Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Star Trek Online MMORPG Game (by TrekWeb)


Released by Atari and Cryptic Studios

Reviewed for by Bill Williams

STAR TREK Online - Digital Deluxe Edition

Rated T for fantasy violence and mild suggestive themes

MSRP: $59.99

Date of release: February 2, 2010

Well, after months of previews, trailers, photos, mission reports, and several exclusive behind-the-scenes reports from yours truly, the long-awaited STAR TREK Online MMORPG is finally here. Two years in the making, executive producer Craig Zinkievich and his team of developers have crafted the next generation (no pun intended) of interactive role-playing games. In an era where we have seen games such as World of Warcraft, the Lord of the Rings Online, and Cryptic's own Champions Online, STAR TREK Online takes fans into the future of the franchise. But first, a little back story for you...

It is the year 2410. The galaxy is plunged into civil war. The treaty between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire has broken down, leading the galaxy's two superpowers into all-out war, with many alien races choosing sides. On Starfleet's side we have the Bolians, Betazoids, Andorians, Benzites, Saurians, and, of course, Vulcans. Backing the Klingons are long-time adversaries the Gorn, the Nausicaans, and the Orions, along with the Letheans (that's the first I've heard of them). Waiting in the wings somewhere are the Borg (regrouped and back for vengeance) and the remnants of the Romulan Star Empire (mostly annihilated in "Countdown" and J.J. Abrams' STAR TREK feature film), ready to wreak havoc and pick the spoils of whoever's left standing.

As a Starfleet cadet you are called to enter into the game to defend the Federation or fight alongside your Klingon allies. Each mission, or "episode", allows you to interact with multiple players from around the world in an online experience that takes interactive gaming to the next level. Each of the episodes are designed to interact with one another, taking you from planetary to ship-based to outer space action. As you work your way through each episode, you earn points and rank that move you up the chain of command, eventually earning you the coveted starship command. Just in the first hour of gameplay alone I was able to complete the first four missions. It's that engrossing.

You're able to design your character from the ground up, giving him (or her) the look, costume, attributes, and back story that will adapt your character into the STAR TREK universe. As you go along, you can further customize your character with costume changes, weaponry, equipment, and further attributes that make your character(s) unique. Once you complete missions, you can add customizable further characters onto your team. In the first couple of missions alone I was able to add my own female Andorian tactical officer. These team members will become essential down the road when you take command of your starship, which you can also customize with specialized naming, prefix codes, and designs. If you recall the STAR TREK Starship Creator from several years ago, then this is the next logical step forward in such designs.

As you go along, you are treated to tutorials from Zachary Quinto (the new Spock), both in character as an Emergency Medical Hologram and as an active game tutor, guiding you along in character and ship design as well as character movements and actions. In addition, Leonard Nimoy himself can be heard narrating log reports and congratulating players when accomplishing specific missions. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Zinkievich and company have promised that we can expect to hear from other notable TREK stars down the road as players progress through the game.

But this is not just some random shoot-'em-up fight game a la World of Warcraft. STAR TREK Online is also about exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life and new civilizations, and this is something that Zinkievich and company have strived to accomplish. They haven't spent the last two years of their lives pouring all of their resources into designing and creating this game just to make it look like it's been thrown together. The Cryptic Studios team are serious STAR TREK fans who are dedicated to nailing every aspect of the game down to the T. Simply put, it looks and feels STAR TREK. Moreso, the game allows you to socially interact with fans around the world through real-time texting, instant messaging, and e-mails (think Facebook for the 25th century!).

And if you need to track your progress, the game allows you a mission tracking report, whereby you can review the missions you've completed, the grade levels and ranks you've achieved, the points you've earned, and your current mission status. For that matter, if at any point your character is killed, or your starship is destroyed, the game will automatically return you to that last point of completion and you simply pick up from there. When I test-drove the tutorial at Cryptic Studios, I made it all the way through fighting off an Orion armada until my ship was destroyed, then it took me back to that same point at least two more times before I had to call the tutorial quits. Not bad for an hour and a half!

Atari and Cryptic Studios are offering STAR TREK Online in a manner of presentations that's bound to please some die-hard fans and tick others off. Why? For starters, they have presented the game in a myriad of editions, chief among them the standard release (which retails for $49.99), the Digital Deluxe Edition (for $59.99), and the Collector's Edition (for $79.99), the latter two of which are currently available for pre-order and offer a four-day Head Start entry to the game on Friday, January 29 before the February 1st release date. Both the standard release and Collector's Edition come with a CD-ROM that allows you to upload the game content onto your computer's hard drive. The Digital Deluxe Edition, which I pre-ordered, allows you to download the game directly onto your hard drive. Simply input the pre-order code, beta code, or key code that you are given, register your game, and you're on the way.

Some fans are wondering, why the multiple editions? Granted, the Collector's Edition allows you to have some exclusive content not available in the standard or Digital Deluxe releases, among them the red matter capacitor equipment add-on, TNG and DS9-era character uniforms, a die-cast wearable badge, three cards you can share with friends to try a free ten-day trial of the game, and a 40-page hardback manual featuring concept art from the game (which, if you've followed my photos and videos, I posted earlier this month). The Digital Deluxe Edition comes with numerous additional items such as a choice of TOS-era uniforms, a joined Trill, an exclusive "KHAAAAN!!!!" emote, a Klingon bloodwine toast emote, a unique registry prefix, and an automated defense battery tactical module. As if that weren't enough, other stores will have their own exclusive added features. According to Craig Zinkievich, ultimately you'll be able to acquire all of these added features, no matter which version of the game you buy.

As with other MMORPGs, STAR TREK Online is subscription-based. Once you purchase the game, you have a free 30-day run of the game. Afterwards you will have the option of purchasing monthly subscriptions to the game. A 30-day subscription will cost $14.99, three months for $41.97, six months for $77.94, a year-long subscription for $119.99, and a lifetime (or the "Get a Lifetime!") subscription for $239.99. With the year-long subscription you're guaranteed that same $119 yearly price no matter if the monthly rates go up. Both the year-long and lifetime subscriptions allow for two additional character slots, and the lifetime subscription will allow you to custom create your own Borg character. The latter two subscription rates expire on February 1st.

Is the game perfect? Well, no. As of this writing there are obviously people who are expecting a single-player game a la the many Playstation 3 games, or CD-ROMS, or PS2, PSP, you name it, and feel that a subscription rate will be a rip-off once they purchase the game, that should be it. There are MMORPG fans who will tell you that the more you get involved into the game, the more you will get out of it in the long run, so you can't have everything just handed to you with one $50 or $60 purchase. And there are MMORPG fans who know nothing about STAR TREK, while there are TREK fans who are not MMORPG players (I fall into this latter category). What Zinkievich and his team have done is try to accomplish a happy medium whereby both fans can be satisfied with STAR TREK Online.

And there are some fans I've seen react on Facebook who have expressed concerns that there are still lots of bugs to be worked out. That is definitely the case. According to Zinkievich, every detail that goes into the game, every point that gets noted by the fans, will only improve the quality of the overall game in the long run. Furthermore, there may be some of you out there with hard drives that may not handle the screen-intensive graphics. When I first downloaded the game and went through the first hour, I had to settle for reduced graphic quality because my monitor and hard drive could not handle the advanced graphics (blasted Windows Vista!). Hopefully this is simply a matter that I can correct for further game play.

Simply put, STAR TREK Online is a boatload of fun. The overall response given to Craig Zinkievich and Cryptic Studios from the fans thus far has been a positive one, and after a couple of hours test-driving the tutorial and my first hour of actual game play during open beta, I can say that this game is a lot of fun indeed. There's a lot to explore and a lot of high expectations riding on this game, but I feel that Atari and Cryptic have stepped up to the challenge of taking STAR TREK into the future as it should go. It's by far the best STAR TREK computer game experience I've had! Whether or not you feel the same way after your first couple of hours of game play, your mileage may vary.

Rating: 4/5 stars