Star Trek: Bridge Crew places you and up to three friends in charge of the U.S.S. Aegis, a prototype starship in the new Star Trek timeline, the one with Zoe Saldana and Chris Pine instead of Nichelle Nichols and William Shatner. Out for PSVR, Oculus Rift and Vive, it is a focused, singular experience, seating you on the bridge as part of the four main roles on deck. Each plays a little differently, but boils down to pressing buttons and moving sliders, making the game sit somewhere between a resource management title and a simulation.
The Captain, as you might expect, is in command here, having a tactical overview of the situation, issuing orders and receiving missions from Star Fleet, with the Helmsman plotting courses and steering the ship manually at sub-warp speeds. The Engineer balances the ship’s power and assigns repair crews, whilst Tactical can perform scans, raise shields and fire weapons.
For Trekkies, it’s brilliantly evocative and wonderfully nerdy to be able to pilot the starship. There’s so many things that tie into the universe that millions of fans know and love from TV and film, with going to warp, firing phasers and torpedoes, your inability to use the transporter when the shields are up, and so on. The game works well enough without having that knowledge, but there’s enough little twists and quirks ripped from the Star Trek universe to make fans feel at home.
Every task requires the crew to interact. Warping to a new location needs the Captain to issue the command, the Engineer to route power to the warp coils, and then for the Helm to plot the course, point the ship in the right direction and engage. The Helm, Tactical and Engineer roles all have a secondary screen letting them access the transporter and a remote hacking system intrusions tool, meaning that someone who’s not that busy at a particular time can take over a different task.
The first stop in the game should be the tutorials for each of these roles, running you through the many tasks they can perform and getting you used to the controls, but this leads into a five mission story campaign – each of which lasts around thirty minutes – plus a prologue based on a classic mission from Star Trek lore; the Kobayashi Maru scenario. There’s some good variety to these missions, with the odd side objective popping up along the way. You’ll be performing scientific missions to scan planets, defending other vessels, rescuing stranded survivors, avoiding Klingons, or taking the fight to the warlike aliens.
Those same activities come to make up the Ongoing Voyages mode, with randomly generated missions that take you to the many different star systems in the Trench – an area of space you’re exploring for habitable worlds. You can do this either in the Aegis or take a step back to the 60s and play on the bridge of the Enterprise from the original series. It’s a great little inclusion, right down to the way other bridge crew will bounce around when taking damage and even dramatically tumble over the railings and die. It’s also something that’s not for the inexperienced, as players are faced with a desk full of coloured lights and switches instead of the Aegis’ touch screens. Turning on the tooltip overlay helps, but it’s a slightly more difficult twist on the main gameplay.
If you play solo, you’re captaining a crew of AI automatons, who will only do your bidding from a pop up menu for each role. It can really sap a lot of the enjoyment out of a game that is very vocal and verbal when playing with others, especially as you try to work around some of the flaws in their system. The helmsman will gleefully crash into space debris as he tries to follow out your orders, and can only take a single approach/avoid command into account at a time. Tactical’s flaw is then that they won’t simply unload all your firepower on an enemy vessel, drawing battles out longer than is ideal, while Engineering can’t reroute power to overcharge a particular system, and can only boost power to the extremes. You’re given a much less dynamic and independent crew than in multiplayer.
Thankfully, you can take over a particular station and carry out a few actions yourself, but that then deprives you of the ability to issue commands until you return to the captain’s chair. Playing with two people makes these deficiencies more manageable, while three people can simply relegate the Engineer, the least active and nuanced role, to be handled by the AI.
It’s quite easy to recognise that the four roles aren’t evenly balanced, and the Engineer comes off as the least interesting of the bunch. You’re simply cut off from the action, without being able to see the ship’s scanners and have any real sense of what’s going on. You just shuffle power around as you’re told to and send repair crews to fix up various ship systems. You can take over the transporter and system intrusions, but the Helm and Tactical can do those just as easily, while juggling other, more interesting jobs. The Captain does have an important role, with a better overview of the situation, but it’s so easy to work off your own initiative in other roles.
Missions can also become rather predictable, making their challenge feel somewhat forced. One in particular had an easy to figure out pattern of spawning Klingon vessels directly in front of you, to prevent you evading them for too long. Similarly, combat can easily boil down to scanning a vessel’s shields, detecting their shield frequency, then unloading your entire phaser banks and a pair of torpedoes at them. Only the very largest ships can survive more than a single barrage of this sort.
As a VR experience, it comes together very well, and there’s a real sense of presence in the world. You instinctively turn to talk to other people on the bridge with you, point at things, wave your arms at each other, and can generally mess around. I even found that, as captain, I could look over people’s shoulders and help them find commands, if they were unfamiliar with a role. However, the game can look goofy as hell if played with two motion controls and can often be a source of great amusement as the game only tracks your hands, but fails to predict where your arms actually are – it is playable with a gamepad, and perhaps a little more precise, but it’s more intuitive and fun with motion controls.
Playing Star Trek: Bridge Crew is every Trek fan’s dream, giving you the opportunity to sit on the bridge of a Federation starship. It’s a great co-op game for VR, but takes a few direct hits when played with AI and when you think about the balance between roles and the mission structure. Even so, with the Trek license lending this game an awful lot of atmosphere and the paucity of must-have VR games right now, this is still a near essential buy.
Version tested: PlayStation VR