*Editor's note: This is the second in an ongoing series of articles from the Star Trek Online closed beta. Check out the previous article on character customization.
Star Trek Online, since the day it was first announced, has been steeped in controversy, from the days when it was in the hands of another development company right up until now, in the closed beta of Cryptic Studios' version. Much of that controversy has revolved around the idea of whether or not the game would "feel like Star Trek."
With that in mind, I made my way into the Closed Beta test with a single question in mind: Has Cryptic managed to create a game that feels enough like Star Trek to appeal to the legions of fans that particular franchise carries.
Let me preface this by saying that I've played a number of Star Trek games over the years, from Star Trek: The Next Generation - A Final Unity all the way up to Star Trek Legacy, and up until this point I have yet to really enjoy any of them. They've always felt a little bit like poorly designed games with a Trek skin. Logging in for the first time to Star Trek Online I'll be honest in saying that my hopes were high, but my expectations were low. Also, I'm a huge Trek nerd.
So, the question remains, does STO actually feel like Star Trek?
It's amazing how important a role sound actually plays in determining mood and setting. I hadn't really thought about it until I logged in with the express purpose of determining the game's "trekkieness." That's when it really hit me: If the music and sound effects fail to impress, this game just won't feel like Trek.
Fortunately, the sound in the game hit the nail on the head completely. Right from the get-go when you're introduced to Star Trek Online's theme, you feel at least lightly immersed in the universe. For those who might be curious, the theme starts off sounding very much like the opening to the original series, so much so that you almost expect Shatner to break in with "Space... the final frontier." It doesn't happen though, and instead launches into the same kind of high energy brass instrument and drums music that became iconic with The Next Generation. It's a nice blend of the styles without actually sounding like either. On a side note, I'd like to commend the powers that be for resisting the urge to implant their own version of the "space, the final frontier," speech into their theme. That kind of thing works when it's William Shatner or Patrick Stewart. There's nothing worse than hearing those iconic words come from an unfamiliar voice.
Sticking with music, I was also impressed by the score that went along with ground and space missions. It swelled and got appropriately angsty at the appropriate moments. Seriously, go back and watch your favorite episode of TNG with the score removed. It doesn't work very well. Cryptic's integration of this here was well done.
I can gush similarly about the game's sound effects as even the ambient sounds will spark thoughts of Trek in even a casual fan of the series. Phasers, communicators, doors, warp drives, they all fit the lore perfectly.