Star Trek: Away Team should be a great game. It offers exotic worlds to explore, a cast of human and alien characters, and a great license. The action is patterned after the successful Commandos series and even incorporates sound into the art of stealth. So why is Star Trek: Away Team yet another example of how to ruin a perfectly good license, like so many previous Star Trek games? Simply because something went wrong with the design and implementation of the game's action.
The first major mistake made by the designers is the abuse of the established mythology of Star Trek. Any "Trekkie" worth his or her tricorder knows the Federation is the good team that keeps the galaxy honest. However, the manual begins with a communiqué from Admiral Nolotai to Starfleet Command, basically suggesting a new paradigm shift from the tried and true values of the Federation by forming a "...special crew for a new time. A team prepared for the most extreme missions, capable of entering places that our conventional forces cannot go."
This team, it continues, will command a starship, the USS Incursion, with masking ability used to assume the form of any known ship. In fact, the missions are mainly prowling around, subduing guards, achieving the objective, and getting out unnoticed. Underhanded sneakiness replaces the usual Federation roles of conduct. A new time indeed!
The crew's maiden mission involves discovering why Romulans are attacking a Klingon science base. The basic tale of mind control unfolds predictably with special appearances by the Borg. There are a variety of tools, lethal and non-lethal, for helping the team bypass enemies -- more than 20 skills and weapons in total. The game is kind enough to list what items and personnel are needed for the next stage, leaving you to decide which of the 17 crewmembers will join the party.
A wide variety of choices and customization options are available to fine-tune the group. Unfortunately, the characters are dull. Even the bio paragraphs in the manual can't help generate interest in them. It would have been nice to give each character an individual personality, even infusing each with likes or dislikes. Character development helps any game -- part of Balder's Gate's charm is that not all characters get along with each other and let you know exactly how they feel.
Gameplay suffers a bit from execution and graphics. At 1024x768 resolution, everything is tiny. Computers, items, and control panels are hard to make out, making for moderate pixel hunts. The cursor does change when an item is found, but it still takes an effort to identify what it is. On a larger scale, there are some serious questions about the action. In Commandos, for example, there is a perverse joy in sneaking up behind a Nazi and dispatching him. Star Trek: Away Team is missing some semblance of motivation; these guys haven't been wronged; they're just doing their job.
Finally, there isn't enough surprise in the game. It is commendable that sound is an integral part of the equation (crouching produces the least sound when sneaking up to apply the Vulcan Neck Pinch), but there have to be more elements. You can scan the entire playing area and pick out the best plan of attack, leaving little to chance. A "fog of war" might have added another facet to the game.
Besides a storyline straight from the television series, under-whelming character development, and repetitive gameplay, there is no humor in the game. The word's "away team" conjures up Ensign Redshirt getting clobbered by a local monster or falling into a trap. Unfortunately, the game takes itself way too seriously and misses the opportunity to insert subtle Trek humor in several places that would have lightened the mood in anticipation of a more serious situation later.
Sadly, the games that capture the true feel and style of the Star Trek universe are few and far between. Star Trek: Away Team is more of the same uninspiring gameplay that makes the license unappealing to game developers. Its failure to adhere to simple precedents or develop surprising action involving interesting characters empties yet another promise of a quality title. This is a lukewarm title that fails to stir any emotions. Star Trek fans would do best to set phasers to "Avoid."
Graphics: Extremely tiny items are annoying. Being able to see the entire playing field wrecks any surprises. Representation of Star Trek gear and ships is decent.
Sound: Brent Spiner and Michael Dorn lend their voices to the game. Weapons sound fine, but nothing noteworthy.
Enjoyment: Sneaking up behind a Romulan just isn't as exciting as hunting Nazi's. Computer falls for most basic tricks. Ho-hum action matches a yawn-inducing storyline.
Replay Value: Players can join cooperative games and control the same characters, but silliness ensues. Playing through with different characters is still just as dull.
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