A very ambitious, fun and mesmerisingly addictive game.
Let’s be clear on this from the very start: I adore Star Trek. Deep Space Nine was rubbish, but the original series and Next Generation were great. So obviously, I’m bound to be ever so slightly biased in favour of any game that gets released about it. However, I can honestly say that Star Trek: Bridge Commander is a really great game… just so long as you are into Star Trek, or anything in anyway ‘sci-fi space’ related.
Star Trek: Bridge Commander really is a tactical shooter at heart. The main plot is that you were the unnamed First Officer aboard the USS Dauntless, patrolling the Vesuvi System (sounds strangely like Vesuvius doesn’t it?) in the Maelstrom region of space. I say ‘were’ because you get promoted to Captain as old Captain Wright gets killed when the Vesuvi star mysteriously explodes during the introduction. From then on, it is a race to discover why the Vesuvi star exploded, whether it was an accident, and who was behind it. The game lets you control two starships during the main campaign; The USS Dauntless, which is a Galaxy Class, and the USS Sovereign, the prototype Sovereign Class. Controlling these ships is relatively easy, thanks to the assistance of the crew. Simply click on whatever crewmember you desire, and choose from a drop-down menu a series of orders, such as increase speed, attack vessel, or warp to a different sector. In game, there are two views from which the game can be played. A tactical external view, where you see the ship from the outside as it fly’s majestically around, and a bridge view, where you are glued solidly into the Captain’s chair, but can at least pan around to look at the crewmembers, and can see what is going on outside through the viewscreen.
Most of the missions follow a very similar structure; go in, scan the area, meet the bad guys, shoot and destroy the bad guys and then return to the Starbase. While this can become a little repetitive, there is some variety in these missions, such as where stealth will be required to succeed, or you may have to hold off an attack before the reinforcements can arrive. The plot is very strong, and you do feel some attachment to many of the characters you meet along the way. The game is also quite long, and will require at least several sittings to get through the campaign. Battles are extremely fun, and the ships all seem to have accurate, or at least realistic sense of speed, strength and power. You wouldn’t expect a huge spaceship to turn corners abruptly, but instead they turn like blue whales. AI is normally very competent at dealing your attacks, and friendly AI can be ordered to attack specific targets. In multiplayer and Quickbattle modes, you can also play as ships from Klingon, Cardassian, Federation and Romulan fleets (no Borg unfortunately) although you must keep the Galaxy or Sovereign bridges.
The major drawback of Bridge Commander is the graphics. With all the settings maxed out, the external shots of the spaceships looks pretty impressive and majestic. However, whenever any damage is sustained, all you get is a generic damage texture, which looks rather silly and terribly unrealistic. All explosions look just like bits of smoke ballooning out of nowhere. Never attempt to crash into a planet, as you will be able to approach without any problem before suddenly hitting the surface of the sphere and dying instantly. The damage on the bridge is little better. The screens do flicker nicely, sparks fly, and air vents will burst, but none of it lasts very long or makes it feel like the ship is taking serious damage. Furthermore, additional useless crew members on the Sovereign bridge may be thrown over by a torpedo hit, and then never get up, instead lying prone, face up on the floor. The character models themselves are also very bad, and there really isn’t any lip syncing whatsoever.
Thankfully, sound is quite good. The music is suitably ‘Star Trekesque’, and the character voices include those of Patrick Stewart as Picard and Brent Spiner as Data, though the role of Picard is very minor within the game. They all get a great variety of dialogue to play around with, though I would have loved to have seen more. The genuinely only annoying character is that of your First Officer, Commander Saffi Larsen, who is universally despised by all players of this game, constantly reminding you of your mission objectives, or what Starfleet protocols you are breaking. Just listen once to her voice and you will understand exactly what I mean. While it was meant to assist in remembering what you were supposed to be doing, you are supposed to be in charge here, being the captain, and should not be bossed around by your executive.
At the moment, this is still the best Star Trek action game there is. That fact was set to change with the release of Star Trek: Legacy, which should have really been the successor of Bridge Commander. However, thanks to the abject failure of Legacy on the PC on all counts, Bridge Commander is still the pinnacle of Star Trek gaming, and worth checking out if you love this genre. The gameplay is exceedingly fun and engrossing on many levels. Just be prepared to overlook the mediocre graphics.