Star Trek: Bridge Crew The Next Gen Feels Empty

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Star Trek: Bridge Crew The Next Gen Feels Empty
May 26, 2018

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I don’t own a real Star Trek uniform, but having watched every film and most of the TV shows in the franchise, I’d consider myself a fan. Even so, after multiple attempts to immerse myself in Ubisoft’s Star Trek: Bridge Crew, I couldn’t get into the tactical gameplay. And as excited as I was about the new looks and audio of The Next Generation DLC, which releases today exclusively for the PlayStation 4 and PSVR, it doesn’t change the base game enough to engage me.

 

It wouldn’t be fair to offer a full review of the DLC based on the portion of Bridge Crew that I’ve played — as our news story noted, there are multiple new missions, including an expert-level battle with the Borg that I was in no way ready to win, and the game still has kinks to be worked out. So what follows are initial impressions that may or may not be updated in the future.

Above: This is the highest position on the bridge, standing behind the captain’s chair.

 

What we like (so far)

Experience the bridge of the NCC-1701-D Enterprise in VR

If there’s any single thing in the Next Generation DLC that I enjoyed, it’s the feeling of being on the bridge of Jean Luc Picard’s Enterprise. You can see through the eyes of a captain, tactical officer, operations officer, or flight control officer — emphasis on “a” rather than “the” — by either remaining in a single position or switching between positions to take control of the ship’s varied systems.

 

You create an avatar for a captain, who just commands everyone else to handle their responsibilities, using buttons on the captain’s chair and a tablet, AR-style buttons that float in the air, or voice commands interpreted using a partnership with IBM’s Watson. Alternatively, you can choose another position to staff full-time or part-time as needed. Should you switch positions, you’ll see a sometimes remarkable level of additional touchscreen controls on futuristic panels that look very much like the ones shown on TV.

Above: Thanks to TNG-style graphic design elements such as fonts and shapes, the UI looks very close to Starfleet-accurate.

 

Solid graphic design

Kudos to the Ubisoft Red Storm team for re-creating not only the bridge of the Enterprise but the distinctive visual style of the computer systems. Even the in-game virtual buttons use the typography and general shapes introduced in Next Generation episodes, making the reskinning of the original Bridge Crew feel complete rather than partial.

Above: A single button press brings up temporary floating labels to help you learn the controls whenever necessary.

 

Streamlined controls

The Next Generation DLC streamlines the insane collection of Original Series chair buttons by offloading many of them onto the tablet. Regardless of whether you’re using twin PlayStation Move controllers or a DualShock 4 to control your character’s hands, it’s nowhere near as intimidating to figure out what you can and can’t do from a given position. This doesn’t mean that the controls are great — they’re still a bit fiddly and you’ll still need to spend a day or two acclimating to interacting with your crew — but they’re easier to learn than in the original version of the game.

Above: Switch to one of the two front crew members and you can actually see what’s on the ship’s viewscreen.

 

Diversity of missions and characters

Red Storm has added in an Android class of characters, so you can now choose between humans, Vulcans, and Data-like characters for your avatar — though all have an uncanny valley-like vacant gaze. The inner-ship texture work is impressive enough that you can see fine details in the fabric of uniforms and carpeting, too.

Above: Experience the substantial emptiness of space firsthand.

 

On the other hand, the outer space scenery doesn’t look exactly like the sequences from the Next Generation TV shows or films — it’s similar, but not quite there. You continue to have the choice between short offensive and defensive missions or extended story-like campaigns, as well as the ability to experience them through multiple ships, now including the Aegis, the original Enterprise, and the Next Generation Enterprise. You can also play with friends online or with AI assistants.

 

What we don’t like (so far)

Above: The perspective from the captain’s chair in non-VR mode is almost ridiculously boring thanks to a super wide-angle view.

 

Vacant spaces inside and outside the ship

One of the most glaringly problematic things with Bridge Crew is the game’s default to overly wide views, a problem that’s gets worse if you play in non-VR mode. There, the ultrawide camera angle makes the bridge of the ship seem largely empty, placing the tiny viewscreen so far away from the captain’s chair that the immersion factor is zero. In VR mode, it gets a little better, but it’s still a problem. Practically everything cinematic from the shows and movies is gone, leaving you feeling like you’re sitting around in a vacuum — even when you’re in your ship.

Above: I’m pretty sure there’s a guy talking to me on that viewscreen, but I can’t really make out any details because he’s so far away from the captain’s chair.

 

The game flips between remarkably low-energy and semi-intense moments like a lightswitch. You’ll be twiddling your thumbs on a basically silent bridge unless you start plotting courses yourself or otherwise issuing commands, and it will generally take stringing a bunch of commands together to get yourself into a zone of activity … which, again, won’t be as exciting as the show.

Above: Do you enjoy sitting or standing in the same place for extended periods of time? With the DLC, at least you have (dead-eyed) people sitting next to you.

 

No foot motion, virtually nothing outside the bridge

It might be too much at this point to expect a Star Trek virtual reality game to actually let you walk around the Enterprise, but here you can’t even walk around the bridge. Your view is transported between stations without any actual locomotion, and everyone’s stuck standing or sitting wherever they started. Bridge Crew offer brief views of a briefing room between missions, but no capability to actually walk into it — or teleport down, visit the Holodeck, or do anything else beyond the bridge of the ship.

Above: Hey, who’s that guy? And what did he do with Worf?

 

No familiar characters or ambience

There’s no Jean Luc, Deanna, Number One, Data, Geordi, or Worf to interact with, nor are the show’s familiar musical cues included. While the AI characters could just as easily have been on the show as extras, you don’t get deep into their personalities. So if you’re seeking camaraderie, you’ll need to recruit friends to play with you online.

 

On a more positive note, the voice acting is solid, and the sound effects are generally consistent with the ones you’ll remember from the show. If the game had more of both, and a greater sense of musical ambience, it would be better off.

 

Conclusion (so far)

Both in TV shows and films, Star Trek: The Next Generation offered one of the most exciting sci-fi universes to explore in VR, but this DLC pack for Bridge Crew offers only a small taste of what made the series so compelling. Given the choice to continue exploring the final frontier or stop after a few missions, I found it surprisingly easy to pull off my VR headset and return back to a simpler reality instead.

Above: At least the Enterprise looks good here.

 

What Bridge Crew continues to lack, in my view, is the spark of life and excitement that the episodes almost universally had — you can gather some friends and try to create that energy yourself, but what the game otherwise offers is a largely tactical take on Star Trek. It feels like a tease of a broader experience of planetary exploration that’s yet to come in a game, despite having been critically important to the Star Trek series. That said, if the idea of putting on a virtual Starfleet uniform and commanding a crew from the bridge really excites you, the Next Generation DLC gives you an even better opportunity to enjoy the experience.

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