Captain’s Log. Stardate 95024.12. Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the of the starship Aegis. Its continuing mission: to explore a region of space known as The Trench in search of a new home for displaced Vulcans whose home planet was destroyed by the Narada, a Romulan mining vessel captained by the vengeful Nero. Complicating our efforts is a Klingon occupying force with whom we’ve frequently traded blows during our research into the system. Despite these setbacks, my crew is ready and willing to help the Vulcans on behalf of the Federation.
In Star Trek Bridge Crew, Red Storm Entertainment has not only created one of the best Star Trek gaming experiences but also the best social video game of the year. And that comes as a genuine surprise coming from a studio known for Rainbow Six. Built atop a visible fondness for the Star Trek franchise, Bridge Crew successfully recreates the experience of being in Starfleet. And on a personal level, it made playing online with strangers fun again.
Using J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek film as source material, Bridge Crew puts the player in the Captain’s chair of the U.S.S Aegis, a ship designed to look as close to the Enterprise as possible without jeopardizing continuity. The single player campaign is presented like a television show, with missions presented as episodes bookended by a monologue by the captain that sets the stage for the upcoming task. When playing with AI crew members, you can direct the actions of the ship’s main crew functions: Helm, Tactical, and Engineering. By looking in their direction, you can give orders by navigating a series of on-screen menus with the DualShock 4 controller or PlayStation Move (I like the precision of the DualShock but enjoy the hilarity of using the Move to make my arms flail). Each episode offers a unique collection of mission objectives that involves scouting systems, analyzing planets and anomalies, saving civilians, and battling Klingons. However, the campaign itself is rather short with only five episodes to play through. This would be disappointing were it not for the Ongoing Missions, a game mode that represents the bulk of the game's longevity.
If looking at Bridge Crew as a new Star Trek television series, the campaign is the show’s pilot and the Ongoing Missions are the episodes that make up a full season. These randomly generated missions give the Aegis full access to all star systems in the Trench which hosts different mission types such as search and destroy, rescue, and research. The randomized nature of the Ongoing Missions makes them far more exciting than the campaign because you won’t really know what to expect beyond the broad objective. These missions are fun enough to play with AI, but it’s a whole different story when taken online. Both the campaign and the Ongoing Missions can be played with friends or random groups, and because the game matches players with both their PlayStation Network and Club Ubi accounts, Bridge Crew allows for cross-platform play. Four players can queue up and select their roles before deciding what mission to play, one of which is the classic Kobayashi Maru simulation. Players can attempt to beat the sim, though only if they don’t believe in a no-win scenario.
I normally don’t like playing games online and when I do, I make it a point to mute everyone so as to save myself from bad trash talk, racial epithets, and people who don’t know how to use headphones. The great thing about Bridge Crew is that it encourages good communication among the players. Making things better is the unspoken rule that all players defer their actions to the Captain’s orders. Everyone I’ve played with has been a really great sport and not once did someone call me a “newfag” or discussed the promiscuity of my mother. Making the online experience all the more fantastic are those who actively roleplay, talking amongst themselves and responding to orders as if they were on the set of the show. Even the most casual Star Trek fan will find it easy to get involved because of how well Red Storm Entertainment recreated the experience of being in a Starfleet vessel. All the familiar sound effects, from the energizing of the transporter bay to the firing of proton torpedoes, make it impossible for Trekkies not to break out in a big, dumb grin. The iconic Red Alert klaxon alone is enough to send chills down my spine every time I hear it. And as a very special treat, Bridge Crew lets players nerd out even further by including a “hard mode” represented here as the bridge of the original 1966 Enterprise. Whereas the Aegis has the same Apple Store look of the J.J. Abrams Enterprise, you’ll never know how much you appreciate futuristic monitors that display constant streams of information until you hop into the classic ship with its hilariously confusing interface. Swapping out the modern sound effects with those from the original series and you’ve got a recipe for a Trekkies’ VR dream.
Glorious as Bridge Crew can be, there are some noticeable problems but nothing harmful enough to breach any warp cores. During Ongoing Missions, I encountered an issue where the game failed to load me into the targeted star system during a warp. Currently, the only way to fix this issue is to do a complete restart of the game. It’s annoying, although it’s only happened twice in the hours I’ve been playing the game. I’m hoping this is something that’ll get addressed in a future patch. The other problem I have is more of a personal nitpick. As much as I love the sound design, I feel that Red Storm Entertainment dropped the ball with the soundtrack, the issue is how it lacks a distinctive Star Trek sound. It doesn’t even feature a variation of the classic theme by Alexander Courage. Fortunately, Spotify for PlayStation comes to the rescue by allowing me to play a custom playlist of Star Trek music from the films and tv shows. For those interested in doing the same, I think you’ll find that James Horner’s score for The Wrath of Khan fits amazingly well!
When we talk about video games, the discussion inevitably leads to how they make an impact on our lives. Most games use the medium to tell deeply personal stories or attempt to affect some degree of social change, while others simply make it fun to pull off incredible headshots or last minute goals. Star Trek Bridge Crew won’t change the world, but it provides a stunning realization of the Star Trek franchise and brings with it an unparalleled level of immersion and VR fun. I can think of no other franchise that’s better suited to cooperative VR play than Star Trek, and Bridge Crew makes playing with strangers fun again. It also represents the ultimate in wish fulfillment.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.