Five minutes into "Star Trek: Bridge Crew" my crew mates are already freaking out. We're aboard the USS Aegis, a Federation starship, and about to embark on our first mission. As in all virtual reality games, players need time to adjust.
We look around wide-eyed and gasp at the detail of the bridge. The science officer, to the left, is busy at his console, while the viewscreen in front displays the stars ahead of us. For many players, an experience like this has been years in the making. They feel as if they're inside the "Star Trek" universe.
Ubisoft's Red Storm Entertainment leverages this feeling and builds a dream game around the manning of a Starfleet vessel. In "Bridge Crew," four players meet in a virtual space and choose one of four roles: captain, tactical, helm or engineer. From there, they go on to the story campaign's prologue and five missions. They also can choose a randomized Ongoing Mission or take on the famed Kobayashi Maru training exercise.
"Bridge Crew" is all about teamwork as the players adopt their roles. The captain relays objectives and shepherds his teammates through the mission. Tactical is in charge of scanning objects, raising shields and firing weapons. Helm pilots the ship and warps to other star systems. The engineer handles the warp coils and energy distribution throughout the ship and also dispatches repair crews and diverts power to where it's needed.
Unlike other developers that have pushed white-knuckle experiences in virtual reality, "Bridge Crew" emphasizes the social aspects of the technology. It's played from a seated position, and those online feel as though they're all in the same room together.
Players quickly discover that communication is key, since the roles are intertwined. Helm can't warp out of trouble until engineer charges the warp coils. Tactical won't know what to scan until the captain tells the officer the objective. In addition, tactical, helm and engineer can beam up survivors or cargo from ships or hack into a vessel and disable weapons, shields or engines as well. Each teammate picks up the slack if there's downtime in the station.
The social aspect makes "Bridge Crew" so much fun. In my experience, the helm often waits for the captain to give the order to engage, and zip across the galaxy. Tactical may answer, "Aye, aye" to an order to fire on a Klingon ship. And yes, I've been in a situation where the engineer shouts, "Captain, I'm giving her all she's got."
Trekkers and newcomers alike can take part in what's essentially a "Dungeons & Dragons" version of "Star Trek." Not everyone is in character. Some are just playing to raise their in-game rank or finish the campaign, and the community of players is laid back enough to accommodate various levels of fandom. The only problem they'll encounter is that the game is far too short.
Taking place in an alternate timeline of the current films, "Bridge Crew" at first focuses on finding a new home-world for the Vulcans, but things quickly escalate after a protomatter weapon is discovered.
The missions offer variety: One focuses on stealth, while others highlight rescues and combat. They teach the game's more complex systems, but the deeper strategies are ones that players pick up and teach one another -- everything from diverting power to phasers to quickly dispatching ships, or warming up photon torpedoes for firing at a moment's notice.
For those who finish the main campaign, the Ongoing Missions provide additional adventures with randomized elements. But after a while, they lose their novelty. That's when players discover the biggest problem of "Bridge Crew" -- the limits of its content.
The VR game is smartly made, with cross-platform support, so those who use the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift or PlayStation VR can play with each other. This versatility broadens the base of online players, but that doesn't mean much if players lose interest after finishing everything.
"Bridge Crew" is a good start for a compelling VR game. In fact, it's a title that cries out for a sequel, since developers can do so much more when building on this solid foundation.
'STAR TREK: BRIDGE CREW'
Platforms: PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift
Rating: Ages 10 and older
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