VR gaming may have just found its killer app.
Captain’s log Stardate: 270517 The USS Aegis has been dispatched to the edge of the Neutral Zone, as part of the shakedown cruise, prior to our survey of the area known as The Trench. Our mission will be to find a new homeworld for the decimated Vulcan people.
And so begins Ubisoft’s Star Trek: Bridge Crew. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t let out a little whoop when the ship in distress on my first mission to the edge of the Neutral Zone revealed itself as the Kobayashi Maru. It’s a ship that Star Trek aficionados know to be the no-win scenario, a training test that has only been beaten once, by a certain James T. Kirk.
Right from the start the developers hold nothing back, showing us that they know their stuff. And they need to as their main audience, Star Trek fans, are known to be sticklers for detail.
In Star Trek: Bridge Crew you take a seat on a meticulously recreated starship bridge. It’s not the Enterprise (although you can do the extra missions aboard the original TV Enterprise – more on that later), instead this is the spanking new USS Aegis.
The campaign is set in the JJ Abrams rebooted Kelvin timeline, following on from thedestruction of Vulcan by the Romulan, Nero. The search for a new Vulcan home world is a great McGuffin that allows the game to properly channel the Star Trek mandate: to seek out strange new worlds and to boldly go where no one has gone before.
Developers Red Storm Entertainment flex their VR savvy muscles from the moment you press Start. The menu environment has you sitting in a shuttle craft doing a beauty pass of the USS Aegis docked with a spaceport orbiting the Earth. From here you can select a quick online game, a private online game, a solo game or training.
The game has been designed, primarily, as a four-player co-operative social experience. Players take the role of captain, helmsman, tactical officer or ships engineer. You can play the game solo, as the captain- the spare seats populated with AI officers. You can order the AI crew from the captain’s chair, or take over their position. Similarly, if you are playing online with less than four players, the spare seats are filled with AI crew members. Again, you can switch to an AI position, but in multiplayer only the captain can sit in the big chair.
Each station has a full tutorial to enable you to get to grips with the responsibilities of the role. They’ve put a lot of thought into splitting tasks amongst the roles to encourage good communication and co-operation between the players. For instance, whilst the engineer may operate the transporters, the tactical officer is going to have to lower the shields first. In combat, the helmsman will need to keep the forward-facing phaser array pointing towards the enemy whilst the tactical officer fires the weapon. Also, when it all goes wrong, it’ll be the engineer that needs to divert power from one station to another, with luck as ordered by the Captain.
With the bridge based on the new Chris Pine Kirk’s Enterprise, it’s all very bright with holographic-looking controls and readouts. There’s a help overlay that labels all the buttons, especially useful on the recreated TV Enterprise bridge.
Yes, fans of classic Trek can rest easy in that the game also has a faithfully recreation of the original Enterprise bridge as well. You can’t play the campaign with the USS Enterprise, but you can play though the randomly generated extra missions. The Enterprise is recommended for experienced crew only, and with good reason. Whilst the Aegis has holographic readouts, the original Enterprise just has unlabelled coloured buttons, just as it did in the TV show. It’s all very retro, but very cool.
Adding to the amazing sense of presence you get sitting on the bridge are the authentic sound effects. The sound design is phenomenal from the iconic beeping background noise of the bridge to authentic sound of phaser fire. It’s all here. Hitting the red alert button for the first time got a big grim out of me. There’s also lots of incidental chatter among the crew as they check and diagnose issues with EPS conduits etc. and carrying out their duties in the background. The audio completes your total immersion into the starship bridge.
I was really disappointed that the game wouldn’t let me stand up. You are tethered to your seat. If the HMD leaves the game’s sweet spot the screen goes blank and you get told to reset the view. I WANT to stand on the bridge. Elite Dangerous lets me do it, why can’t Bridge Crew? Surely the rule of cool overrides any glitching as you look back at your headless character model sitting in the seat? As a consolation, you can switch to an outside view that has you hovering over the ship’s saucer section, giving you a full 360-degree view of the surrounding space.
A big question on the forums is why isn’t there a non-VR version? Well, this is game 100% designed for VR. There is a HUGE difference between looking at a starship bridge on a monitor and ACTUALLY sitting on the bridge of a starship. If you’ve experienced a decent bit of VR then you know what I mean. If you’ve never experienced VR, then I’m wasting my breath- words can’t describe the level of immersion that Bridge Crew gives you.
As stupendously polished the game is, it does rely on the novelty of VR over providing you with a feast of content, or depth of gameplay. Don’t get me wrong, what you get is very good, and the gameplay offers plenty of challenge, it just wears its heart on its sleeve, offering up all it has to offer pretty much in the first hour. This may be enough to turn-off someone not right into Star Trek. A bit more variety in the missions and, perhaps, a few more ship bridges (Enterprise-D and Voyager would be cool).
Star Trek: Bridge Crew squeezed my Star Trek geek muscle so hard I thought my brain was going to explode. Whilst I love VR with a passion, I’m not usually one to feel comfortable enough to sit with the HMD on for hours. I could spend all day in Bridge Crew. The sight, sound and atmosphere make the game the most Star Trek game I’ve ever played. I just wish there was more- and wouldn’t be surprised to see some more in the form of DLC.
If you’ve got a VR setup, PlayStation VR or Oculus/Vive, you need to try Bridge Crew out. For the serious Star Trek fan this is a game that’ll sell you on the concept of virtual reality.
Released: April 2017
Platforms: HTC Vive, PC (Windows 7 or Higher), also released on PSVR
Genre: Virtual Reality
Developer: Red Storm Entertainment