17:21:00 on March 07 2002
By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: TrekWeb Features
Star Trek: Bridge Commander
Written for TrekWeb by Ken R. Miller, edited by Steve Krutzler
Developer: Totally Games
3D Video Card with 16 megs of RAM
Windows 95 OSR2 or higher (98, 2000, ME, XP)
300 Mhz Processor (450Mhz recommended)
64 MB RAM
750 MB Hard Drive Space
Wow – that’s about the only word really needed to sum up the Bridge Commander experience. From start to finish Totally Games has made good on its word and proven every delay worth the wait. From graphics to sound, story, interface, and multiplayer aspects, Star Trek: Bridge Commander succeeds on every level of electronic entertainment with a game that not only serves as a definitive Star Trek experience but as an example of computer and video gaming at its finest.
Let’s set aside a pre-conceived notion that I’m sure is plaguing many Trekkies out there who have yet to purchase this gem – Totally Games is famous for TIE Fighter and X-Wing, but this game plays nothing like those seminal starfighter classics. Sovereign-class starships do not dodge and roll down on a dime, Klingon Birds-of-Prey do not scream by you at blazing speeds and you never have to fire a torpedo, photon or proton down any kind of exhaust port. That said, Totally Games has crafted an engine where starships duel and maneuver the way you’d expect them to, all while utilizing a slick interface that doesn't feel like you're lumbering in space.
Bridge Commander’s graphics are top notch in every respect. Planets, dust clouds, nebulae, space stations all convey a scope, size and feel that yells “Star Trek”. Ship models are absolutely insane in terms of detail and design -- there has never been a better rendition of a Galaxy-class starship anywhere else. Lighting is dynamic and the glow effects (especially with the Enhanced Glows option) truly show off minor details like nacelles, bussard collectors, phaser beams and shields. Torpedoes look great, the real time damage is remarkably well-placed and the shield effects are just plain great. The smoke, dust and debris – complete with awesome particle effects – from battle-damaged ships adds so much to the game it's hard to go back to older Trek titles and look at them the same way. The attention to detail makes clear that Larry Holland and his chums wanted to show off each and every ship to its fullest potential. If Star Trek had something akin to the Detroit Auto Show where every model can be seen in it’s full glory, Bridge Commander would be it.
Sound effects and music appropriately fit most every part of the game. The game’s scores, while not classical masterpieces or Hollywood-level music, adjust for the mood and situation well. They draw the player into each scene and scenario, even if they feel light and at times, uninspired.
Sound effects are for the most part excellent. Federation phasers and torpedoes hum, zip and explode just as they should and combine with dazzling graphical flair to create truly jaw dropping weapon effects. The Romulan, Klingon and other various races’ respective sound effects don’t quite fit in as well. It’s not that they sound poor, per se, but they seem slightly off or altogether out of place.
Even if the game relied on nothing but flat shaded polygons from the glory days of the 486 era, Bridge Commander would still be an exciting and engrossing blast. What truly makes Bridge Commander such a treat is the interface. Quite simply, Totally Games has devised a control scheme and flight model that combines ease of use with strategic complexity that works near flawlessly. You’re basically given a set of officers on your bridge that perform tasks based on the orders you’ve given to them. Even without the hotkeys the bridge interface works seamlessly to accept command and input from the captain. It truly feels like you are the captain, giving the orders and having them carried out. Each of the officers has a distinct personality and responds in a way that just adds so much that feels right to the atmosphere. Of course, the helm and tactical operations can be handled manually, and is done so with remarkable effectiveness from an external view.
As in Interplay's Starfleet Command, the camera view tracks your target, but the similarities end there. Starfleet Command is the Khan, so to speak: “two-dimensional thinking.” Bridge Commander evokes a 3D environment that adds loads of tactical depth that SFC could have only dreamed of. Being able to barrel down on a Galor-class warship from above and pound its dorsal shields into oblivion or decloaking just aft and below of a Galaxy-class starship to remain clear of its weapon arcs... the added strategic possibilities are endless. Your dorsal phasers are drained? Just nose the ship up and switch over to your lower phaser batteries.
The controls allow for some very intense maneuvers along those lines – circling your opponent, the top of your saucer leaned in towards the enemy firing phasers. You then tilt the ship while still circling so that the bottom of your saucer faces the opponent and brings those weapons to bear. Little touches like being able to re-route power from various systems, prioritizing repairs, and targeting individual sub-systems on enemy craft are all thrown in for good measure and complete the package. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve disabled Sovereign-class starships with a puny Klingon Bird of Prey just by knocking out its impulse engines with hit-and-cloak attacks.
All of the piloting is done with WASD setup: W and S pitch the ship up and down, A and D maneuver left to right. Q and E are responsible for rolling the ship left and right. Impulse speeds can be set 0 through 9, and the use of reversing your engines makes for a great tactical maneuver.
As much can be said for the single-player portion of the game as can be said for the Multiplayer modes; both are excellent. With D.C. Fontana at the helm of the story, Bridge Commander takes on the feel of an episodic story arc like no other Trek game out there. The actual game is integrated so well into the story that it feels like you are a participant and not just a spectator watching FMV clips at the developer’s disposal.
But Bridge Commander is not the open-ended, branching story, exploration-centric experience that some may be are looking for. The game is very focused, the story fairly linear and the action pretty cut and dry at times – especially early on. The game also tends to have a lot of fighting, which – even if it fits the story that Fontana wrote for the game – will surely set off some Trekkies.
No review would be complete without taking the bad into consideration, but what little there is can be kept brief. I, along with many other gamers it appears, had a heck of a time getting the game to run. I tried three very high-end machines and had trouble getting the game to stay running for three minutes without a Direct3D runtime error or .EXE conflict. Once I downloaded the latest drivers for my video card, the problems mostly subsided, but the multiplayer part still crashes more than it should. You absolutely must have the latest drivers for your computer. The drivers I had that were a month old weren’t going to cut it, but the new ones that were only a week old did. Activision is working on a patch I’m told, but this soon out of the gate, it's mildly embarrassing.
The facial animations are also pretty laughable, especially when established characters like Picard and Data talk. One final warning – the game is hard, in many spots really hard, and will take even a seasoned starship captain a few tries to get a mission objective done right.
I’ve been writing in the game industry for some time now, and for TrekWeb I tend to look at Star Trek games in a marginally more lenient light than mainstream titles because they have a specific audience with very focused expectations. I can honestly say in this instance that it doesn’t matter – Bridge Commander is a gold trophy winner all the way around, even for those who loathe all things Trek. It’s a first rate space combat title and the ultimate Star Trek game to date. Barring a few minor complaints, the game gets my highest recommendations – as a Trekkie and as a gamer.
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