Adventure Gamers Awards
Since its surprisingly short-lived television inception, the Star Trek phenomenon has spread successfully over the past forty-odd years to just about every other popular medium in existence. The franchise has spawned six television series, eleven films, and over a hundred novels. It seemed inevitable after such success that computer games would follow – and they did. In fact, dozens of Trek games have been published over the years across a wide variety of genres, from first-person shooters to tactical strategy games to graphic adventures. Which brings us to Star Trek: 25th Anniversary, a hybrid point-and-click adventure and spaceflight simulator, so named because it was released on the 25th anniversary of the airing of the original program.
25th Anniversary is an honorable effort to place the player inside the Star Trek television series. From the very first few seconds it feels spot-on, and this feeling of authenticity – the result of art direction, writing, and sound design that emulates and respects the venerable source material – continues through the entire game. It does a fantastic job of putting you in the uncomfortably-tight mustard yellow shirt of Captain Kirk. Or rather, it would, if it the game were not such a pain to actually play at times. Unintuitive puzzles, inconsistent design issues, and even the occasional game-stopping bug can make progress a chore rather than a delight, so the game should really only be of interest to those who are willing to slog through the problems to get a quality dose of Trek. For those dedicated few, the game will probably be worth the effort. For everyone else, the flaws are likely to prove too much.
The game is split into seven chapters, each a self-contained story akin to a single episode of the show. Most chapters follow a soon-familiar pattern: Starfleet orders the Enterprise to investigate a distress signal/derelict/anomaly, and the player selects the appropriate star from the star chart and warps to the destination. At this point, a space battle usually ensues in a style reminiscent of the first two Wing Commander games: real-time, first-person dogfighting in a pseudo-3D environment. The space visuals look quite dated now, but when compared to similar efforts of the early ‘90s, are very good. The sprites used for enemy ships are distinctly detailed, and the planets feature animated rotation, which is a nice touch. Actually, the now-dated graphics (likely unintentionally) evoke memories of the shoddy special effects in the original series and make the space combat feel true to form.
During these combat sequences, using either mouse or keyboard controls, players switch between direct control of the Enterprise and a command mode wherein you issue orders to Spock, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu, and Scotty. I preferred the mouse controls, which restricts the cursor to the Enterprise viewscreen (about half the computer screen). Moving the mouse to the left edge turns the ship left, moving it to the top pitches the ship up, and so on. It takes some getting used to, but works well enough for the pacing of the battles in the game. You are rarely pitted against more than two enemies at the same time, and since Star Trek is a world of massive, often lumbering starships, the handling can be rather deliberate and slow for both sides.
The command mechanic is clunky, however, requiring the player to abandon control of the ship in order to click on characters scattered around the bridge. In a heated dogfight, this can mean certain death, but thankfully orders can also be issued via keyboard shortcuts, allowing the player to raise shields, power up weapons, or analyze a target without losing direct control of the ship. Technically, you can also give some rather complex orders to Scotty to repair various subsystems on the ship, but while the option is there, I played through the entire game without once using it.
The battles themselves, which comprise only about twenty percent of the game, are generally not very difficult for anyone with action game experience, but some adventure gamers could find these sequences loathsome, as timing and maneuvering are essential for victory. Defeat in battle will give you the familiar “restore, restart, or quit” options, so always save right before a battle, just in case. If you can manage them without too much trouble, overall the space battles are engaging and fun, feeling like an integral, fully-realized part of the game, rather than a poorly-realized minigame.
Eventually, you will reach a point in each chapter where you must beam to a planet or ship with a landing party and continue your investigation. This is where the point-and-click gameplay kicks in and adventure gamers everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief. The landing party consists of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. “Bones” McCoy, and a token “redshirt” Ensign whose only purpose is to say things like “Wow! This ship sure is big!” and die in a blaze of glory (not a spoiler, I promise). At this point, players control Kirk through a very traditional third-person interface. Moving around is done with left-clicks, while right-clicking brings up a “verb coin” (think Full Throttle or The Curse of Monkey Island) to choose between “use,” “get,” “talk,” and “look”. When in “use” or “look” mode, the inventory can be opened by clicking an onscreen icon. Interestingly, though the player is in control of Kirk, he can, and often must, order his teammates to interact with objects by “using” them as inventory items on the environment.
The on-foot portions of the game consist of a healthy mix of inventory puzzles, exploration, and dialogues with a decidedly Trek feel. For example, objects can not only be examined, they can be scanned with a tricorder, usually accompanied by an appropriately didactic explanation from Spock. There is a smattering of phaser combat throughout the game, which is essentially a timed “puzzle” in that you select your phaser from your inventory and click on the target within a set time limit. Failure means game over, and a quick trip to the ‘Load Saved Game’ screen, but the time limit you are given to attack is quite generous – making for some comically stilted phaser-fights – and victory is easily achieved. This setup for combat is awkward but rarely difficult, and does little to either add or detract from the game.
The graphics, while true to their age, retain a timeless VGA charm, and though this game was made after several Star Trek films had been released, not to mention more than a few seasons of The Next Generation, the art style remains purely that of the original series. Everything from the minimalist architecture to the reliance on gray walls with splashes of primary color in the set design screams ‘60s Trek, though translated into early-‘90s graphics. Familiar locations such as the Enterprise are re-created with respect, while new planets or ships are consistent and well-integrated with a similar look.
The character art won’t blow anyone away, but within the period's technological limits it is nicely done. Characters are easily identifiable because of their iconic costumes rather than detailed facial features: Kirk’s in yellow, Spock and McCoy are in blue, and the “redshirt” is in... well, red. I occasionally found myself having to look closely at the relatively tiny sprites in order to differentiate between Spock and McCoy, as they are both dark-haired and wearing blue, but other than that, the art is quite detailed. You can even see Kirk’s six-pack – which, now that I think about it, didn’t exist on the show. The backgrounds are mostly static, but characters are decently animated, whether climbing ladders or being disintegrated by phaser fire. Graphically, the game easily matches (but does not surpass) its contemporaries in the adventure game scene of 1992, so if you’re a fan of that look, you’ll feel right at home here.Continued on the next page...