07:09:10 on March 28 2001
By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: Reviews - Games
Written for TrekWeb by Ken R. Miller
Star Trek: Away Team
Developer: Reflexive Entertainment
Requirements: Pentium II 266, Windows 95/98, 64MB RAM, 4MB video card, 474MB hard drive space, 4x CD-ROM
Game Site: stawayteam.com
(Click any thumbnail for larger image)
Away Team has garnered both high and low marks since its release last week, with editors and gamers alike either panning or praising Activision’s latest offering. It was with much trepidation that I sat through the installation program, myself anticipating the worst. After having spent the better part of my time with Away Team, I have come away with the impression that it is a good, yet ultimately flawed effort.
The story opens with a conspiracy within Starfleet that extends from the highest ranks to the far-flung reaches of the Romulan Empire. In the vein of X-com, Away Team brings the player into command of a squad of elite troops. Starfleet’s finest are directed through an isometric top down view to accomplish a little under 20 missions over the course of the game. The control is an entirely keyboard and mouse affair, one aspect which is truly a stronger point of the game.
The stronger points of the game certainly help to diminish some of the more glaring problems with Away Team. The graphics are a highly polished set of 2D sprites with well-detailed backdrops and characters. The colors and graphical ornamentation of the levels in Away Team certainly add atmosphere to the game. A Klingon starbase looks like a Klingon base, with sharp edges and muted greens and browns; a Romulan base looks like a Romulan base, etc. Added touches like a stone statue of Cochrane’s Phoenix in the courtyard of Starfleet Academy are a nice addition to the overall crisp and well-designed graphics. Being that the game is entirely 2D, rotating the camera is not an option, leaving the character in a fixed 2D view. For the most part, this doesn’t pose too much of a problem in terms of gameplay. The sound effects are of equally good quality. Everything from phasers, disruptors, bodies hitting the ground, etc. are well represented.
Mission objectives and controls are well explained early on, and are never really an issue for the player. The objectives are laid out clearly in the briefing and reiterated throughout the course of the level. Occasionally, new objectives will be added mid-mission, but these never directly interrupt or detract from the flow. The control scheme is excellent, with hot keys attached to every major function your team has. The scheme works so well that the on screen menus aren’t even necessary, and it leaves your mouse open to move the team about the field and select targets.
Team members you can select for your mission have specific abilities that make them unique. These include mind melds, personal stealth technology, computer espionage, medical skills, etc. It is easy to simply want to walk in with phasers firing, but more often than not some strategy will be needed to get past an obstacle. Luckily, your arsenal is equipped with a myriad of explosives, engineering tools, mines and medical equipment to help accomplish certain goals.
This is where the strengths end and the problems begin. The single most glaring problem with Away Team is its A.I. – or plain lack thereof. This becomes readily apparent when your team simply stands in confused wonder while enemy forces fire upon them. Team members will repeatedly shout, “I’m under attack,” or “We’re taking fire,” and simply wait for instructions. Anything – an evasive pattern triggered by enemy fire, an automatic retaliation of some kind – would have prevented this from becoming a nuisance. If I were attacked in real life, the last thing I would do is just stand there. Fire back, run away, hit the ground – anything. These are basic things that any mall security guard knows, much less an elite Starfleet operative. As it is, the player is forced to constantly babysit the team, for fear that one of them is going to just stand there and take hits like a pinata. The A.I. problems extend to the enemies as well. Romulan forces will spot you and proceed to engage your troops, but they lack the basic wisdom to move around corners before attacking. Most of the time, the enemy will fire against the wall repeatedly, rather than move to a position where your team is within line of sight. The highest form of intellect these Mensa rejects show is heightened concern at the sight of a fallen comrade or wariness after being stunned by a phaser. This A.I. is pretty shoddy and shows a lack of care on the developer’s part.
Item collection becomes a bothersome and almost useless aspect to Away Team. Initially, I was impressed that team members could collect disruptors from fallen Romulans and use them. What soon disappointed me was my total inability to have my team attack. If one wants to select a different weapon to be used, anyone without it simply won’t fire. For example, if your squad leader has a disruptor and you select your team to attack, only he will fire. The remainder of the team will sit back and watch the fun. Manually selecting the rest of the team to fire phasers doesn’t seem to change that either. One could argue that the best way to manage this would be to split the team up, but the wretched A.I. problems make this a severe test of patience. No sooner will you have separated the group than one portion of it comes under fire and stands dumbfounded, willingly accepting execution. The mini-map makes splitting your forces easier, but it doesn’t fix the fact that a Borg drone shows more independence than these “elite” soldiers.
The presentation, outside of the in-game graphics and sounds, lacks punch. The opening clip is pretty embarrassing. Stiffly animated and undetailed blimp-like characters serve to round out (no pun intended) our gallant crew, the only saving grace being the remarkably well-drawn and modeled starships. Voice-overs, with the exception of Brent Spiner’s performance as Commander Data, seem lifeless and dull. The lines are delivered clearly, it just seems like most of the main characters (the admiral, your captain) are just waiting to punch out for a lunch break. The worst lines come in the form of choice phrases like “I am not feeling well, I should return to sickbay” (at which point they simply return to duty), “Pain!!!”, and the ever popular “I should replicate some aspirin.” At least we have the comfort of knowing Bayer and Excedrin will still be in business in 2375.
Something that was a minor annoyance in Away Team was the unusually large installation and the occasional choppiness that the game ran at. 500+ megs of hard disk space is truly excessive for a game that utilizes a 2D sprite engine. The listed requirements for the game state a measly Pentium 266, but the game occasionally lapsed into some choppy and stilted animation and sound on my Athlon 700 w/128mb RAM. It would have also been nice to be able to select a higher resolution, though this is a minor complaint.
For the Star Trek fan, Away Team will provide some solid entertainment for a few days. The game is pretty good if you can get past the terrible A.I. and the annoying screams of your field lemmings. But if you are looking for a solid strategy game with team-based play, you’re better off with the newly released Fallout: Tactics or even an old copy of X-com. Fallout has more levels, offers the player more team members to work with, and a more satisfying gameplay experience overall.