven of the screens show familiar Star Trek characters (the graphics here are very good), and each character has a specific function or functions. The Kirk screen, for instance, shows the time (the Captain's Log), and allows access to the Transporter Room and to the Stores (the stuff you've brought on board from your adventures). Click on Spock, as ever the Science Officer, and you find out the Enterprise's condition, as well as details about star systems and their allegiances (friend or foe). When you reach a solar system, it's Spock who tells you what types of planets are there. Uhura's screen shows incoming messages, Scotty's displays the energy and dilithium crystal levels, Chekov's allows weapons selection, McCoy's shows the health of each officer, and Sulu's gives access to navigation.
Sulu's screen, in fact, is the most commonly used. His secondary displays include a map of the Quarantine Zone and, as they become applicable, maps of the solar systems the Enterprise enters. To select a system to travel to, you click on the appropriate system shown on Sulu's large, rotating starmap. Fire up the Warp drives, and, in a few seconds, depending on the distance, you're there.
Once inside a solar system, clicking on individual planets reveals their type. There are a wealth of planet types in the game, ranging from Archive Complexes (which give clues to solving the game), to Contamination Zones, Dilithium Mining Complexes, Energy Refineries, Leeching Piles, Life-Supporting planets, Mesonic Rings, Orbital Discontinua, Siren Devices, Psionic Cores, and even Planetary Superminds. The manual explains each thoroughly, and each has a unique effect on the progress of Kirk's mission. The primary goal is to find LifeSupporting planets, because on these you find weapons, items, and artifacts.
Naturally, the Enterprise will frequently be under attack. When the Klingons strike, clicking on Chekov's screen lets you select your response: either phasers or photon torpedoes. A secondary display allows you to lock onto a target and fire the weapons. Phasers deplete quickly, and since you have only 50 torpedoes, choosing weapons and waiting for good targets is essential. You can replenish weapons at a Federation-owned Weapons Dump planet.
Sound effects play an important part in the game. Accompanying the opening screen is Kirk's voice, digitized from the series, invoking, "Space, the Final Frontier," while throughout the game you hear Chekov's digitized voice shouting, "Got him!" and Sulu's proclaiming, "Now in standard orbit, sir." If you fail, Spock's face appears; he raises an eyebrow and exclaims, "I never will understand humans." And in various places Scotty will utter one of several warnings.
Other sounds used to good effect include the transporter, the message display, and the red alert, all audibly faithful to the original series.
The game is extremely easy to play. Clicking on the proper screen is the major requirement, while keeping track of where you've been is important as well. Beyond that, though, all that's needed is to keep the mission goal in mind, visit many, many star systems, and stay alive.
And here is one of two major problems. There are many systems to visit, and many enemies to fight, but, after awhile, exploring and fighting grows tedious. Before long you find yourself not wanting to bother with a nearby solar system, while fighting battles quickly loses its initial interest. Even though there's a lot to do, much of it is repetitious.
The second problem is more serious. What made the Star Trek series, and all but the first movie, so fascinating was not the travelling, the combat, and the discovery of devices and weapons, but rather the interaction of the Enterprise crew with alien cultures. In the series, Kirk and the others beamed down to a planet to explore it, to find and examine cultures, and to solve morally-charged problems.
During The Rebel Universe, though, beaming down becomes an almost incidental part of the game. There are no alien cultures to find. In other words, the Enterprise's five-year mission-to explore new worlds, to seek out new civilizations-has been largely ignored.
Star Trek: The Rebel Universe is a good game. It has a clever interface, attractive graphics, and, to those familiar with Star Trek, an instantly familiar feel. If the game carried the sense of exploration further, though, it would be much more memorable. Despite its flaws, however, I recommend it as a solid, playable, well-constructed game. The great Star Trek simulation, however, is still to be done.
- Neil Randall
Trek: The Rebel Universe
IBM PCs and compatibles (requires 256K and CGA)-$39.95
Simon & Schuster Software
One Gulf + Western Plaza
New York, NY 10023