Boldly blows where no Star Trek game has blown before.
Star Trek: Encounters incorporates the entire Star Trek franchise from the beginning to the present day – and beyond. For all you nerds out there, that’s from the Enterprise to the Voyager and all ships in between with a few new ones added for the hell of it. With such a line-up, including narrative provided by William Shatner, nobody would be remiss holding this game to high standards. At a budget price, and classified as an arcade, space-shooter, I’m not expecting a lot of depth but the control system is unmanageable to the point of rendering the game virtually unplayable. I would have been more than happy to play a mindless, but fun, shooter in the Star Trek universe, but the game is not fun and “mindless” is the one word I will reserve for the developers.
The developers have really exploited the “vastness,” “blackness,” and “emptiness,” of space. Hey, we all know that space is a vacuum but this a videogame for crying out loud. We want to see some planets, some stars, some colorful spiral galaxies as well as some man-made space stations and space ships. Instead the developers opt for uber-realistic realism – only because it means getting away with less production values. There are what seems like endless traveling sequences in which you just point your ship in a direction and press forward until you see something, which is not very often. Even the ships take a backseat to this thing called outer-space. For those that are interested in all the various ships, make sure you buy a magnifying glass if you’re silly enough to buy this game. The ships are dwarfed by the massive oppressiveness of this big black backdrop. This game could be shortened by half and there still wouldn’t be any action missing.
It’s the awkward control system that really annoys me. It’s the equivalent of manning two control systems from the arcade version of Asteroids. The gameplay is not unlike Asteroids but a lot more difficult to access. In some respects it’s not even as deep as Asteroids. The first thing that you’ll have to come to grips with (literally) is the controller. You have to use a different button for each command. One of the sticks moves the ship while the other aims the weapon. But first you have to select your weapons. You’ll cycle through your inventory of weapons instead of being able to select them instantly from an on-screen display. Then you have to use another button to lock-on the targeting system and then another button to fire. If that’s not enough you will constantly be diverting power to the various areas of the ship that need it the most whether it be energy for weapons or shields. That’s a lot of work to do. Didn’t the captains of these ships just sit on their asses in front of a big window and bark out orders to subordinates that took care of these problems? All those damn cutbacks to the space exploration program have finally caught up with the future.
There are tons of ship to fly and not just Federation ships. You have ships from luminaries such as Klingons, the Borg, Cardassians, Romulans and Vulcans. All are equally difficult to operate. The two main aspects of the control system that really ruin the fun for me is that the physical layout of the controls actually hurts your hand as you have to keep your fingers splayed while hovering over the sticks, D-pad and face and shoulder buttons. It would also take a lot of time to get so comfortable with the controls that they would become second nature, resulting in a lot less hesitation when trying to aim and shoot a weapon at an enemy. The game just doesn’t lend itself to endless hours of play despite the multi-player modes.
There is a lot of repetition to the missions although there are a few that do show some promise such as the escort and crew-beaming missions, but the “chase and follow” sequences are torture. The story is pieced together like a patch quilt. It tries to cover too much ground and in the process ends up coming across as a “best of retrospective” for fickle fans of the series. The multi-player modes fare a little better in terms of action, although you still feel swamped by the vastness of space in the head-to-head mode. There are Deathmatch variations as well as a co-op mode called Onslaught in which you and another player defend against swarms of enemies with the aid of a split screen.
Technically the game is sound. When you do see planets, spacestations and close-ups of ships the graphics are impressive but these images are fleeting and only serve to highlight just how lame the majority of the in-game graphics appear. Comedian William Shatner (cause that’s what he is now) provides the voice of Admiral Captain Kirk, and he couldn’t sound more uninterested. His lines are so flat they only have one side. Ba’dum. The incidental music is good and shows some class, reminiscent of the John Williams score for the Star Wars soundtracks, albeit a little less dramatic.
If Bones were alive today attempting to play this game he might say something like this: “Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor not a damn prestidigitator.” He would also tell Jim that his acting has gotten worse, if that’s possible. Best to let this game sit on the shelf and take up its own space.