Thursday, September 29, 2011

Five Captains. Three Eras. One Legacy.

Star Trek: Legacy
Game Category: Real Time Strategy, Action, Simulation
Developer / Distributor: Mad Doc Software / Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: 5 Dec 2006
Rating: ESRB Everyone (10+)

It doesn't matter whether you are a Trekkie or not, but Star Trek: Legacy from Mad Doc and Bethesda is one incredible joy ride through five generations of Star Trek.

Yes, you read that right - five generations. Imagine a real time strategy game where the different captains from the many Star Trek franchises get together in a story arc penned by D.C. Fontana and Derek Chester - both regular contributors to the universe of Trekdom. This my friends, is it!

Not a Star Trek aficionado? Never fear... first thing, here's a list of the five famous Star Trek Captains: we have James Tiberius Kirk from The Original Series, Jean Luc-Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Benjamin Sisko from Deep Space Nine, Kathryn Janeway from Star Trek Voyager, and finally Jonathan Archer from Star Trek: Enterprise. Alright, that should be enough to get you started.

Now, let's hit the ground running and discover more about Star Trek: Legacy (ST:L), shall we?

A fine start indeed
Game Play
PS - Before you proceed, make sure you get the latest patch for ST:L. When the game first came out, it was plagued by reports of bugs. I patched my version and never had any significant problems after that.

From the screenshot above, you can see that ST:L comes with three game modes - Campaign, Skirmish, and Multiplayer. The Campaign features a 15 mission story that features (in strict Star Trek chronological order) action based in three different Star Trek timelines: five levels in the Enterprise era, five levels in The Original series era, and five levels in The Next Generation era (which also includes Star Trek Voyager and Deep Space Nine crossovers).

Skirmish and multiplayer allow you to battle it out against the fairly competent AI (with 3 difficulty settings - Easy, Medium, and Hard) or against other gamers on the Internet respectively. You get two modes (Deathmatch and Coop against the Borg) plus a handful of 19 maps. Up to four players, each fielding a maximum of 4 capital ships, can play. There's also an Extras buttons containing a couple of movies worth checking out.

Skirmish against AI enemies
The back story in ST:L really helps me relate to the big picture of how certain things came to be; namely, the big picture concerning one of Star Trek's greatest nemesis - the unrelenting cybernetic Borg.

The story starts off with Jonathan Archer trying to stop a Vulcan who is hatching a ploy that will span more than two centuries. Kirk takes the helm on the second leg of the story, investigating some strange events involving the Klingons and the very same Vulcan. Finally, trust Picard to be the one to wrap things up (with some help along the way from Kathryn and Benjamin).

I must say the writers are experts in gelling all the different threads into one coherent whole. At the same time, the story has helped to enrich the Star Trek Universe.

The cinematics tell a great story
The first mission in the Campaign places you in control of Enterprise NX-01 (helmed by Jonathan Archer). Before you can even battle the bad guys, you'll need to master the intricacies of piloting a capital ship.

Now pay attention here, this is where a majority of people may stumble - how to move your ship. You use the mouse to pan your view (there is no need to hold any mouse button down). Alternatively, press the Enter key to centre your view from behind your ship. Use the Backspace key to toggle between powering up and turning off your engines. The W, A, S, D keys help steer your ship, or if you prefer, you can tap the F key to steer in the heading pointed at by the cross-hair icon controlled via the mouse.

Pressing and holding the F key brings up a circular menu that allows you to either scan a planet (or ship), activate your tractor beam, or transport your away team to a location.

Pay attention in the tutorial or you may have a tough time later
As you can see, it's kind of like flying a plane in a flight simulator with added controls to perform special manoeuvres only seen in a Star Trek game. It's obvious to say that this control scheme may take a while to get used to. Adding to the flight control scheme are a couple other features that you must be aware of:
  1. Pressing the TAB button accesses an overhead 2D system map that gives you a strategic view. Right-clicking at a point on the map causes your ship to travel at warp speed; you'll reach your destination in a jiffy. Simple enough.
  2. If your ship ever gets damaged in combat, you can repair them by holding down the R key and selecting the sub-system you need repaired. Hmm...
  3. You get to control up to four capital ships at a go. Press the 1, 2, 3, or 4 keys to personally take control of piloting that selected ship. Press the 5 key to group all ships in your fleet. Give movement orders to your entire fleet like you would when controlling a single ship. Yes, things are getting a bit tricky here.
Here, I am controlling two capital ships
Combat elevates the difficulty of the game considerably. You can either use your mouse to steer the cross-hair icon and press the F key to target a particular enemy ship or (more easily) hold the spacebar and use your mouse wheel to cycle through all the enemy ships near you. Targeting an enemy ship will enable the Battle Camera which locks on to your target with you as the focal point. A little shift of your mouse though and you will lose lock, but this can be reclaimed by pressing the spacebar once again.

Two reticles appear when you have selected a target. White denotes you can fire at your target with your phasers (using a left click or press the Control key), while red denotes shooting with your photon torpedoes (using a right click or press the Alt key). Phasers can be fired with long bursts; hold down the left mouse button or control key. A bar at the bottom left will show you when the phasers get depleted and need recharging. Once a target's shields are down, you can fire at them with your photon torpedoes but only from the front or rear. Each ship has a limited number of torpedoes available in their weapons loadout.

Fire photon torpedoes, away!
Every mission also takes you through varied objectives that help to spruce up the game. You get to do tasks such as using your tractor beam to tow a crippled ship from a nebula, stopping the spread of plague by assisting your medical ships, defending stations, stopping enemy ships by disabling their engines, and even scanning targets.

You also get to fight a large number of enemies in ST:L. First, you will face off against the Romulans. Later on, you will meet the Klingons. And, finally you will go face to face against the hated Borg.

Capital ships come in four sizes: scouts, destroyers, cruisers, and battleships. At the end of every mission, completing the set primary and secondary objectives will net you command points. These command points can be used to "purchase" the four ships you will need for your next mission. The Enterprise Era ships cost the least command points while those from The Next Generation era are the most costly.

Time to net me a Yorktown battleship
The most stunning aspect of ST:L are the ships. You get more than 80 ships and stations to gawk at in this game. All of them have been done with loving detail and realistic looking textures. There's the all important Enterprise (from three eras), the Voyager, and Deep Space Nine. Then, there are the traditional Romulan Bird-of-Prey, the Klingon Predator, and the Borg Cube. Enter the Skirmish mode to see most of theses ships while in Fleet Assembly mode.

The destruction of ships look too good to believe. There are fiery explosions, ejected projectiles, one or two huge fireballs, and then the ships break up into pieces that tumble for a while before clearing from the map. For small ships, these destruction sequences look just fine. However, when a space station is destroyed, it looks very comical and unrealistic seeing them split into huge polygonal chunks close up.

There she goes!
The space environments in ST:L look very colourful and a bit too crowded. Nevertheless, it does evoke the sense of being in the final frontier fighting it out against unfriendly enemies in raging stellar battles. The cut scenes are beautifully done since they make full use of the stellar backgrounds and majestic capital ships in the process of all that panning and zooming.

I loved the music from the game, the main theme made me feel like I was actually watching a new Star Trek movie. The sound effects are pretty decent for the different star ships in the game, but what truly wins me over are the commitment from the five original actors who have returned to reprise their roles as Captains (or Admirals) in ST:L. 

Epic battles
Some of the lines that evoke a sense of déjà vu include:
  • Jonathan (Scott Bakula) - "It had better be good. We're facing steep odds here."
  • Kirk (William Shatner) - "Sometimes the arrogance of man is what gets us into so much trouble, hopefully... the next generation will be better."
  • Picard (Patrick Stewart) - "Captain's Log Stardate 10374.8. This is my first entry as the captain of a starship, though I wish my command bars hadn't come with such a high cost."
  • Sisko (Avery Brooks) - "I'm Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Sisko and I was just about to ask you that very question. Give me a reason why you've breached the Neutral Zone and violated the terms of our treaty."
  • Kathryn (Kate Mulgrew)- "Sounds like a dictatorship to me."

A good experience for the simulator enthusiast
  • Get this game to hear the five different captains in their very first joint performance.
  • Get this game for a wonderful campaign story penned by D.C. Fontana and Derek Chester.
  • ST:L is an interesting capital ship simulation with the ability to control up to 4 of them at any time.
  • There are lots of authentic looking Star Trek ships in full 3D available for play in the game.
  • Get to play as the bad guys in skirmish and multiplayer modes.

You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.
  • The biggest crime is that you cannot save mid-game, so make sure you have ample time to play as some missions can take quite some time to complete.
  • You cannot reconfigure the controls set up and are forced to pilot your ship the way the developers implemented it; it will take you quite a while getting used to piloting your ship. I tend to treat this game like a huge capital ship space simulator, and since I love simulators I find myself not minding the complexity that the developers have put into the game. Your mileage may vary.
  • You'll can never die when colliding with other objects, and that includes planets and enemy ships. Takes quite a bit out of the realism.

You'll need to micromanage the repair process
  • Friendly ships can't repair themselves. You must switch over and activate the repair feature manually.
  • Simulation of damage for your ships is not realistic, that's because they still show up even though you have fully repaired them.
  • It's rather unwieldy piloting a huge Borg cube in skirmish and multiplayer mode.

To boldly go where no one has gone before
If you are a Trekkie, add 1 to the final score, and if you like exploring complex flight simulation controls, then add another 0.5 to the score. Otherwise, you'd be just like everyone else - missing out on an über cool game that has you actually taking the helm of not one, but four capital ships in the Star Trek Universe as you attempt to battle it out with the Borg, the Klingons, and the Romulans. You might even want to compare the firepower of Federation ships by simulating a match between two Federation teams.

To end the review, I like to add that an official editor (requiring C++ programming skills) and fan-made mods are available on the Internet to extend your game indefinitely to boldly go where no one has gone before. I look forward to re-enacting the Kobayashi Maru scenario. Let me know if you've seen such a fan-made mission.

That's it... go out there, get your hands on the game and enjoy!

Time to tow you away
Daily PC Game Review Score: 6 / 10
Review Date: 29 Sep 2011


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