Star Trek Bridge Commander

Review by Mike Phillips
March 2002

"Captain's personal log. Stardate 54303.1: Our new first officer is working out nicely, quite capable though mildly lacking in experience. The commander will gain that with time. My ship has been assigned to the Vesuvi system to investigate the unusual solar activity hampering colonization in the Maelstrom. I hope to learn more at the Vesuvi Four terraforming, the sole Federation outpost in this region of space. We are also on alert for any Cardassian activity. Despite Starfleet's claims, I doubt we've seen the last of them here ..."

If that prologue raises an eyebrow, you may have just found a game as valuable as gold pressed latinum. Billed as a space sim/adventure, STBC is the first game that actually gives you a true feeling of being the captain of a starship.

Mr. Holland's Opus

Lawrence Holland may not be a household name to adventure gamers, but the gentleman does have a few miles on his tires or, more appropriate, a few light years under his belt. Among his notable credits, he happened to design the X-Wing series of games for LucasArts. Should that arouse any interest for an adventure gamer? Of course not; however, in STBC a certain DC Fontana is responsible for the dialog. Surely that name is familiar—Dorothy has penned, as well as directed, a few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Point being, this game was designed by a professional, written by a professional, nothing could possibly go wrong ... right?

He's Dead, Jim

If you happen to be squeamish over the absence of a save-anywhere feature, be aware that STBC unfortunately doesn't have one. The game auto-saves between missions. Unless your surname is Kirk, Janeway, or Picard, expect to repeat several sequences countless times until you perform the correct actions. At times the game is rigidly linear, and to make matters worse you can't skip the cutscenes after a failed effort. Pumping the backspace key gets you through one line of dialog at a time, but that becomes annoying as Tribbles upon your fifth attempt at a mission.

Set Phasers to Kill

Yet another complaint—your first officer Saffi Larson is a, well, let's just say she's annoying. Imagine that creep in your office who likes to take note of every smoke or bathroom break that you take, can recall every personal call or email that you make or receive, and knows if you arrive a minute late or leave a nanosecond early. Saffi is far worse. One wrong move on your part and Commander Larson has already hailed Starfleet reporting your negligence. She wants your command, plain and simple. Too bad there isn't an option to load her into the captain's yacht for a trip to the nearest sun. I've already seen gamers replacing her head with the most unholy of images that your worst nightmares couldn't conjure up.

That Is Most Illogical, Captain

The graphics are puzzling, to say the least. At times they are nothing short of amazing; a few seconds later, they can be as horrid-looking as a Klingon entrée. The bridges of the two ships in STBC are both in a serious need of a visit from Martha Stewart; it's obvious the artists didn't spend much time with that aspect. The character models are spot-on—you literally feel like Jean-Luc Picard is sitting next to you early on in the game. Then his mouth moves ... Lip-synch has the look of old Cyberflix games such as Dust or Titanic. Yet in battle scenes, one couldn't ask for anything better. A bit strange, but I imagine the designers had a few budgetary decisions to make. So be it.

Another concern: unpatched, the game leaks memory. Let me correct that—it eats memory! A few reboots can cure that, but it is a problem if you want to play for hours on end.

More Is Good ... All Is Better

That about covers the somewhat minor gripes. Now for what the game does well. I may bring the FFC server to its knees describing all these aspects.

The voice acting, which includes that of Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner, is top-shelf, naturally, as in most Trek games. It's wonderful to see actors taking games seriously, as it adds so much to the end product. The music is also up to Trek standards, fully orchestrated and on a grand scale.

STBC absorbs one in the Trek universe unlike any game in its lineage. You are the captain; the options are nearly infinite in the game. Want to play it as an adventure game? The option is there. Bridge Mode is the default viewpoint, which happens to be of the first-person flavor. It works quite well; it gives you the feeling that you are indeed part of the game. Simple touches like camera movements do wonders here; as you walk onto the bridge and descend the stairs, the camera replicates these steps very effectively.

Your character is a faceless, nameless entity, further supplementing the "you are there" feeling. The mouse is all that's needed in this incarnation—simply delegate authority to your officers on the bridge and bark out orders. Decide which alert status you should be under, how much power to expend on weapons, shields, engines, or sensors, the usual decisions seen made by those who boldly go where no one has gone before. Should you fire on that Romulan ship or trust their offer of peace and drop your shields? This is where the game is the antithesis of linearity—some of your actions affect what happens later in the game. Check your twitch-reflexes in the transporter room, as they aren't needed. The combat is more tactical in nature, as it should be. A starship is more akin to a battleship than a type of fighter; unlike in many past Trek games, these lumbering vessels move somewhat slowly, giving you time to plan your attack.

Or you can forego Bridge Mode and just go crazy with the game. Ever had an ambition to be a weapons officer? The option is there—you can manually target specific systems on an enemy ship and figure out the quickest way to disable or destroy them. Should you fire phasers, and on what spread? Should you opt for the photon torpedoes in lieu of those limited yet deadly quantum torps? Don't forget about those experimental phased torps!

How about "driving" the ship—want to be the navigator? You can do that as well. Are your port shields weak? Then naturally you want to make an attack run with your starboard side exposed to the enemy. Is your hull damage severe enough to turn tail and run away?

You control as much or as little as you desire, with three difficulty settings, First Officer, Captain, and Admiral. Personally, I believe the Admiral setting is there for gamers who have suicidal tendencies.

She Canna Take Much More, Cap'n

If you tire of the somewhat short single player game, there's more. Quick Battle Mode is there if you just want to sharpen your skills or play a quick game. It's fully customizable; it's your choice as to how many foes you wish to face, or how much support you desire, and of what variety for either.

Want more? Multiplayer, perhaps? There are a few variations of Deathmatch and Defend the Starbase (capture the flag) that work great out of the box if that happens to be your thing.

Why not throw in voice-command technology to sweeten the deal? Totally Games did just that! This aspect may not interest the average adventure gamer yet, but—face reality—it won't be long before point-and-click will be replaced by saying "go forward," "turn right," etc.

Is the Vessel Cloaked?

I'd surmise at this point everyone is screaming, "Is this an adventure game or not?" My answer is, "Who shot JFK? Is the artist formerly known as Prince male or female? Did Gilligan ever know Maryann in the biblical sense?" More of life's mysteries, perhaps. With genre lines thoroughly blurred of late, this game really can't be pigeonholed into a specific category. At times it is an adventure game, then it's a flight simulation, at another turn a space shooter. Whatever it is, it's a great game that any Trek fan can't pass by. Gamers from all genres should give it a go; it offers something for everyone and rarely disappoints.

Make it So, Number One

A grade, and I hate this part: for me personally I'd go for a and a feather rather than a full . It comes close, but that status has to be reserved for the knock-your-socks-off winners. This title didn't quite hit it out of the park. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Totally Games
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: February 2002

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

3D hardware accelerator with 16 MB VRAM (100% DirectX compliant 3D video card is required)
Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP
Pentium II 300 MHz processor (Pentium II 450 MHz processor recommended) or Athlon processor
650 MB of uncompressed hard disk space for game files; plus an additional 100 MB for Windows swap file
DirectX 8.0a or higher (included)
DirectX compatible 16 MB video card
DirectX 8.0a or higher compatible sound card
4X CD-ROM drive
Microsoft-compatible mouse, keyboard

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No reproduction in whole or in part without express written permission.