'Star Trek: Bridge Crew' review: Where no man has gone before
Ubisoft's Star Trek: Bridge Crew premieres May 30, and we were fortunate enough to get to spend some time with it before launch. This virtual reality title is available on all three major platforms: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR. I reviewed the title on PSVR and Oculus Rift via PC. With an i7-7700k and Nvidia GTX 1080, I was able to run the game at max settings with no problem. Those with PCs on the lower end of the Oculus and Vive's recommended system hardware may have a slightly different experience than I did.
As a long time Star Trek fan, I've felt more than a little snubbed when it comes to video games for the last 15 years. Star Trek video game licensing is a complex topic that would take another whole article to explain, but the short of it is that fans haven't received a standout title since Activision lost the rights in 2005. Sure, Star Trek Legacy and Star Trek Online are decent enough, but they don't capture the essence that makes Star Trek so special. It was with trepidation and excitement that I began playing Star Trek: Bridge Crew, and I'm happy to report that it does provide an experience fans have dreamt of since Star Trek: The Original Series premiered in 1966.
Star Trek: Bridge Crew review: Starship Operations
Star Trek: Bridge Crew puts you on the bridge of a starship with three other crew members. You have to coordinate the actions of the captain, helm, tactical, and engineering to run your ship and accomplish missions effectively. Each station is dependent on each other in some way.
The captain receives orders, plots courses for the crew, and coordinates the group effort. The engineer distributes the ship's power, prepares the ship for warp and dispatches repair teams. Helm controls the ships movement, stealth and engages both warp and impulse travel when necessary. Ship defenses are controlled by the tactical station, including shields, sensor scans, and weaponry.
Bridge Crew encourages teamwork, and playing with four human players is one of the best multiplayer experiences I've had. Because of how interdependent the bridge stations are, there's no way for people to run off by themselves, or just sit and troll. If you want to get any enjoyment out of the game, you have to want to be a part of a crew, and all my experiences during review with other players were great.
Star Trek: Bridge Crew review: The crew and you
This game is all about teamwork, which makes playing with other humans the ideal situation. However, if you want to play be yourself or join a game without four player-controlled characters, AI non-player characters (NPCs) are available to man stations.
Using NPCs to control bridge stations is where the gameplay starts to break down. These AI don't take the initiative themselves. Instead, the captain must issue orders to them via a pop-up screen. This effectively means when using AI, the captain must assume the role of another station. With only one NPC in play, this isn't very noticeable, but when you're playing with two, it can be a bit taxing on harder missions.
There is also the option to play with three AI stations which is effectively the game's single-player mode. It's entirely doable, and once you spend some time commanding the bridge alone, you can complete any mission the game throws at you by yourself. However, the gameplay can get to be too frantic to be fun, and having to constantly issue orders via a pop-up menu, instead of verbally, can suck a lot of the fun out of the game's base concept.
Star Trek: Bridge Crew review: At the controls
Bridge Crew is cross-play capable, meaning Vive, Rift and PSVR gamers can all play together on the same ship. Depending on which VR solution you're using, your enjoyment may vary, though all three are fairly close in parity when it comes to this game.
I found using the Oculus Rift and Touch controllers to be the most intuitive and comfortable setup. With the Oculus Touch controllers, you can point your finger in-game using the capacitive buttons and activate controls just by tapping them. The PSVR Move controllers and the Vive have to activate them by pressing buttons on the controller, adding an extra step when interfacing with your starship's controls.
Visually, Star Trek: Bridge Crew looks great. There's not a ton of use of low-poly models and low-resolution textures that many VR games use to boost performance. It still falls prey to the nuances of whatever VR headset you're using though.
Since this is a game that is played completely sitting down, you only need tracking in about an 180-degree arc in front of you. This means each VR system's motion controls are about equal when it comes to tracking, though the PSVR Move controllers still have a habit of floating off if you're pointing them too low.
Star Trek: Bridge Crew review: To boldly go
So, the game gives a real feeling of being on a bridge of a starship, but what's important is what you get to accomplish while you're there. That's an area in which Bridge Crew somewhat suffers. The campaign is short at only around five or six hours and doesn't take you down a road that feels very much like a traditional Star Trek story.
There is an "Ongoing Voyages" mode that allows you to play randomly generated missions, but they can feel repetitive and shallow. You end up getting the same four missions, rescuing victims of a disaster, recovering an escaped criminal, defending allied ships, or researching an area of space. The random generation comes with whatever area in which the mission takes place, how may enemies spawn and what your objectives are.
Adding to the replay value, though, is being able to access another ship. In addition to the Abramsverse U.S.S. Aegis, in Ongoing Voyages, you can board the original U.S.S. Enterprise. While ships operations between the Aegis and Enterprise are very similar, you can think of the Enterprise as "hard-mode."
When on board the Aegis, the controls are clearly marked, and on easy-to-use touch panel screens. However, the Enterprise has been recreated from the original, which was controlled via physical buttons. Adding to the challenge, the buttons weren't labeled, and for Bridge Crew's Enterprise to be authentic, they couldn't go about making changes to the design. Fortunately you can, with the press of a button on your controller, make floating control labels pop up, though the controls are still less than intuitive even with them.
Star Trek: Bridge Crew review: Live long and prosper
Star Trek: Bridge Crew is probably the most authentic Star Trek experience to date. Being able to feel like you're actually on the bridge of a Federation starship is incredible. Even if you don't love Star Trek, the unique multiplayer experience is a huge draw.
The only thing to be upset about here is the relatively low amount of content. On launch, there are just two ships to crew, the Aegis and the Enterprise, and mission variety is a bit of an issue. However, if Ubisoft continues to introduce new content for the game, and maybe even new vessels to pilot, this could be the ultimate sci-fi multiplayer game for VR.
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