Jack of All Trades, Master of Few
It’s amazing to think that Star Trek has been around for nearly a half a century. That’s right: Half a century. The original television series first aired in 1966 and since that time, it’s been followed by movies, other series, metric tons of books and comics, games and more. Star Trek is a huge part of the American, if not the world’s, psyche. So-called Trekkies from around the world participate in conventions and George Takei, Mr. Sulu himself, is one of the most popular Facebook personalities ever.
It is to this particular niche that Cryptic Studios’ Star Trek Online initially sought to cater to when launched in 2010. It’s hard to believe that it’s already been four years since STO hit the airwaves. We wanted to check in to see how the game was faring with iconic races mostly represented and a series of pretty cool seasons under the game’s own virtual belt.
Aesthetically speaking, Star Trek Online is a pretty amazing piece of art. Players will not forget for a moment that they are part of the Star Trek universe by sight or by sound.
While there are clearly ships that have come from the imaginations of the development team, those that are most familiar to players: Enterprise class ships, Klingon warbirds, Romulan birds-of prey. All of these and more make an appearance and fans of the game will be pleased at the aesthetic look of each. There is no mistaking those ships that are part and parcel of the overall lore.
The sounds of STO are spot on as well: Phasers sound like phasers. Doors swoosh open as they should. Transporters sparkle and tinkle before sending players away in a cascade of shininess. Photons shooting from a ship’s cannons sound like photons. Tricorders make the appropriate sounds. The music is fitting too. The game’s underlying themes will be instantly familiar to fans of any of the series or movies. Add in the voices of well-known series' stars like Leonard Nimoy and Michael Dorn, among others, and it's a nearly perfect aural experience.
Character creation is robust and interesting as well. There’s no question in my mind that a new player could spend upwards of an hour just making the perfect character. It’s too bad that the awesomeness that is the character you see when making it in the creation screen doesn’t last as you watch your avatar move around a planet’s surface. To give one small example, run animations are awkward, though, truth be told, the roll to dodge animation is pretty cool.
Overall, however, the look and feel of Star Trek Online is spot on. It’s a pretty, if slightly aging game.
Game Play 6/10
Game play is the one area of Star Trek Online that I really wanted to shine and, in some ways, it does. STO is a much different beast than most MMOs in the genre. Not only do players get to experience planet side ground combat as in any MMO, but they also get to take on the wonders of ship to ship combat out in space. In addition, and one of the features that most sets STO apart from others is the small group play that players get to engage in with ship’s officers.
While all of those things sound great and succeed on some levels, the overall feeling that one is left with is that, while amazingly cool to consider, none of the three varieties of combat are done particularly well. They’re not horrid, just none are as good as they could have been if attention were given to one at a time to perfect it as much as possible before moving on to the next. I know and I get it: How could you build a Star Trek MMO without having all three combat components in place from the get go? Honestly, I have no answer to that other than to say that, no matter what, combat and game play is a big letdown given the near perfection of the ambiance of the game.
I wanted to feel the power of my ship under my feet and to see the effects of shooting one of the cannons at an enemy. I wanted the visceral experience that Star Trek evokes regardless of which series or movie I think of.
In some ways, at least in look (see above), the game is amazingly successful but it just doesn’t make the jump successfully to game play. Combat is slow and clunky no matter where it’s happening. It just seems like everything and everybody is moving through a morass of invisible mud.
Space combat, at least for me, was a teeth gnashing experience and given how much of it goes on throughout the game (DUH!), it was annoying. I found myself sighing a lot when beaming back aboard my ship to go take on yet another pack of < insert enemy name here >. As always, there was one uber-ship that seemed to take forever to finally kill…and my fingers told the tale. Ed. Note: Yes, I utilized auto-fire but that didn't help either. There always had to be at least one or two fingers on the keyboard or the mouse.
Ground combat isn’t much better either, though at least you have your away team to take on the larger part of the hordes you run across. Overall, however, I was left with the impression that ground combat, while significantly improved from what I understand, was a feature that was tacked on to the rest of the game. Missions are short and the planets themselves do not give players a chance to explore and roam around. Get to A, rescue B, kill boss at point C, beam back to the ship, take out packs of enemy ships, hail Star Fleet, rinse-repeat.
The caveat here is, of course, the Foundry. While I spent most of my time playing the main game, the Foundry episodes I did complete seemed to break out of this stale pattern.
Combat and game play should be the hallmark, the high point, of any game yet, sadly in STO’s case, it is the weakest part of the overall game, never quite matching up to the ambiance.
The Star Trek Original Series was one of the most innovative, if cheesy, television shows of its era and brought science fiction into the world’s living rooms. I would like to say that Star Trek Online brings an equal boatload of innovation to the MMO space but, truthfully, it does not. Most of the systems and features are pretty pedestrian fare in the genre with nothing standing out particularly well.
That’s not to say that these things are bad, just standard.