Friday, September 11, 2009

Star Trek: Legacy

  • Reviewed on: Xbox 360; HP PL4200N 42-inch plasma
  • Also available for: Windows PC

  • The Good: Great story written by a veteran Trek scribe; voices are provided by the captains from all five television shows; it acts as a showcase for the dozens of starships seen in the series over the years.
  • The Bad: Fleets require micromanagement; linear mission design leaves little room for creativity on behalf of the player; graphics and overall presentation fall short of Xbox 360 standards
  • The Verdict: Lackluster gameplay and a low budget keep Legacy from hitting warp speed

With the boob tube showing naught but reruns of old series, Trekkies haven't had a whole lot to get excited about over the last year (scant rumours about a J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek movie aside).

Many fans were banking on getting a fresh Trek fix from a pair of games being released by Bethesda Softworks this fall, Star Trek Tactical Assault (Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable) and Star Trek: Legacy (Xbox 360, Windows PC). But Tactical Assault received a lukewarm response from both gamers and critics, and things aren't looking much better for Star Trek: Legacy, a strategic space combat game that's plagued with design issues.

Star scribe not to blame

Franchise fanatics will be drawn into Legacy's smart plot, which was co-written by Dorothy Fontana, a veteran Star Trek screenwriter with ten original series episodes to her credit. The story spans hundreds of years, involves the origins of the Borg, and was developed specifically to feature the captains from all five Star Trek television series (William Shatner, Kate Mulgrew, Patrick Stewart, Scott Bakula, and Avery Brooks all signed on to provide voice talent.)

Indeed, the game is brimming with scenarios that could easily have been the basis for shows in any of the series. I had to deliver medical supplies to planets infected with contagious diseases, escort an allied ship out of a cloud of corrosive gas, and take back science stations that had been captured by enemy forces intent on exploiting their research, all while keeping a watchful eye for Klingons, Romulans, and the Borg.

Unfortunately, the writing doesn't get the support it needs from the art department to create a truly immersive experience. Everything takes place in space; planets, stars, and ships are the only objects ever seen on screen. The complete lack of interior scenes—especially during moments of dramatic dialogue that take place on the bridge—is an indication of the game's obvious budget limitations and makes Legacy's graphics feel a bit out of place amid the luscious visuals seen in most other current Xbox 360 titles.

At least the ships are pleasant to look at. Star Trek has always had a way with starship design, and Legacy features more than 80 ships from five different races. They're not particularly detailed, but they smash up real good. I was reminded of the dueling ships near the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Think gaping, burning holes in ship hulls and warp engine nacelles cracking off and spinning away. Spectacular stuff.

Damn it Jim, I'm a doctor, not a game designer!

The ups and downs of presentation take a passenger seat to game design, which is where Legacy's greatest problems lie.

The game comes frustratingly close to delivering a wonderfully authentic Star Trek experience. Players have access to several game commands that are distinctively Trek in nature, such as transferring power to various sections of the ship to boost performance and scanning planets for signs of life.

Unfortunately, they're rarely required in actual game play. Worse, I never really felt like I had the option of choosing the proper situations in which to use these commands. I was always told when I needed to use the tractor beam, hail a ship, or transport away teams, leaving little room for me to make my own decisions. Trying to use a command when not prompted to do so typically resulted in a "no response" message popping up on screen.

Ironically, the one part of the game that I did have complete control over was also the one part of the game I desperately wanted to hand off to A.I.: space battles. Legacy employs a ridiculously complicated control scheme that made ship-to-ship fights extraordinarily frustrating. Plus, the computer captains commanding the ships in my fleet that were not under my direct control were basically idiots. They failed to follow my orders, flew carelessly into ship-crippling nebulae, and showed a complete lack of autonomy when I was otherwise engaged. (It brought back memories of the Omnibot robot I received for Christmas in the fourth grade—he could do anything, so long as I coached him through each and every action step by step.)

When I failed a mission that involved spreading out my fleet to destroy debris from a nearby star for the sixth time in a row—wasting over two hours in the process—I felt like blasting the game disc out of an airlock.

A tepid Trek

I like Star Trek. I don't go to conventions and don't collect memorabilia, but I've watched all of the movies and most of the TV shows. And I think my affinity for the material is the reason why I played Star Trek: Legacy through to its conclusion. I wanted to see how the story ended, and I have to admit that the space battles—while often frustrating—look an awful lot like they do on the shows.

But if I wasn't a fan I'd likely have called it quits after the first couple of missions. And I certainly didn't enjoy it enough to want to spend much time investigating the multi-player portion of the game (the few times I did try playing online I had to wait upwards of five minutes in order for enough players—four—to join so we could have a proper match).

Star Trek: Legacy is sad proof that Star Trek is tumbling dead in space। The franchise's owners are going to need some Scottie-like ingenuity to restore power and save the brand before it's too late. Too bad James Doohan isn't around to help out.