Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force
The history of Star Trek computer games is a long and sometimes not so joyful one. With the popularity that it has, Star Trek has been among the computer gaming world almost since its inception, dating back well before the Personal Computer. The last few years have seen a bit of a renaissance in the interest of Star Trek related computer games. Unfortunately, this renaissance may have well been the dark ages considering the quality of games that has been released.
The last really good Star Trek game that sticks in the minds of gamers was 1993's Star Trek: Judgment Rights by Interplay. It was a sweeping adventure game that brought you into the world of the original Trek series, leading you (as Captain Kirk) through a series of immersing missions that made you feel as if you were actually a part of the show.
But in the seven years since Judgment Rights, the Trek gaming franchise has become a bit of a joke in the gaming world. Many publishers have tried many formulae on the franchise, from adventure (Spectrum Holobyte's Final Unity) to first person shooter (Micropose's Klingon Honor Guard), and finally, to an abysmal simulation (Interplay's Starfleet Academy). While all of these titles had certain redeeming aspects and the value to Trek fans to bring them into their favorite universe, ultimately they were panned by reviewers and ended up at the bottom of many a bargain bin.
A little over a year ago, Activision purchased rights to the Star Trek franchise, and the question on everyone's minds was whether or not they could reinvigorate the franchise from the depths from which it had fallen. One of the first titles Activision announced was a first person shooter based in the Star Trek: Voyager universe: the title we would eventually know has Elite Force.
While Trek-based FPSs have failed in the past, Activision aimed to prove the critics' wrong, and had a couple of tricks up their sleeve to prove it. First, the new game would be using the highly heralded Quake 3: Arena engine. Second, they were getting one of the best development houses in the business, Raven Software, to develop the game. These two factors gave Elite Force a lot to live up to, and a lot of hype built up as the game neared completion.
So is Elite Force worth the wait? Keep reading to find out.
Basics & Installation
I picked up the Collectors' Edition version of Elite Force. For the extra money, you get an enhanced-CD of the soundtrack for the game, a collectors edition comic book, as well as a lapel pin with the words "Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force" etched into it. Pretty good additions for the extra $10 price, which will surely drop down in a couple months as newer games take its place at the forefront of store shelves.
Installation was fairly standard, almost exactly mimicking the Quake 3: Arena installation, with Elite Force graphics replacing the Q3A ones. My only real complaint here is the hard drive space requirements; the game requires 650mb of hard drive space, which basically means it copies the entire CD to your hard drive. In a day where 32x and 40x CD-ROM drives are very common, I would think that Raven could have afforded to leave some content to be accessed on the disc. Unfortunately, the game still requires you to leave the disc in the drive to play for copyright-authentication, but I never saw it access it once during my gameplay experience.
One thing I'd like to note is that since Elite Force uses the Q3A engine, it requires you to have a 3D accelerator card with 8mb of RAM or better, and 64MB of system RAM. If your system is old enough that you don't have either of these, it might be time to think about an upgrade.
Elite Force allows for both single-play and multiplayer modes, and they are both quite a treat. The single player game casts you as Alexander/Alexandria Munro (Raven included the ability to play either sex), a member of an elite security team aboard the U.S.S. Voyager, called the Hazard Team. If you nothing about Star Trek or Voyager, then all you really need to know is that the Voyager is a starship that was stranded roughly 70 years from Earth, and the primary goal of the series is to return to Earth. Of course, along the way they have met many alien species, some of them are good, while many others are quite evil and dangerous.
In any case, you as Ensign Munro must lead your Hazard Team to help keep the lives of Voyager's crew safe, by holding back possible intruders to the ship, as well as go on off-ship missions where you may infiltrate another to find needed resources or destroy an enemy. In any case, there's quite a bit for you to do as a member of the Hazard Team.
I won't spoil too much of the plot here, as it is quite rich and detailed. The big point here is that you really do feel as if you are part of a team in this game; you feel as if you are actually a part of Voyager's crew and what you do makes a difference to the rest of them. While on board the ship, crewmembers walking along the halls say "hello" to you, and you can converse with fellow officers and teammates. During the missions, the team becomes a mode for the plot to continue, as your mission your team members relay objectives and clues to you, as they help you along in your mission, keeping an eye out and watching your back from that nasty alien that might be lurking behind you.
The missions themselves are quite interesting and entertaining, as you progress from point to point, your objectives may change as the situation changes. The entire story is driven by Raven's ICARUS scripting system, which seems to do a very good job in conveying the story and portraying a lifelike environment. Elite Force does a very good job of bringing you into the Star Trek universe, even bringing to some surprise locations you wouldn't expect in a Voyager-based game such as a ship based in the Original Series era-Federation.
This being a first-person shooter, Elite Force wouldn't be complete without its share of fun and interesting weapons. For a Star Trek universe, I would have to say that the Hazard Team is pretty well equipped; with weapons ranging from the normal hand phaser to a nice weapon of destruction such as the Personal Photon Torpedo Launcher. All the weapons seem to be fairly balanced, and although some definitely pack more of a punch than others, you will find the time when nearly all of the weapons become useful.
The Multiplayer for the game is accessed via an option called "HoloMatch," which is portrayed to be a simulation carried out in one of Voyager's "Holodecks", where anything and everything can happen and not carry any real bearing on the real world. You are given a choice between deathmatch, teamplay, and capture-the-flag modes of play, all very similar to the ones that did so well in Quake 3.
The multiplayer is fast, smooth, and furious, all the while somehow retaining the Star Trek feel of the game. It is quite a bit of fun, running along the corridors with your phaser rifle, sniping out a Klingon or Borg a couple of decks above you. If your connection is acting up, or you don't feel like mingling with your real-world counterparts, a BotMatch option is available as well, pitting you against difficulty-rated bots in a simulation of multiplayer play.
Elite Force was released with a modifiable-source and tools, so that those with the talent and time could create their own levels & modifications for the game, such as the ones that have been created for games like Quake, Unreal Tornament, and Half-Life. I personally wouldn't mind seeing an Elite Force mod based on Counterstrike set in the Star Trek universe!
Graphics, Sound & Music
The graphics of Elite Force take full advantage of the gifts that the Quake 3: Arena engine has awarded them. The levels of Voyager give you the impression that you have stepped onto the set of the TV show, complete with blinking lights, gleaming panels, and the ability to walk just about everywhere you have ever seen in the show. The levels of the alien vessels are lush in the character of the beings who inhabit them, with flowing wall surfaces, lights, and panels that give you an overall feel for what strange being might be around that next corner.
The characters are modeled with amazing accuracy, with nearly all of the major actors lending their faces to their polygon-based counterparts. The aliens are all also modeled very well, the Borg looking as mechanical and menacing ever, to a race of insects called Harvesters that will make your skin crawl as they come towards you in great numbers.
The biggest problem, with all of this great eye candy, is that it has an annoying side effect: horrendous load times. On my machine, under Windows 2000, load times ranged upwards of 30 seconds each, which can get quite annoying on that final-level boss when you have to keep reloading because you were killed in some quick and bloody fashion. One would think that all of the visual beauty of the game would cause a drain on your system, but on several systems I tested, the game ran as well as Quake 3 did, except when there were large amounts of enemies on-screen at once, when things might slow down a bit. Fortunately, if things seem to be slowing down on your machine, you can always tune down the graphics options, which are fully customizable.
The sound effects in Elite Force are about average for today's games I would guess. The voice acting (many characters are played by the stars from the series, with the unfortunate exception of Jeri Ryan's Seven Of Nine) is very well done, although occasionally dry in some spots. Consoles beep and machines buzz and whir when you use them. The weapons are nice and loud, and for the more powerful weapons, you get the feeling that you are really firing something powerful, which is reinforced by great visual effects as well.
One aspect of the sound that I would have improved if I were making the game would be to give the enemies a little more variety in the sounds they make. I remember one sequence where I was fighting an alien race called the Etherians, where the loud birdlike sound they make as they approach became quite irritating as the same sound played over and over again as they attacked in droves.
The music does a nearly perfect job of reproducing the music of the TV series, with fully orchestrated suites and sequences that match up with the current scene in the game. The background music actually carries the same complaint I have of the music in the series, the fact that after a while, it can become droning and can have an anticlimactic feel to it at times, but most times, it is fairly entertaining and definitely enhances the "bringing you into the TV show" element of the game.
The theme music is very well done, and the value of having it by itself may warrant the extra cost of the collectors' edition for the soundtrack CD. Of course, not all people will like the music, and would probably prefer to turn the option off while they tune into their favorite album while blowing away Borg or Klingons.
Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force is without a doubt, the best Star Trek-based game that I've played in a very long time. The game does a fantastic job of bringing the gamer into the Star Trek universe, if even for the short time it takes to finish the game. The fun doesn't stop there though, as there are unlimited battles waiting for you in cyberspace and against your own computer.
My suggestion is that for every person out there who even remotely likes Star Trek, even if you don't like Voyager, you should buy this game. The system requirements are a bit high, but if you've got the computing horsepower, it will be a great ride for you, your keyboard, and your mouse. For those of you who don't necessarily like Star Trek, then you should at least download the demo, and give it a spin. I'd still say that it's a worthwhile buy in either case.
Activision has proven their worth with Elite Force to take on the Trek gaming franchise. With one gold star under their belt, I just hope the forthcoming Star Trek: Bridge Commander fares just as well, if not better.