Review by Flashman85

Reviewed: 05/21/08

Great FPS. Even better Star Trek game.

Popular franchises beget video games. Some franchises, such as Star Wars, have brought some truly outstanding games. Some franchises, such as Star Trek, have brought some truly awful games. That is not to say that all Star Wars games are good and that all Star Trek games are bad, but if Luke Skywalker and Kyle Katarn faced off against Captain Kirk and Captain Picard as representatives of their respective games, chances are good that the poor captains would be dismembered before they could figure out how to access the inventory screen that has their phasers.

However, if you include Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force in this metaphor, Kirk at least gets to punch Skywalker in the face. Hard.

So maybe metaphors aren't the way to write a review, but the point remains: Elite Force is not only one of the best Star Trek games ever made, but it stands alone as a first-rate first-person shooter, Star Trek or not.

The premise: The starship Voyager is lost in space a loooooong way from home. Encounters with hostile aliens and ship-threatening disasters happen frequently, so an elite force of specially-trained crew members is assembled to defend the ship in such situations. You play as Ensign Munro, a member of the so-called Hazard Team, and (as I’m positive someone else has stated somewhere before me) it’s up to you and your teammates to seek out new life and new civilizations and then frag them.

You control the action entirely from a first-person perspective, but in-game cutscenes are more cinematic and show you in the third person. There are a few full-motion videos from time to time where spaceship exteriors are involved, but they fit in well and maintain the feeling that you’re a part of an episode of Star Trek. The plot is developed through cutscenes, videos, and sometimes even during normal gameplay. Without naming any specifics, the plot seems to serve more as a vehicle for you to visit all of the locations and fight all of the bad guys that the developers had in mind, but it’s still a good one and has a few little twists and turns to keep things interesting.

Missions take you to various alien ships, some of which come directly from the TV show (including, but not limited to, a Borg cube and a Klingon Bird-of-Prey). To keep missions from being constant run-and-gun escapades, there are also environmental puzzles (interacting with your environment to accomplish a task), a few jumping puzzles, sections where covert infiltration is generally preferable to barging in with phasers blazing, and many opportunities for sniping. You spend your time between missions on board Voyager, exploring parts of the ship such as the bridge and sickbay, talking to your fellow crew members, and trying out new weapons in simulations on the holodeck. Occasionally, something terrible will happen on Voyager and you’ll need to run around the ship to set things straight.

The plot unfolds at a good pace, though there are a few times when the exposition gets a little heavy. Even when you aren’t shooting at things all the time, the game does move along rather smoothly, and it’s never too long to wait before you can get your phaser heated up again. The missions are all about the right length, and even the ones that feel a little too long are more rewarding when you beat them to compensate; to some extent, it emulates the relief you might feel in real life, being able to return to some place safe after a long and dangerous mission.

The controls are fully customizable, which is perhaps to be expected in this day and age for any FPS, but options such as the ability to change the color and style of your aiming crosshair make things that much better. You also have multiple difficulty settings as well as the option to play as a male (Alexander) or a female (Alexandria); this choice is mostly cosmetic, but a few minor parts of the game are slightly different depending on your gender, thus adding some replayability.

In addition to these choices you have a good selection of weapons. There’s the obligatory phaser that never runs out of ammo for good because it recharges when not being fired; there’s the compression (read: sniper) rifle; there’s a compound grenade launcher that fires sticky mines and bouncing grenades; there are other fun weapons, too, but I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise. The primary and secondary modes of fire are for most of the weapons are different enough from each other, so you’ll probably still be cycling through many of the weapons even at the end of the game to find the right one for the situation at hand.

Moreover, the weapons look cool in action. As most of your weapons are energy-based, you’ll see all sorts of beams, bolts, and pretty colors flying out of the end of your weapons, making contained explosions, leaving scorch marks on the walls, and completely disintegrating your foes, depending on what you’re using. The special effects are great, and they aren’t just limited to the weapons: wait until the first time you get beamed up.

The rest of the game also looks great, but perhaps not so much by today’s standards. The textures are all very good, the environments are generally detailed and intricate, and the character animations are pretty fluid, but the character models themselves are noticeably blocky. Still, if you can look past the character models, the rest of the visuals still hold up rather well and do build the feeling that what you’re playing isn’t just a video game but an excursion into an episode of Star Trek.

To that end, I’m all about atmosphere, and Elite Force is chock-full of it. From the green-lighted, mechanical hallways of the Borg cube to the spacious, organic chambers of the Etherian ship, every location is unique and feels as tense, creepy, or chaotic as it should. There are also some nice little touches here and there, such as a Borg drone lying on the ground that has been cut in half and is still twitching. Gross. Awesome.

Adding to the atmosphere created by the visuals is the sound. The music might not be particularly interesting on its own, but in-game it helps to shape the mood of each location and situation without ever distracting you from what you’re doing. Attentive, musically-inclined Star Trek fans will notice that the music for such locations as the Klingon ship actually sounds like the music in the TV shows and in the movies, which makes the game feel even more authentically Star trek.

The sound effects are right-on as well: phaser fire and red alert sirens sound just like they do on TV, and everything else--ambient background noise, alien screeches, footsteps, etc.--all sounds perfect.

Beyond the music and sound effects, the voice acting is top-notch. Janeway, Chakotay, Tuvok… All the main characters from the show and even a few minor characters appear and are voiced by the original actors. The exception to this is Seven of Nine, who in the original release of the game was played by an actress who does a very respectable job of imitating Jeri Ryan, though a patch was later released to insert Jeri Ryan’s voice into the game instead. There’s a slew of different voice actors who have been in all sorts of movies, TV shows, and other video games (Biff from the Back to the Future movies and LeChuck from Monkey Island 3 and 4, to name two of my favorites), and they all play their roles very well.

This is good, considering how much of the game you spend around things that talk. The Voyager segments between missions are characterized by a lot of dialogue, whether it’s in the form of a briefing for your next mission or a conversation you overhear as you walk from one place to another. You’ll also overhear conversations held by enemies if you haven’t started shooting at them, and you’ll hear them shouting in pain if you have. Furthermore, you’ll spend lots of time during your missions with other members of the Hazard Team, and you’ll hear banter from them during both exploration and battle (“Does the Hazard Team get hazard pay?”), which continues to make the game’s atmosphere more engrossing.

Fellow team members occasionally get in the way (as video game sidekicks do), but they’re generally good at getting out of the way, not getting caught too far behind you, and not shooting you in the back. You don’t need to worry too much about accidentally shooting them in the back, though; some team members are virtually indestructible because they are critical to the plot. On the other hand, some characters, even though they have names and personalities, are actually expendable. If they die, not only will the game continue on without them, but there are some repercussions, however minor, for their loss. Of course, you can always go on a killing spree and murder your teammates and superior officers (only the holographic doctor is immune to your homicidal efforts), but that will land you in the brig very quickly, ending your game. I highly, highly recommend doing this at least once.

Elite Force does provide a venue where it’s perfectly acceptable to take out your aggression on everyone else: Holomatch, the game’s multiplayer mode. The standard maps come in all shapes and sizes and are designed well, though few levels stand out as particularly excellent or memorable. You can choose from almost the entire cast of characters from the game as well as a few others from the Star Trek universe. I can’t speak for online play, as I’ve never heard of anyone else who owns this game (let alone anyone who would dare play against me, bwahaha!), but the computer AI you can play against instead isn’t half bad most of the time; I’ve played more than a few Capture the Flag games solely with the AI, and they’ve been surprisingly fun. The awards that you get for marksmanship and whatnot add to the enjoyment.

There are problems with Elite Force, but the vast majority of the game is so good that you might be able to overlook most of them. Here’s a quick list of anything worth noting: Enemy AI in single player mode is a little funny sometimes, moving erratically; Holomatch is a completely separate program, which is a little inconvenient; there are not enough level objects to wantonly destroy (for my taste, anyhow); a few moments in the plot and dialogue seem forced; the final mission degrades to a constant stream of the same two enemies in rooms that are all too similar for their own good; and the final battle becomes tedious after a while, especially on harder difficulties. So, for the most part, it’s only the end of the game that falls short of the quality present in the rest of the game, but even then, it’s by no means bad. There are still very enjoyable sections of the last mission interspersed with what is the FPS equivalent of a dungeon crawl, and the ending is satisfying.

Overall, Elite Force is an excellent game. The visuals (even if some of them look outdated), the atmosphere, the sounds, the voice acting, the plot, the pace, the gameplay, the weapons, the little touches, Holomatch… everything works very well. The game is rewarding for Star Trek fans but is accessible to anyone. The few problems the game has are more than made up for by the its successes. Best Star Trek game of all time? Quite possibly. A must for Star Trek aficionados, and highly recommended for FPS buffs.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Star Trek: Voyager Elite Force (US, 09/20/00)

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