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    Activision Brings First-Person Action to Star Trek Gaming With Voyager: Elite Force and TrekWeb Has An Advanced Review!

    Posted: 10:32:27 on August 09 2000
    By: Steve Krutzler
    Dept: Reviews - Games

    Written by Steve Krutzler

    Gallery Shot - The Bridge - Click to enlarge
    Gallery Shot - The Bridge
    (Click to enlarge)
    Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force
    Windows 95/98/NT/2000
    Activision
    Coming Soon

    How many times have you listened to Kate Mulgrew barking orders on Voyager and wished someone would just put Janeway out of her misery? Ok, maybe not. But Tuvok can sure be an ass from time to time; really, would anyone miss him?

    Kidding aside (and I am kidding), a cornerstone of Paramountís Star Trek franchise (in front of the camera, at least) has always been a policy of "good behavior," that is, to preserve the integrity of its characters (ok, all except for maybe Quark) by never showing them overly violent or having any of them kick the bucket, unless they want out of their contract, that is. Enter Star Trek: Voyager: Elite Force, the most anticipated of Activisionís new game line marking the debut of first-person action to the Star Trek gaming universe. Now you actually can blow Janeway away on her own bridge! How Torres-err, I mean, un-Starfleet of you.

    Gallery Shot - Borg Vessel - Click to enlarge
    Gallery Shot - Borg Vessel
    (Click to enlarge)
    TrekWeb managed to get its [grubby] paws on the latest beta build of the game, which is about six weeks from the release version. Quite simply, itís impressive. And fun to boot. The initial "training" Borg level is enough to convince you of the superior graphics which are better than any game of its type weíve seen, and the fact that they recreate Trek sets and costumes with eerie accuracy just adds to the visual sensory explosion. Walking around a darkly-lit Borg vessel with drones attacking you and adapting to your weapons is pretty exciting, and even spooky at times.

    But whatís at the heart of any good game is the quality of play. And in this early Borg level I nearly forsook the game as not much more than Doom II or Quake with better graphics. Getting lost in maze-like maps wears quickly. But worry not, once you get into the real meat of game, itís definitely different from any Doom-clone youíve played.

    Gallery Shot - Sickbay/The Doctor - Click to enlarge
    Gallery Shot - Sickbay/The Doctor
    (Click to enlarge)
    The big difference here - aside from the stunningly accurate recreation of the Voyager sets - is the scripting of the game. It really plays more like a game than merely a first-person shooter. "Levels," if you can call them that, are relatively short with specific objectives that the game gears you toward, spliced together with fast-loading cut scenes which reveal yet more fantastic graphics work by the folks at Raven Software (the company that developed the game with Activision).

    The Plot Thickens

    As Ensign Munro of the Tuvok-created Hazard Team which takes care of particularly nasty security problems on Voyager, you are participating in an episode where each level is probably better described as a scene. The route you take in a scene can change, but the game guides you for the most part. For instance, doors wonít open except the ones youíre supposed to go through, the turbo-lift goes where you are ordered to go just by activating it. You can talk to people you run into, but most of the time if youíre not supposed to be talking to them according to the script, theyíll respond you with a curt and acerbic remark. Aside from completing the main objective of a mission, youíll be called upon to assist comrades, fix gas leaks, avert warp core explosions, and other special tasks needing Hazard Team-expertise on Voyager.

    Gallery Shot - The Crew - Click to enlarge
    Gallery Shot - The Crew
    (Click to enlarge)
    The story of the game takes you to many different settings and gives you the opportunity to stroll around some of your favorite Star Trek locales including Voyager, its sickbay and transporter rooms as well as its bridge, Klingon vessels, Mirror Universe Constitution Class vessels, and of course Borg ships. And amazingly, on high detail level (the game offers different levels of graphics detail), the in-play sets are nearly just as vivid as they are in the cut scenes, and the same goes for the drawing of people. Combined with the cut scenes, the game is rather seamless and since the quality between cut scenes and game play is so similar, everything seems much more real than any previous first-person game has been. Though all the actors lend their voices (except Jeri Ryan; unless my hearing has really started to go, that isnít her voice coming out of Seven) and the graphics are quite impressive, some of the Voyager regulars - notably Tuvok and The Doctor - resemble their real-life counterparts and some donít at all. But this doesnít disturb you very much as you proceed from scene to scene, walking the Starship like youíve never been able to before. The game is quite up to date on Voyager lore, and you'll be delighted to see even the Delta Flyer makes an apperance.

    Gallery Shot - Transporter Room - Click to enlarge
    Gallery Shot - Transporter Room
    (Click to enlarge)
    You can go into the Holodeck and test out your weapons in a western "high noon" simulation, or you can go to the turbo-lift, stand inside, and vaporize someone like Kim and then retreat into the turbo-lift before every one of the bridge officers vaporizes you! I particularly enjoy raising the containment field in a corridor before a crewman has the chance to run clear and watching as he screams out, "What are you doing?--- ahhh!," as the ensuing fireball atomizes him. But thatís just me. When it comes down to it, this game is, as Tim Russ himself said in a recent interview, a space-age version of SWAT; the game play consists entirely of walking around and shooting opponents. While you do have specific mission objectives, they usually boil down to finding the one computer terminal that performs the function and pressing space bar. However, your thinking cap will have to be on to get out of some of the more tricky mazes and situations. Observation of your setting and of how your opponents behave will serve you well and be required in many situations. Though most major plot developments are scripted, you will have certain decisions to make, depending on your mission.

    Gallery Shot - Tuvok - Click to enlarge
    Gallery Shot - Tuvok
    (Click to enlarge)
    Previous hype for Elite Force has touted how the script for the game is many times longer than a regular television episode. This is due to the various changes you can affect to the story with your decisions. However, we found that major plot twists are for the most part scripted and cannot be changed. For instance, there is a time when you are required to procure important resources for Voyager; however, near the end of the mission, something unexpected occurs (as it often does in this game) and the player is not involved at all. You are later shown a cut scene where your decision-making process during the previous cinematic is questioned by Tuvok. We felt that it would be much more interesting if you could actually alter the course of such large-scale events in the plot and thus create an entirely new track for the rest of that game. Would the ensuing cut scene with Tuvok instead praise your actions and help Voyager escape from its current entanglement only to get caught up in another that you may never have experienced had you done something different? Unfortunately, the plot is rather linear and most major twists are pre-determined. But hey, we arenít game designers and canít comment on the technicalities of such an implementation.

    Control, Control, You Must Learn Control!

    The game play itself is very similar to any first-person shooter and is easy to learn. Number keys control which weapon you use, CTRL and ALT fire the two "attack" types for each weapon (CTRL is normal, ALT is supercharge), arrows keys (or mouse) control movement and space bar controls the usage of button panels, elevator switches, and the like. Health and weapon energy stations are sprinkled all throughout the maps so you can power-up after an intense firefight, and you can pick up other weapons and devices as they appear. You can pan up, down, climb ladders, jump, and crouch to get through those Jeffries Tubes.

    In addition, new to me at least, are features which allow you to lean against walls and around corners; this comes in handy when on reconnaissance missions. The interface is simple, but it takes some practice with those fingers to be able to master all the functions (read: play the whole game once before delving into the multiplayer sessions, which bring death quickly). Try the tutorial for a quick lesson on all the key sequences used in the game, or you can plug in a joystick.

    Eliminate Them!

    Gallery Shot - Capture the Flag - Click to enlarge
    Gallery Shot - Capture The Flag
    (Click to enlarge)
    Even though the story is interesting and will keep both Trek and gaming fans alike interested in playing through to the end (depending on how many times you get stuck in mazes with all your opponents dead and wondering how the hell to get out), if not for the fun of it, then for the mastery of the games controls youíll need to get into the real fun: Holomatch! Elite Forceís multiplayer area, the Holomatch is quite impressive. Three games are available, capture the flag, free for all, and team holomatch. In these games you can play with others over the Internet or solo match with the computer. This part of the game is quite entertaining because for one thing, itís all action. For another, itís highly customizable; you can choose a character to play from a large library of generics to many familiar to casual Trek fan such as Gowron, Borg Queen, any Voyager crewmember, Romulans, etc; you can choose your skill level, determined by rank; and you can choose your locale from a large library of Borg, Voyager, Klingon, starbase, and other maps. In addition you can of course configure settings such as re-spawn, player handicap, etc. as in many multiplayer games. The maps are littered with personal shield devices, a plethora of weapons, and many other goodies youíll be more than happy to pick up along the way.

    What impressed me the most in playing these Holomatches was that the game speed, with many computer characters, maintained itself and the graphics themselves maintain their polished appeal. However, a frame rate problem, which means that your targeting crosshairs move quite a lot when you move the arrows keys even slightly, makes it difficult to aim in a fast game of free for all. But you canít win these matches (at least not against lightning-fast computer foes) by jumping out and trying to shoot everything in sight. Youíll have to strategize and use features such as lean, crouch, and jump to plan your attack on your enemy. The computer can react much faster and it doesnít have aiming problems, either.

    Gallery Shot - Seven's Flag is Stolen - Click to enlarge
    Gallery Shot - Seven's Flag is Stolen
    (Click to enlarge)
    At least when you are killed by, say, the Borg Queen, you are treated to delightfully amusing quips like, "Your assimilation will regress us," and "your assimilation was without complexity"; though nothing can quite top the Doctorís, "I donít care if your hemorrhoids are chronic, there are no medical deferments," delivered during the regular game with more acting gusto by Picardoís voice alone than Garret Wang could muster in the entire life of the series (just kidding). You can even enter a Holomatch as a spectator and observe the action going on around you, or press CTRL to cycle through "helmet cams" on all the various participants in the game youíre watching. This can come in handy when first checking out a map or enemy positions before joining a game; and itís just plain cool following people as they try to steal the enemy flag: itís like youíre on COPS!

    Under The Hood

    Running the game on a Pentium III 600 MHz Windows 2000 system with 128 megs of ram and a Voodoo 3 video accelerator with 16 MB of video ram (a 3D accelerator is required and make sure you have the LATEST 3dfx drivers for your card), the game runs fast enough. The frame rate, as discussed above, is a little slow, resulting in sometimes jumpy movement, but this is reduced somewhat by running the game full screen instead of inside a window (one of the nicest technical additions theyíve added is to finally allow one of these high-powered Trek games to run inside a window), and weíre told that the final version will have enhanced frame rate fixes which should make the game considerably smoother.

    Gallery Shot - Vicious Borg - Click to enlarge
    Gallery Shot - Vicious Borg
    (Click to enlarge)
    ALT-ESC grayed our screen and made anything but the start menu unusable, but this too may be fixed by the time the final version is released. The game is resource-intensive and we found that running as few other programs in the background as possible (ok, except for maybe Napster) is helpful--as is the case with most games. This intensity leads to one of the most annoying problems aside from the to-be-fixed frame rate issue: loading maps takes, on our system, an average of about sixty seconds. This seems like a long time to me, but then again the graphics and game engine are state-of-the-art and it takes a lot to power these in-game visuals. Just get yourself a snack so you can have something to do while waiting for the level to load (I find Coke or Sprite and Rold Gold pretzels work well for this purpose).

    A Guilty Pleasure

    Gallery Shot - The Mirror Universe - Click to enlarge
    Gallery Shot - The Mirror Universe
    (Click to enlarge)
    Overall, Iíd say Activision has its first real winner in hand with Star Trek: Voyager: Elite Force. The gameís graphics are a sight to behold for any computer gamer and a true delight for Trek fans. The first-person shooter becomes much more in this title, with a compelling storyline and ability to do more than merely "blow away bad guys" (even though that is primarily all youíre doing). The Holomatch feature should make this game the next big thing all over the online gaming community and will keep you interested far beyond the in-depth storyline. And if the in-game graphics and the novelty of everything Voyager doesnít make this title radiate with sheer magnetism, I donít know what would. There are a few technical problems, which should pan out, and the scripting isnít quite as flexible as hoped-for, but Elite Force is definitely a successful title on the cutting edge of gaming technology. And for those who maybe never want to admit they wish someone would shove Harry Kim or Neelix out an airlock, itís simply, a guilty pleasure.

    Rating: 8.5/10

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