Boldly Going Into Star Trek: Bridge Crew’s VR Adventure

Where Star Wars has people dreaming of running around with lightsabers, dogfighting in X-wings and Tie Fighters, or battling Storm Troopers on exotic planets, Star Trek is the more collaborative, calculated and analytical science fiction phenomenon. As Ubisoft have sought to explore all manner of different virtual reality ideas, with a variety of multiplayer experiences, it’s really Star Trek: Bridge Crew that has captured the imagination, transplanting you into the bridge crew of the newly created USS Aegis.

It does a truly fantastic job of recreating the bridge of a Federation starship in the style of the recently rebooted film series, and there’s a great sense of presence in how you interact with the world. With Move controllers in hand – or Oculus Touch and Vive Controllers on other platforms – you’re sat at a wide desk-like display interface with plenty of things to look at and several different specific jobs to manage, regardless of what role you take on in the crew. Look around you and you’ll see the other four players amongst the bridge crew and the shiny chrome of the USS Aegis, while to the front is the huge main display, which quite brilliantly gives you a 3D view of the space outside.

As missions filter through to you from Starfleet, you embark into the vastness of space, completing your various objectives and reacting as new information is discovered and other secondary objectives appear. It could be a simple science vessel escort job that takes a more serious turn, a search for a missing ship, a recreation of the famous Kobayashi Maru scenario. Just in a relatively short two hour window, I was impressed with the variety on offer.

Each player has a particular role, with the Captain leading the crew, a Helmsman to pilot the ship and set a course for long range travel, a Tactical officer to man the scanners, weapons and shields, and the Engineer to ensure everything has the required amount of power and keep the ship in good running order. Each has numerous layers to them, such as the scanners being able to target particular systems on another ship, or the Engineer’s ability to boost the power of the scanners and their effective range by diverting capacity from the weapons or engines. It’s for this reason that it’s vital that you try to go through each role’s training mission before you take it on – sadly our group of four only really had the opportunity to do one each and so were a little rudderless as we swapped roles for later missions.

Even taking that into account, not all of these roles feel like they’ve been created equal. Playing as the Engineer, I was constantly trying to figure out what was actually going on, but without a scanner of my own, I felt somewhat detached from the action, never able to truly grasp what was needed of the crew in a situation, having to be content with shuffling energy back and forth between systems. At the very least, all three of the frontline crew have the ability to manage the teleporter and remote hacking tools, meaning that if the tactical officer is busy with firing weapons and raising shields, the engineer can be there to pick up the slack.

Similarly, the captain is more geared towards barking out orders and role playing as the leader of the group – the in game description says the captain “Leads the crew, makes key decisions, & communicates objectives”. In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with that, and the captain is certainly relevant as a conduit of information, but the problem is that it’s so easy for the other players to see what’s happening in front of them and simply act of their own volition. That’s something I was very much guilty of playing.

Such insubordination, as I guess it would technically be called, does break some of the game’s overall feel, detracting from the rigours of the pseudo-military Starfleet. Trying to mimic and ape Star Trek could potentially hamper the game, where another rendition with tasks a little more evenly spread across the characters might be more consistently engaging for all involved, but there is a magic to having it set in the Star Trek universe.

Certainly, with a more decisive and proactive captain, one who knows the ins and outs of the other three roles and the fact that it takes a few moments for shields to be raised or for how Engineering has to shuffle energy back and forth, this kind of flaw in the game can fade away. This is very much a game that could be at its best when role playing, but even with a few friends, it can be a hoot trying to deal with a situation, hollering at each other and messing around a little bit. Rescued everyone from that ship? Let’s just blow it up, then! How fast can I pilot the ship past asteroids while everyone else worries that we might crash into one? Let’s find out!

However, once that experience builds across the board, I can see this being something really very special. Again, it’s one for the role players, but being able to play on the classic Enterprise has a wonderful sense of authenticity, with a board just full of blinking lights and switches. They’re practically impossible to interpret without turning on the game’s built-in tooltips overlaid, and certainly obscure the ship’s controls to the point that this is one purely for the experienced players.

The Enterprise is only playable for the Ongoing Voyages mode that drops you into a string of endless procedurally generated missions, with the difficulty stepping up a gear or two from the main campaign. Our brief dalliance with this mode felt more layered, less prescribed to us, and did eventually lead to our death – it’s still quite forgiving in that regard, or at least didn’t kill us as soon as the shields were knocked out.

As a purely VR game and one that is geared primarily towards cooperative multiplayer, one of the saving graces here is that, as with Ubisoft’s other online games, it’s not tied to a single platform. Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR owners are all thrown into one online player pool, able to team up for their own voyages into the unknown. You really want the conviviality of playing with friends if at all possible, but as we saw with Werewolves Within, VR games that engender and foster communication can be a gateway to co-operation.

So, a few imbalances and concessions to evoking a suitably Star Trek vibe aside, Star Trek: Bridge Crew is looking like a fantastically realised virtual reality foray from Ubisoft. I know I’m certainly eager to play more and delve further into the game’s intricacies.

Written by
I'm probably wearing toe shoes, and there's nothing you can do to stop me!

2 Comments

  1. I was half interested in this but gawd it looks terribly … immersive..
    Can’t i just be Q, wandering around the ship causing mischief..?
    Those shrugs were funny though :)

  2. I just watched Star Trek Beyond last weekend this is very current for me but, although it looks like you could have a lot of fun with this, I’m trying my best not to buy anymore games until I’ve got through some of the games I’ve already have.

Comments are now closed for this post.