Star Trek: Bridge Crew (2017)
Captain on the bridge…
A dry spell of Star Trek video games is broken by a demo-worthy example of virtual reality gaming. Engage.
Developed by Red Storm Entertainment
Published by Ubisoft
Released on PlayStation 4 (played), PC
When it comes to the adaptations of a popular intellectual property into the interactive video game medium, there are few franchises on the planet that have had as tumultuous or as deep a history as Star Trek. Indeed, Star Trek’s history with video games extends back to the infancy of the medium itself, and it’s not difficult to see why: its space-based setting with a focus on advanced technology makes its jump to innovative electronic media not just natural, but almost compulsory.
When it comes to the majority of the last 15 years, though, Star Trek has managed to take about as much of a backseat in the realm of video games as it’s taken on television: new experiences within the vast, 50-plus year old universe have been few and far between outside of new additions to a longstanding massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, and though we got a high-profile game spinning out of the hype machine from the franchise’s 2013 film, it came and went with all the fanfare of a scream in space.
Now, though, Star Trek is making the jump into a relatively new technology that’s only just now becoming widely available to gamers in their own homes: virtual reality. Not only does this new game allow you to sit on the bridge of a powerful starship through the grand vision of Star Trek’s latest film series, but it also allows you to experience VR online, in a surprisingly and effectively social way.
That strength of concept and the truly fun interactions a player can have while playing it makes Star Trek: Bridge Crew one of the best video game experiences that the franchise has ever produced, and for those who’ve had minimal exposure to VR in general, singlehandedly proves the potential that it brings as a new way to immerse yourself in a fantastic setting.
Design and Story
For the continuity-conscious among Star Trek fandom, the primary campaign is set during the events of the so-called “Kelvin Timeline,” created by the events of the 2009 film directed by J.J. Abrams and starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. Set just after the events of the 2009 film in 2258 (and about a year prior to the events of 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness), your player character takes on the role of Captain in command of a new, experimental starship called the USS Aegis. Charged by Starfleet Command with exploring an uncharted region of space called “the Trench,” the Aegis’ mission is to try and find a world in the region that would be a suitable location for a colony of Vulcans that survived the destruction of their homeworld at the hands of Romulan terrorist Nero.
Design-wise, the developers at Red Storm Entertainment did a terrific job in painstakingly recreating the philosophies that informed the production design of the Abrams films. The bridge of the Aegis, where the player spends all their time, is a faithful “remix” of the design observed on the new USS Enterprise, and the other ships that appear in your encounters all bear the same philosophy whether talking about Federation or Klingon ships.
The look of the game is also given a level of gloss that’s easy to see in Abrams’ films, and looking around the bridge you have access to inside a VR headset emphasizes just how detailed the environment really is. On top of this, though, players can also choose to engage in missions aboard the original USS Enterprise bridge as it was seen across all three seasons of Star Trek: The Original Series, faithfully recreated down to the sound effects and Jolly Rancher-like buttons on the consoles. Since the buttons aren’t labeled, a helpful and optional overlay allows players to function just as efficiently as they can aboard the Aegis, but the original Enterprise bridge is best reserved for more advanced players since it’s a little more complicated to work.
All in all, Bridge Crew faithfully recreates the aesthetics of two very different eras of Star Trek canon, united under a single, immersive game engine. The biggest question, though, revolves around how the game plays. Thankfully, Bridge Crew serves as a demo-worthy example of just how great VR gaming can be.
The basic premise of Bridge Crew is that it features four players: one serves as the captain, one sits at the helm, another at tactical, and finally, one at the engineering console, all coordinating their actions in order to solve specific combat scenarios, or even participate in humanitarian and science-based missions. The captain is the sort-of “conductor” that reads the orders from Starfleet Command, and delegates tasks to the other three players in order to meet the goals of the mission at-hand.
The first time you boot up the game, you’re standing before a vast asteroid and starfield before being placed in the main menu: a shuttle ride from a starbase to the USS Aegis, which familiarizes you with how exactly you’ll soon interface with the controls on the bridge of the starship. After a training session on a holodeck, of sorts, which familiarizes you with the duties at every station, you embark on a shakedown cruise — or at least, what you think is a shakedown cruise, that is until you encounter a little ship in distress along the Klingon border called the Kobayashi Maru.
Inspired by the same test of character appearing in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in all the right places, you then begin the game’s campaign in earnest, which you can do either by yourself in the captain’s chair with an A.I. crew, or with a full complement of fellow players online filling out all four positions.
In addition to the campaign mode, you can also play a series of different missions oriented around combat, science, or hostage situations. A good crew is often defined most by the flow and ease of communication, the ability to delegate tasks and not try and “take over the room,” deference to the player in the center seat, but also not being afraid to speak up if you notice indecisiveness or inaction, particularly if a path forward is clear to you in a tense situation. The game really does effectively get to the forefront of the human element of Star Trek, while also being extremely detail-oriented and immersive.
While the base game itself has a tendency to get repetitive, the true diversity of experiences comes from the very different kinds of people you’ll find yourself playing with over the course of your time with the game. Even if certain tasks have a tendency to become monotonous, that doesn’t mean that the people you take on those tasks with will be at all similar from session to session.
But, of course, Red Storm also introduced a $15 downloadable content pack to Bridge Crew, opening up more authenticity to the Star Trek universe, while also bringing to life a very Trek-centric nightmare scenario for you and your crew to play.
Not even just to play, but to struggle through.
‘The Next Generation’ DLC
Added in the new Next Generation DLC pack is the ability to play on the bridge of the legendary USS Enterprise-D, along with new adversaries for you to take on in ongoing voyages: the Romulans. Also added is a mode called “Borg Resistance,” which charges you to try and take on a giant Borg Cube with your crew, making it shut down for repairs so you can warp to different sectors of space in order to find pieces of a weapon to use to destroy the cube for good.
The game mode is also made even more harrowing by adding in the presence of a planet killer, the eponymous device in the original series episode “The Doomsday Machine,” that complicates the ability for the crew to take on the Borg in specific sectors. The mode, though, also allows some pretty unique scenarios for crews to get creative in order to stop the Borg’s onslaught.
All in all, The Next Generation DLC pack is how you correctly take advantage of the concept of post-launch support. A modest price tag and even more immersion in the world of Star Trek makes it a no-brainer to pick up alongside the main game for any fan of space, the final frontier.
Bridge Crew as a whole, by virtue of its immersion, its attention to detail, its representation of, now, three different eras of Trek canon, and its reliance on your team makes it one of the best Star Trek games you can play. Technology available for home gamers has finally caught up to the potential of the concept of sitting on the bridge of a starship, making for one of the best VR games available, in addition to being one of the coolest and most representative Star Trek games in years.
It’s also now available for players who don’t own a VR headset, with the same kind of cross-play now open to PlayStation and PC players even if you just want to play on your TV with a traditional controller.
Bottom line, Star Trek: Bridge Crew feels like both the culmination of Star Trek gaming’s history up until this point, as well as an accessible, social, and solid gaming experience all on its own. Because of all those factors, it comes highly recommended.
Take the center seat, Captain, and prepare for departure.
This review was adapted from an episode of the Discovery Debrief podcast.