There are few places in the universe more appealing to me than the captain's seat of a Federation starship. This hallowed chair is the locus of so many of my desires for exploration, adventure and the thrill of command.
Star Trek: Bridge Crew is the latest in a long line of attempts to bring Gene Roddenberry's sci-fi universe to gaming. Many have attempted to twirl standard shooting or strategy games around this most revered of fantasy worlds. Few have given us a first-person view of the famous bridge, so to speak.
In Ubisoft's Bridge Crew, out today, I'm in command of the USS Aegis during the period depicted in recent Paramount movies. The Aegis is pretty much the same as the Enterprise, but I can also take control of the actual Enterprise, as an advanced level bonus.
My mission is to figure out a new home for dislocated Vulcans. This soon brings me into contact with the hostile Klingon Empire.
Bridge Crew is designed for cooperative endeavor, with four players taking on the roles of the captain, a weapons operative, the steering seat and an engineer who fixes things. I initially played it on my own (on PlayStation VR), switching into particular roles whenever necessary and leaving the vaguely competent AI in charge at other times. This is eminently do-able and a good way to learn each role before playing in public.
I also played in co-op mode, where it’s easy to find teammates who’ll take on individual roles. Among the teams I encountered, there was a good sense of shared experiences. In the campaign, we follow orders and journey from one location to another. Truly, some of the scenery is majestic. I gaze upon supernova, ring planets, space stations and tortured moons. When the Aegis is in full flight, the universe whizzes by, a fabulous alleyway of purple, crimson and golden wonders.
But a game is not a collection of picture postcards, and this is where Bridge Crew fails to impress. Its missions are variations on going to a place, checking out the situation, and resolving some problem through combat, extraction or stealth.
All of those resolutions are executed from a seated position, no matter which role you play. Whichever role I’m playing, I look down upon my own body (I can choose between a woman or a man) and I use my hands to press seat buttons, control panels and electronic menus. Some of the roles are more fun that others. I like helm the best and engineering the least.
This game comes with a lot of menus and panels. It turns out that mastery of a Federation ship really comes down to knowing which buttons to press, and when. Most of the action is slow and steady. There’s something submerged about the pace of this game. I often found it dull.
All of Bridge Crew’s different strategies are draped across the crew's abilities, which are accessed via those menus and effected at the appropriate time. This gives the campaign a feeling of being one long, linear tutorial mission in which the crew explores the powers at our disposal and the ways in which they are connected to successful mission completion. A collection of subsequent random missions fail to add much in the way of flair and variety.
The Star Trek universe ought to be about exploring "strange new worlds” and seeking out "new life and new civilizations." But Bridge Crew offers no weird aliens or cool planetscapes. It doesn't even let me explore the space ship.
Instead, it offers up a chair from which I can undertake a series of coldly mechanical technical tasks.
There are some bright moments. I like the feeling of controlling a Federation ship. I get a kick out of skimming through space. There are moments when the action grabs my attention and lures me into a feeling of immersion.
And there's certainly some fun to be had here for co-op players, working together to extract ourselves from sticky situations. But the camaraderie is mostly coming from us, with the game offering little more than the most elemental tabletop from where we interact. If it weren’t for a shared love of all things Star Trek, I suspect a lot of people would find this game pretty dull stuff.
There's just not enough good stuff to make Bridge Crew anything other than a simple piece of interactive task management grafted onto a stingy representation of a beloved fictional universe.
Despite its grand vistas, Star Trek: Bridge Crew comes across more like a sterile demo than a full virtual reality simulation of space combat and exploration. The magic that’s here is just a faint echo from the deep space of our own shared fandom.
Update: An earlier version of this story was confined to my impressions of the single-player campaign. Now that the game has been released, I’ve had a chance to play co-op and have updated the story.