Star Trek Bridge Commander
Bridge Commander has intended to bring another dimension to the Star Trek universe where you are the Captain of your own starship: the Dauntless. Instead of watching the Captain's every move, (like you do on the telly), you are sitting in that prestigious seat giving the orders that will either find success or failure. But what's it really like to sit in the Captain's chair?
It's all action with the introductory cutscene, where you see Captain Wright and his crew investigating some unusual reading from the star in the Vesuvi system. Unfortunately for Captain Wright, the star explodes transforming him and Vesuvi 2 into stellar debris. The Dauntless manages to escape without loss of life and detects something leaving the system in a hurry. The Dauntless is now yours and your early missions revolve around providing aid to those affected by the explosion and of course, discovering what or who caused the star to explode.
Activision have used their Star Trek, The Next Generation license to bring us the characters and voices of Picard and Data. Picard is introduced to us immediately in the form of a tutorial. He is onboard for your first three missions and during this time the missions have a slower pace so that you can take full advantage of Picard's expertise. The tutorial is very well thought out, and will give a complete novice a good understanding of the five different stations on the Bridge of your ship: helm, tactical, science, engineering and your first officer. As well as Picard's advice, the crew will also offer their own advice where relevant. For example, your science officer, Diaz will ask if you want a scan of the area when arriving somewhere new.
At first glance you may be fooled into thinking that Bridge Commander is just another shallow sci-fi game trying to cash in on the Star Trek license and all you have to do is issue a few commands to your crew and let them get on with it. Well, you'd be wrong. Bridge Commander has a great tactical depth. When you first start to play BC, you familiarise yourself with the bridge view and become accustomed to your crew's interface menus and how to issue commands. Such as adjusting power outputs for each system is accessed via Brex's station, very handy when you need to boost your sensor array or have that little extra fire power. Getting to know what each member of your crew is responsible for is essential for your success further on in the game. As is using the tactical perspective, press the space bar to change view.
It is here that you can take full control of the ship, manually piloting the ship and manually targeting your weapons fire. You can only use the keyboard in this view and the controls are akin to those of a typical FPS, WASD keys for direction and the mouse to aim and fire weapons. Manoeuvring the huge ships found in Bridge Commander although enjoyable, is no easy task but the keyboard controls make it comfortable and straightforward to use.
Quick Battle mode lets you choose to pilot any ship in the list and to decide whether you have friendly assistance or come under enemy fire alone. This mode will develop your tactical skills whilst in simulated combat. Rather like a holodeck!
Graphically, Bridge Commander fills you with wonder as you become immersed in the Star Trek universe that surrounds you. The ships are unbelievably detailed and display their enormous masses with elegance and grace. All that you see makes you believe that you are part of Star Trek, the computer interfaces, the bridge, talking with alien races and your crew. Talking of which, no one seems to have any teeth. This seems a little peculiar to me, when Totally Games have obviously dedicated a great deal of time to the graphics.
When you reach key points, the game will automatically save. Although this does provide more of a challenge in how you command your ship, it also raises a few niggles. It can be very irritating to have to go almost all the way through a level again, just to get to the point where you last failed the mission. Then if you fail again, it's 'game over'. Luckily, you can use the backspace key to skip through scenes you have seen before.
Bridge Commander is not without fault. The progression of the game is very structured, cutscenes - combat - exploration, followed by the same pattern over and over. There is no deviation from this. This is further illustrated by the lack of choices to be made when talking with Starfleet or alien races. Not that you, as Captain will talk to anyone. Your first officer, Commander Larson takes over when the situation arises. She even gets to leave her seat and walk around the bridge somewhat. You don't - you're glued to that chair! Who's meant to be the Captain again? I don't remember any Star Trek Captain being rooted to the spot.
As the game is linear, there is little replay value. There are three difficulty settings, however as you can't save anywhere and will probably have to replay missions again and again to progress through the game, I doubt that these will hold much interest.
The subtitles (perhaps a little small) are on by default, which means that you follow the story from the very beginning of Bridge Commander, which is excellent! They appear at the bottom of the screen akin to cinematic subtitling. The only problem is that, at times when everything is getting hectic, the subtitles either accumulate on the screen or appear and disappear quite quickly before you have a chance to read them. There is a mission log in your first officer's menu. If you click on this, the game will pause and allow you enough time to read any subtitles you may have missed.
Not only does the manual included with the game, give you fundamental information on your crew and their stations, it also serves as a database for learning about other star ships. You can also glean information that you may have missed from Picard's tutorial. Picard himself will refer you to the manual for more information about the tactical interface. You also get a separate reference card, a handy addition while you are trying to memorise all those useful hotkeys.
Overall Game Rating: 7.9/10 Totally Games has come very close to their goal of wanting you to know what it's like to be in the Captains' chair. But with a linear storyline and being glued to your chair, the Star Trek Captain seems more like an onlooker than a participant.
Deaf Gamers comment: The subtitling provision would be excellent if it were not for the fact that the text can appear thick and fast, causing most of us to miss part of the information.