Star Trek Bridge Commander (PC) You're the captain in Activision's new game that blends strategy, simulation, and adventure.
By - Bernard Dy
The Star Trek games curse is starting to crumble. The Fallen is a decent Unreal-based shooter, and Starfleet Command is a good starship combat game. Activision took a step back with the poorly received Away Team, but recovers ground with the new Star Trek: Bridge Commander.
It helps that Activision enlisted the aid of Lawrence Holland's Totally Games. Holland is one of the principals behind the successful series of LucasArts Star Wars X-Wing series and his team's experience at building polished space action games shows in Bridge Commander.
It is obvious from the opening cinematic and game interface that Totally Games capably managed their transition from the nimble fighters of Star Wars to the slower but graceful leviathans of Star Trek. Ships, consoles, character uniforms, and even the music uphold the style of the television show. The game even plays like a series of the television episodes, with automatic game save points between missions. Players take command of a starship and direct their bridge crew, for example, by telling the helm officer to set a course or a science officer to perform a scan. Perhaps the one thing that isn't like the show is Bridge Commander's heavy use of combat.
Combat provides computer games an easy focus, however, and helps sell too! So players will venture forth with a little bit of Captain Kirk in them, and few will complain, especially since Bridge Commander handles big ship fighting well. Borrowing a little from the X-Wing series, virtual captains in Bridge Commander can target an opponent's subsystems and also modify their own ship's power consumption profile. Batteries power the ship systems and combat is a heavy drain on their recharge rate, so managing power use and using the proper combat tactics are ways players can make a difference in the survival of their ship.
Another way players interact with Bridge Commander is by making decisions as the captain. Not just combat decisions, but decisions about where to go next, whether to fight or run, and what constitutes diplomacy. Bridge Commander's routine isn't at heart too different from the classic X-Wing and Wing Commander routines. Player's still patrol waypoints, knock down bad guys, and watch cutscenes. But Totally Games does a nice job integrating twists on this old theme. In some missions, players ferry famous characters like Captain Picard or Commander Data to a destination, come to the rescue of an attacked ally, or serve as intermediaries in a shaky alliance.
We don't want to reveal too much because it would spoil the adventure elements, but some examples are worth mentioning. In one episode, players face off with a Romulan who falsely accuses them of attacking Romulan ships in the area. The Romulan commander agrees to keep things neutral if the players lower shields as a show of trust. At this point, the crew makes their suggestions, but it's up to the players to decide how they'll deal with the situation. What's nice is that there are multiple solutions to this challenge. Another example includes a point where players have to decide whether to keep fighting a current battle or leave to aid another Federation ship, which can have repercussions later in the game. There are also situations requiring use of the ship's tractor beam instead of offensive weapons.
Bridge Commander's plot is thoroughly steeped in Trek style. The script honors the general dispositions of the various races and good voice acting helps bring the characters out. The players only get to command a Federation ship here, and thus are expected to obey Federation "good guy" conventions, but this engine could clearly be adapted to other races in a sequel.
The combat plays well and the ships look and behave as they should, complete with decent renderings and special effects. Players can view the action from the main bridge screen, or switch to an external view. If they desire, users can also take manual control of their ship, using the keyboard and mouse to maneuver and fire. In addition to the single-player campaign, Bridge Commander includes a skirmish mode where players can create engagements of their own design.