|System: PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Cryptic Studios||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Atari||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: February 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: Unlimited||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Pending||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
Gene Roddenberry's classic space opera has delighted generations of fans in nearly every decade since the sixties. While many of us were still in diapers, Captain Kirk roamed the Final Frontier, boldly going where no man had gone before in search of allies, adventure, and ambiguous allusions to sexual encounters with women of varying hues. Still, despite the legions of obsessively devoted 'Trekkies', the Star Trek brand, unfortunately, has not yielded many amazing products (besides the shows and a few of the films).
Many of the games based on Star Trek have been restrictive and inaccessible affairs that forced gamers into the skewed perspective of one particular cog in the (typically) Federation wheel. Rarely were gamers given the chance to experience life outside the leotard, and almost never were they allowed a glimpse into the finer points and subtleties of life in the 25th century. So when Perpetual Entertainment announced it was developing a Star Trek MMO (and with Leonard Nimoy himself in tow), gamers, Trekkies, and even people with more active social lives were excited about the possibilities. Sadly, as many stories seem to go these days, 'Perpetual' soon went belly up and with it, what seemed like the only viable means for a solid adaptation of the classic series. To our collective delight Cryptic Studios acquired the rights to the game adaptation in 2008 and the rest is the past two years. In that time, Cryptic has done a lot of work. At the risk of getting into a debate war over franchise accomplishments with 'Trekkies' (the least desirable of all wars excluding Iraq) I have to say, it could make Star Trek popular again.
Only a few months after the explosive performance of J.J. Abrams franchise reboot in theatres, Star Trek Online takes place a few decades after the events in Star Trek: Nemesis. Spock has gone back in time. The peace treaty between the Klingons and the Federation is in tatters. Romulus is being torn apart and the Borg have reappeared. Chaos is in vogue, the galaxy is in trouble, and you are in command. That's right; the Federation wants you! Or the Klingons, both of which have been confirmed as playable races for your own avatar who begins at the command of a ship on either side of the galaxy's larger warring factions. The game puts you in the driver's seat of your own fully customizable vessel and hands you the keys to a dynamic universe. It's a unique approach, though I don't have the faintest idea why, and it could be one of the many things Star Trek Online does right.
At the onset of their adventures, PC-gamers will select their affiliation and will be awarded a ship (multiple classes are available) and a crew to man it. From there things get a bit more interesting, as gamers are free, in true MMO fashion, to attack missions and quests as they see fit. Zipping in warp drive from star to star tickle your fancy? No problem; aim for a galaxy and your off exploring new planets. Want to make friends and influence people? Join up with other 'captains' and set up fleets to build space stations, mining platforms, or just cruise around the galaxy looking for trouble. The universe is really open to you and it's the first in a series of right steps that Cryptic and Atari are taking in their game. From a design standpoint, Cryptic has clearly focused on emulating the most prominent and popular aspects of the show and it seems to have hit the mark.
Although every player starts with their own ship, actual ranks must be attained through missions, primarily, and awarded by a particular faction. An episodic mission structure will allow players to experience storylines when they choose to follow the main plot. As you explore and complete quests issued by Central Command, players will discover new races, attack enemy warships and away teams, and explore uncharted star systems. The game's "genesis system" will create new worlds for players to explore, and Cryptic has promised plenty of content, from weapons and perks to new missions, to keep gamers from feeling like their universe is empty.
Like any action MMO, combat is a huge component (and the primary factor, as Cryptic has remained curiously silent about the game's actual 'leveling' system) and Star Trek does it in style. All the aspects of the series' popular, albeit geeky, battles are here: phasers, photon torpedoes, power allocation all play a key role in STO's complex 'expose and exploit' gameplay. Whether shooting it out in space, on the surface of a planet, or on the enemy's bridge, battle is all about gaining the best tactical advantage. Space combat is an excellent example, as battles will often play out just like those on the shows. Each ship has four shield surfaces (forward, rear, starboard, and port) along with phasers and photon torpedoes. The goal is to whittle down an opponent's shields, expose their hull, and torpedo them back to the Stone Age. Sounds simple, but when you add in the ability to coordinate attacks with allied vessels, change power allocation to shields, weapons, or thrusters, the strengths and weaknesses of different classes of ships, and crewman-specific bonuses like shield-lowering weapons or larger torpedo volleys, things get a bit more complicated. Altogether, the system should add a lot of depth to firefights and make certain that any ship with the right team and commander can win a battle.
Space combat isn't the only thing Cryptic spent time on, as players can cripple ships and beam aboard to bring the fight straight to any survivors. On away missions, and when boarding another vessel, players will always be accompanied by four other officers; either four friends or four NPO's players can control with secondary commands or preset routines. You select four members of your crew, each with his or her own unique skills and abilities, and beam in to get up close and personal. Similar to fighting on ships, players will use individual alien abilities, dual weapon loadouts with a few different attack modes and kits: individual perks granted by factions including tertiary weapons like grenades and critical skills like healing to gain the advantage over their enemies. On foot, each player has a shield and health bar that function like the health system in Halo, recharging when players can escape heavy combat.
No stranger to MMORPG's, developer cryptic seems to be infusing a lot of the magic of their own successful MMO franchises (City of Heroes, Champions Online, etc.) with a cruiser-load of Star Trek buzz-words, enemies, weapons, and combat. It doesn't seem like Cryptic has even begun to scratch the surface of their new toy; for that matter neither has this preview. There is still a lot for gamers to get excited about from a currency system that fluctuates throughout gameplay to the ability to create your own alien races, to the ability to customize your crew and vessels right down to the material in your hull. Simply put, it's too much to put in a single preview. Oh and even if you never saw the show, it looks great too. See? I barely got that one in.
Leon Hendrix III
CCC Freelance Writer