The iconic Captain Kirk pose represents the quintessence of cool-headed composure. Leant slightly forward, one leg propped across the other, an inquisitive face resting upon a loosely clenched right hand; the man appears calm, collected and in control. Unfortunately, these same words cannot be used to describe our time spent as members of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek: Bridge Crew, on PlayStation VR. The latest virtual reality title from Ubisoft places four budding pioneers into the lofty boots of a Federation bridge crew, with each player taking on one of the instantly recognisable roles synonymous with Star Trek lore; Helm, Tactical, Engineer and Captain.
Though you’re bound to your designated chair on the bridge as the crew tackles any number of linear or procedurally generated missions, you’ll never be short of things to do, with motion controls giving your hands free reign to play about with the ship’s many systems via the control board situated in front of you.
Star Trek: Bridge Crew places a commendable focus on the social aspect of virtual reality, as progress depends on a tactile team who can communicate and cooperate with each other to command the ship effectively. But it’s not easy; in fact, our recent preview with the game turned into an embarrassingly spectacular trainwreck which ended with a literally spectacular shipwreck. After a few weeks to decompress, each of us are ready to share our thoughts on what we think went wrong, while reminiscing on some of the highlights from our failed expedition.
Matt Elliott - Captain
As (acting) captain of our vessel, I was responsible for deciding objectives, shouting at the crew and tapping my fingers together in an authoritative way. It did not start well. As captain, all the buttons you need are literally at your fingertips, but they’re very close together. And while the PlayStation Move controller is amazingly accurate, it didn’t stop me from hitting the ‘Red Alert’ button instead of ‘Answer Hail’ in what was literally my first action of the game. It set the tone for everything that was to follow - a mix of blind panic and administrative error, which would eventually see us die at the hand of a vicious meteor.
But I enjoyed everything about Bridge Crew right up until we died a fiery death. Being captain is especially fun, mostly because I get to sit down like Riker, but there are caveats. You soon learn that some members of your crew only do stuff when explicitly instructed - “Don’t fly the ship into solid objects, Lauren” - whereas others are are a bit too keen to show initiative - “Don’t start a war with the Klingons, Leon”. And while we failed the Kobayashi Maru spectacularly, we did manage to save 12 people. Every life counts, right?
Lauren O’Callaghan - Helm
All I wanted to do was fly a spaceship. I wanted to be Tom Paris (yes, Voyager is my favourite Star Trek series - what’s your point?). It turns out that flying a spaceship is really, really difficult, and while the rest of your crew will help by yelling at you to go faster, there’s not much they can do if you’re going to crash into a meteor. In my defence, my Captain (Matt Elliott) never gave me the order to go around the meteors and there was a lot else going on at the time (enemy ships, space mines).
Plus, not being a gamer, there was a little voice inside my head saying, “Don’t worry, you’ll be allowed to bump into them, it would be too difficult otherwise.” Do not listen to that voice. That voice is a naive fool who will blow up your ship. Other than that one slight mishap, I think things went pretty well. As Helmsman there’s A LOT to think about and do but just remember, it’s not your fault if your Engineer (*cough* Alex *cough*) forgets to charge the engines.
Leon Hurley - Tactical
Have you heard the saying that ‘if you give someone a hammer then everything looks like a nail?’ I had photon torpedos. Everything on my scanner looked like a target, which probably explains why I might have slightly shot the Klingons a bit and started a war. I’m sure I heard someone say I could open fire. It might have been me. Anyway, the important thing is I got to shoot something.
Tactical actually felt quite pressured overall as, shooting aside, I also had to manage shields, scanners and teleporting. That mainly involved shouting at engineering for more power and shooting all the mines that helm seemed hellbent on steering us into. This is perfect for playing with friends you don’t mind having mild arguments with, because it’s much easier to see someone else not doing their job right than actually do your own. And often there’s an extra layer to mistakes - being shouted at for not raising shields leads to shouting at the guy who hasn’t given you the power to do it and so on. Who knew the final frontier had so much bickering in it?
Alex Avard - Engineer
My knowledge of science and engineering extends to the tidbits of trivia I’ve picked up from reruns of QI, so taking up the mantle of Engineer felt daunting at first. Upon staring down at my dashboard, I was greeted by what appeared to be a virtualised Jackson Pollock painting made up of various buttons and levers, but quickly progressing through the short tutorials gave me a halfway understanding of what to expect. Like that of a board game, Star Trek: Bridge Crew becomes easier to understand by jumping straight in and playing it, where you teach yourself each new process whenever the Captain demands that you perform it.
The Engineer’s role is essentially an exercise in resource management. Your central dashboard displays a series of nodes distributing power to various parts of the ship, such as the shields or the main engine. If we were in a precarious position, I would transfer most available power to the shields, but this left us without any engine oomph for a quick getaway, much to the consternation of my fellow helmsman. There’s no pleasing everybody, I suppose.
What did we learn?
Nothing. No, seriously...
Despite our many cosmic cock ups and spacefaring stumbles, Star Trek: Bridge Crew was stupidly good fun. A lot of the enjoyment was derived from the banter between the team, so it’s uncertain if the game retains its entertainment value if you don’t know three other virtual reality enthusiasts to play with. In a smart move, however, Ubisoft has enabled cross-play functionality between the Vive, Rift and PlayStation VR, which at least increases your chances for teaming up with other humans (or vulcans) for some intergalactic camaraderie.
There’s still some work to be done in fine-tuning the motion controls, particularly so our in-game hands don’t look quite so eldritch when attempting to perform a more complex manoeuvre, but Star Trek: Bridge Crew looks otherwise set to deliver on an already fantastic concept. I recommend playing while seated in a swivel chair to achieve maximum Star Trek immersion, though don’t bother trying to pull off that Captain Kirk pose; you’ve got strange new worlds to explore, after all.