Star Trek: Hidden Evil
First posted on 20 December 1999. Last updated on 13 December 2009.
Having played the previous game in the series, Star Trek: The Next Generation "A Final Unity", it seems ironically fitting that I am now writing his article on what is supposed to be the first "Star Trek: The Next Generation" game released since. While the engine in the previous game has its flaws, the story is epic in scope and manages to accomplish a sense of grandeur that only a Star Trek novel can hope to achieve. Star Trek: Hidden Evil, on the other hand, comes off more like an issue of a Star Trek comic or a made for television Star Trek movie. A teasing hint of greatness has been strapped onto a garish action/adventure delivery, in order to make the game more appealing to the masses. Indeed, this game may be best described as 2,891 phaser shots connected by some irrelevant puzzles, very few of which are much of a challenge. The most painful regret, still, is that Presto Studios has admirably demonstrated they can do so much more, if they chose to take the time rather than pitch a "pulp novel" approach to churn out a game every Christmas. With the void left by the cancellation of Star Trek: Secret of Vulcan Fury, Star Trek: Hidden Evil may have been a noble and worthy successor to the Star Trek series. What we are left with instead is a budget priced disappointment. After all, a disappointment is a disappointment, no matter how much you have paid for it.
To understand why Star Trek: Hidden Evil is the way it is, you need to know the story behind its production cycle. Charged to complete the development of the game in a year's time, Presto Studios is instructed by Activision, which now holds the Star Trek license, to create a title that is simple enough to appeal to the causal action/adventure gamers. The result is a somewhat dumb down exercise, jarringly broken up into disjointed missions. If this is the only type of Star Trek adventure we can expect in the future, then it is time to retire this series and its license, at least for the adventure genre.
Hidden Evil takes place a few months after the events of Star Trek: Insurrection. The Son'a and the Ba'ku now live together in relative harmony on the planet that gives off the mysterious metaphasic radiation, and a Federation outpost has been established in order to watch over this new protectorate. As Starfleet Ensign Sovok, you have recently been assigned to Outpost 40, which at first seems to be the kiss of death as far as your postings and career go.
Your fortune soon changes when a Son'a construction uncovers the ruins of a civilization from over 5 billion years ago. Captain Jean-Luc Picard, with his love of archeology, is requested by the Ba'ku to investigate. In a stroke of good fortune, you have been assigned to assist Picard and Data in the excavation. Events quickly turn ugly when an attack by the Son'a occurs. The colony is taken over by Son'a rebels, trapping you and Picard inside the bowels of the alien colony.
Upon further exploration, you discover that the alien race in question is the so-called "Progenitors" (last seen in the television episode "The Chase"). This race has supposedly seeded the galaxy eons ago and left a message for their "children" encoded in their DNA. Eventually, you make contact with the last surviving member of the Progenitors, only to discover that the Romulans have been orchestrating the recent chaos on the Ba'ku homeworld. Securing a genetic weapon of unimaginable power, it is now up to you to save the galaxy from destruction.
This game is clearly rushed in its production. While Presto Studios has done a halfway decent job considering the game's short development time, one can still see that the results are not as polished as they should have been. The graphics are made up of rendered backdrops for the most part which, while polished and clean looking, feel rather sparse. Animations are often lacking. Some areas seem ridiculously small or empty and abandoned when they should not have been. The background music and ambient sounds are adequate for the most part. They are creepy when needed but highly repetitive. The trademark background hum of a Federation starship is captured perfectly when you are on the Enterprise, but this is the only use of ambient sounds that comes to my mind.
In contrast, the voice acting in this game is top notched, even the main character (voiced by Christopher Gorham) delivers his lines in a way that seems very natural. Brent Spiner and Patrick Stewart reprise their roles with the expert aplomb that we all expect, and it is a shame that they appear to be the only cast members who are in this game. Indeed, Star Trek: Hidden Evil seems to play out more like "A Day in the Life of Jean Luc Picard and His Good Buddy, Data" as seen through the eyes of a naive Starfleet ensign. Long time Star Trek actress Salome Jens (best known as the female shapeshifter in the Dominion invasion on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) reprises her role as Xa-Tal, the Progenitor who has appeared in "The Chase". Full Motion Video segments, while few and far between, are well produced.
It is of interest to note that the game is originally called "Star Trek: Insurrection". Activision decides on the name change in September 1999 to advertise the fact that the game takes place after the events of the movie of the same name. Aside from the regular release, a special Collector's Edition is also available. This limited edition package includes the full version of the game, an exclusive electronic previews of the first two Star Trek comic books from DC Comics, a special edition limited and numbered box, a special edition CD image, and a video of the 2-hour final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation "All Good Things...".
The gameplay in Star Trek: Hidden Evil is kept as simple as possible, in order to appeal to the "casual" gamer. The keypad is used to move the character about. Ensign Sovok can be moved over to hotspots on screen, where he can either interact with them alone or by using objects in his inventory. Inventory is handled by use of a simple item bar that can be called up, with certain items being placed in "hotkey" slots for quick retrieval. This feature is actually nice to have, such as being able to administer healing hyposprays to myself in the middle of a battle without having to put away my phaser. However, all the items are kept on a single "bar" and it is annoying to have to keep scrolling for items way in the back that you cannot quick draw. Frankly, I think the "item grid" that is used in Star Trek: Judgment Rites is far more elegant. In addition, there is no way to combine items, since none of the puzzles are complicated enough to require that function (not a good sign for an adventure game as it once again reflects the developer's decision to dumb the game down).
The old Star Trek standbys make a prominent appearance. The Communicator and the Tricorder both serve as a conduit for hints to the players. Indeed, a few of the puzzles cannot be solved (easily or at all) without first whipping the Tricorder out and taking a scan. At the very least, this is a nice and properly thematic use of the device. The game itself may not be that hot, but it does make a good show of staying true to cannon.
I have not been terribly thrilled with the explorations (of which there are almost none) or the puzzles in this game. With the possible exception of the endgame, the problems encountered are all pretty straightforward, to the point where I feel I am being guided along. This handholding, when combined with the lackluster ending, makes for a less than satisfying experience. It has taken me a mere 3 hours to solve this game. To make matters worse, it feels like half of that time is spent shooting my phaser. Yes folks, there is a reason they call this game an "action adventure". The game is merciful enough to auto aim your shots for you, if you point your character in the general direction you want to shoot; even though trying to wheel around using the keypad feels cumbersome at times, especially in narrow crowded corridors. The reload time on the phaser is a bit slow. There are too few hyposprays, except near the end where you are probably going to be gulping them down like crazy.
Among the most annoyances of this game is the way that it has been broken down into "missions". When I think of missions, I think of completely separate and distinct mini adventures that share a unifying thread. However, in Star Trek: Hidden Evil, the game is merely broken down into "stages" where you need to complete a set amount of puzzles or actions. This seems like smeared shellac, designed to remind the player they are actually playing an "action adventure". The whole "stages" concept can easily be removed from the game with nothing lost. The only saving grace is that they are used to remind the player of what goals they have to accomplish, in voiced mission log format. I honestly do not think that Ensign Sovok is going to open his personal log whilst infiltrating a Romulan Starbase so he can take notes for his own benefit.
By the way, do not believe the hype on the box that proudly proclaims, for the first time, you can use the Vulcan Nerve Pinch in a game. Apparently, everyone has forgotten about the games Star Trek: Judgment Rites and Star Trek: 25th Anniversary, where the Vulcan's Vulcan himself, Mr Spock, has already showed off this famous technique!
I suppose that getting any Star Trek adventure game in these dark times should be a high point in and of itself. Despite its flaws, the game sports the same careful attention to detail in the backdrops as it is seen in its predecessor. The story, even with its unexplored potential, is interesting enough to keep the player engaged and wanting to continue playing. The voice acting, at least for the original Hollywood cast, is well executed. It is always a difficult and risky prospect to introduce new "stars" into the Star Trek universe, and the character of Ensign Sovok succeeds to be among more interesting offerings to this fictional universe. In fact, I like to see Sovok in an adventure game that does him credit. Indeed, pieces of a wonderful work can be seen in this gamel, but they are all hidden underneath a blanket of spotty craftsmanship.
Some gamers may consider my criticism of this game too harsh. While I certainly agree that this game can make a perfect gift for a younger gamer or a neophyte adventurer, there are so many other games on the current market that are equally suited for the beginners. I understand that the game is meant to be a piece of budget ware for the casual gamer. If you look at it through this narrow lens, the game succeeds admirably. On the other hand, if you look through the lens of a true adventure gamer, the game becomes very blurry and indistinct.
The main character in this game is rather interesting—a human who has mastered the discipline involved in the Vulcan Nerve Pinch. However, in the mad quest to rush the game out the door, none of the avenues of exploration are really ever walked down. At best, we are spoon-fed the story as we go along. Given enough time, this is a good story that can really be great, notwithstanding the fact that the "dead God-like race" shtick is starting to wear thin ever for Star Trek.
From its limited length of play to its uninspiring gameplay, this game falls flat in some of the most important areas where adventure games are concerned. The saddest part is that the game has been intentionally castrated! It is painful to see a good design team intentionally holding itself back than to see the wasted effort from a team that has all the time it needs.
Star Trek games, like Star Trek movies, hold true to the unwritten curse of a 1 to 1 trash to treasure ratio. Up to now, it is the adventure genre that has produced the lion's share of the "treasure". With such august titles as Star Trek: Judgment Rites and Star Trek: The Next Generation "A Final Unity", Star Trek: Hidden Evil seems like a cruel and twisted mockery. It is a sad testament to the state of the genre that, having come so close to potential greatness with the now canceled Star Trek: Secret of Vulcan Fury, we are now forced to make due with a game like this one. While Star Trek: Hidden Evil may make a good, cheap and amusing gift for a youngster who may never play another adventure game again, I am afraid that it has trouble standing tall as a full card-carrying member of the adventure game community.