Star Trek: Bridge Crew is ridiculously fun but also very unlikely to gather friends for.
Remember when the iPhone first came out, and it was, in hindsight, kind of lame for a while? There were no apps to download, no cool Instagram filters, and you couldn't even turn on the phone's light to use as a flashlight. Like any new technology, smartphones took a little while for people to figure out how to let us do cool things with it. Virtual reality games are kind of in that space now. There isn't a terrible amount of variety to the proceedings—it's great for horror games, pretty cool for puzzles, and nauseating for shooting games—but mostly, game makers are actively working things out. So of course, a bunch of them decided to recreate Star Trek. (There are, probably, entire branches of science and technology we can thank smart people trying to recreate Star Trek for.) They ended up making one of the best, freshest VR games I've ever played. I also don't think I'll ever get to play it again.
Out this week, Star Trek: Bridge Crew lets you and three other friends take command of the U.S.S. Aegis, a Federation starship straight out of the classic TV series. You put on your headset and after you make sure everything's working—blam!—you're a Star Trek guy or gal! With really weird hands. Seriously, your hands are weird in this game.
There are four roles to be filled: Captain, Helm, Engineering, and Tactical. It takes a little while to wrap your head around each role and what it does/whether you'll enjoy it but each one mostly boils down to paying attention to the part of the ship you're responsible for, keeping your teammates apprised of its status, and hitting buttons with conviction to save the crew's ass with your extremely vital tactical acumen. There's certainly a learning curve, but once you round it, working together as a team feels really damn satisfying.
You also feel like a massive dork. Not because of the Star Trek-ness of everything, but because you're wearing this big old visor and headphones and shouting commands to people who are probably not in the room with you. It amplifies the inherently silly feeling of gearing up for a VR session by at least twofold, but eventually, that initial awkwardness fades away because Star Trek: Bridge Crew is really damn cool. It's also extremely unlikely to play it in its best form, with three other humans that you are friends with, because the odds of having three friends who also have VR headsets are extremely slim. Listen, I write about this stuff for a living, and I maybe have one friend who I know has a VR headset. Also good luck getting to play with everyone in the same room, which would require multiple Playstations and TVs (if you're playing via Playstation VR, which is the simplest setup to have).
It's a shame because playing in the same room would be tremendous fun. I played Bridge Crew at a press event, with two other writers and a member of the PR team in the Captain's chair (I ran Engineering) and it was, once I finally got the hang of everything, one of the coolest things I've ever done in VR.
Fortunately, the game can also match you with other players on the Internet (or fill empty slots with AI, but that's lame), and while this might make you nervous, consider that the only people playing this thing have already invested hundreds of dollars into a VR setup, in addition to the fifty beans Star Trek: Bridge Crewcosts. It's the sort of cost of entry that only extremely committed people will pay, and odds are you'll be fine. I'm loathe to try this, though, simply because, while I truly enjoy games and playing them with other people, I also value hanging out with them and talking about them after, the way I would get a drink or coffee after a movie.
Video games are increasingly interested in recreating the shared experience online, but they're also not terribly conducive to that fluid middle space after a game, where you simply talk for a bit, have a drink, decide to play some more or maybe do something else entirely. It's not easy, getting grown-ass adults in the same room to do one thing, and video games are often so focused and singleminded in their purpose that they often create friction when they should aim to be frictionless. Maybe VR games like Bridge Crew are, like the iPhone, waiting for that one crucial update that makes everything easier, the appeal crystal clear, gathering people around it less a willful embrace of awkward technology and more of a seamless adventure.
I'd love to have all my friends together to play Bridge Crew. Maybe I'll find new ones online, but I'll be thinking of the real ones the whole time.