Star Trek: Bridge Crew Review 2017-06-23 11:04:29
For better and worse, Star Trek: Bridge Crew is exactly what’s advertised–it’s a virtual-reality simulation of operating a Federation starship. For the first few moments, the sheer thrill of taking the Captain’s chair in VR, looking around you to see crew members all working away at their stations, and issuing your first commands is all wonderful and novel. But the second you start yearning for new life, new civilizations, and to boldly go where no one has gone before, you find a game nowhere near that ambitious.
Set in the J.J. Abrams Trek universe, Bridge Crew’s single-player campaign centers around the U.S.S. Aegis–which, after a brief training mission, sets forth on its task to help the Vulcans find a new home. This mission takes the Aegis into a Klingon-controlled territory, the Trench, and into the heart of a potentially ugly interstellar incident. You can fill one of four roles aboard the ship: the Captain issues orders to every other department from the holographic menu built into the player’s chair, the Helm puts you in the driver’s seat, Tactical handles shields and weaponry, and Engineering determines how much power gets shifted to the ship’s vital systems.
The single-player campaign is brief, but it acts as an extended tutorial on the ins and outs of running a starship. From the Captain’s chair, you receive orders from Starfleet and issue the commands that lead the Aegis ever forward. However, particularly in single-player, those commands aren’t as simple as just telling your crew to move forward at quarter impulse or fire phasers. Instead, they’re a piece-by-piece process that must be followed and timed just right, with every crew member involved performing their duties with precision. In single-player, even something as simple as warping involves opening a menu, setting the correct course, telling engineering to power up the warp drive, having the helm align the ship towards the target location, and finally issuing the order to perform the warp. The process becomes second nature over time, especially with a proper VR controller like the Playstation Move to navigate the menu-heavy UI.
You also have the ability to temporarily switch to another position to take manual control over the ship’s various functions and levers in single-player, but it’s a lot to manage and not nearly the simple power trip you might expect. A.I.-controlled crew members have a nasty habit of being complete knuckleheads who don’t know how to properly and strategically fly around obstacles when pursuing a target.
Bridge Crew is somewhat more immersive in multiplayer, where you can speak directly to your crew and coordinate actions by voice, but you need to meet certain requirements for it to go smoothly: four trustworthy crew members, all of whom know their roles inside and out, and who can pull it together long enough to take the game even marginally seriously enough to get through the trickier missions. The situation is helped by the fact that, thankfully, the game supports Cross-Play between PSVR, Rift, and Vive users, meaning there’s typically no shortage of players to fill all four roles. However, since voice chat goes through all sorts of different protocols via the uPlay service, consistent communication remains a problem. Even then, that’s assuming you’re not stuck with someone who won’t stop quoting Galaxy Quest instead of remembering to keep your ship in low-detection mode in Klingon territory.
It didn’t happen often in my time with Bridge Crew, but sometimes the stars did, in fact, align with the right kind of crew: cheerful without being overly silly, strong in their roles, intuitive enough to question an order without the bridge descending into chaos, and being just plain fun, amiable companions. And once that miracle is accomplished, you’re left to contend with Bridge Crew as a game. And that game is, ultimately, a fairly milquetoast space shooter.
The big issue really comes down to the fact that experiencing the minutiae of running a Starfleet ship is such a thin, pedantic aspect of what makes Star Trek a fascinating universe to play around in. It’s always been strong character work and far-reaching sci-fi ideas and allegory that have elevated the dry space-navy material. There isn’t nearly enough of the former here. The single-player campaign has a story, one that’s even a decent jumping-off point from the Abrams films (albeit one that’s deeply reminiscent of Mass Effect: Andromeda), but you aren’t making the truly hard decisions that define the best Starfleet captains, nor are you able to interact with your crew or even the ship outside of the bridge room in any meaningful way.
Even Trek’s infamous no-win Kobayashi Maru scenario–playable here as part of the game’s introductory chapter–ends up as little more than a mindless shootout while attempting to transport the doomed vessel’s crew. The remainder of the campaign never really rises above that, content to be a game of traveling between systems, scanning areas and artifacts, transporting life forms, and fending off Klingon Birds of Prey from time to time. It’s a game that crucially needs more interesting challenges that can’t be solved with phasers.
It’s still somewhat thrilling to inhabit the captain’s chair on the bridge of a starship–at the bare minimum, Star Trek: Bridge Crew accomplishes that mission. When the game is at its best, the spirit of cooperation between various asymmetrical elements is encouraging–even special. In every other regard, however, Bridge Crew is forgettable the second you pull out of VR.