Game Over Online ~ Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force

GameOver Game Reviews - Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force (c) Activision, Reviewed by - Pseudo Nim / Rorschach /

Game & Publisher Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force (c) Activision
System Requirements Windows 9x, Pentium 200, 32MB Ram, 225MB HDD, 3D Accelerator, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 69%
Date Published Monday, September 18th, 2000 at 09:05 PM

Divider Left By: Pseudo Nim Divider Right

The Star Trek franchise has arguably been one of the most licensed video game franchises of all time, with a good 20 games or thereabouts, ranging from adventure to action to even pinball. As is habitual with mass franchises, as well, games labeled with the Star Trek insignia have been, unfortunately, known to be subpar, to say the least. There are several exceptions - the most famous ones being, of course, 25th Anniversary and Judgment Rites, way back from the good old DOS gaming days, as well as the more recent Star Trek: Armada (though that, of course, in no way measures up to the previously mentioned duo - yet was still enjoyable, unlike most of the others). So now a new Star Trek game comes into the spotlight… does it follow the well-established trend, or does it set itself apart? I would like to keep you, the reader, poised until the last paragraph in the review - but chances are, nobody would really follow it, and would just end up looking at the score. Thus, I break the suspense: yes, it follows the down-the-drain trend, so well established by the other 17 titles that I could count. It's not as bad as come (ST: Klingon comes to mind), but it's pretty bad. It's also based around the Voyager theme, which, for me, is a big no-no, considering how bad the show is.

Anyway, to the specifics. First, let me quickly run through the story. Recall that this is based in the Voyager universe, and, while I risk alienating all Voyager fans and losing them on this paragraph (yes, all three of them), I must say this regardless: the story is roughly as bad as the show's episodes themselves. There is a little bit more "story" to the story than on the show, but you will likely come across (and hate) every cliché element you've seen (and hated) on the show. That includes Mr. Paris and his smart ass jokes (that stopped being funny roughly around Episode 3 of season 1); the singing Doctor; Neelix and his incessant food-related mumbling; the blatantly fake Tuvok who makes a commendable effort at sounding Vulcan, but just really isn't; and, of course, the venerable Captain Janeway who always seeks to help, educate, teach and enlighten. Don't misunderstand, those are honorable and commendable goals - but I feel that the way Janeway does it just does not feel quite like she actually means it. It is, of course, just my view; but somehow, Kirk, Picard and even Sisko (who I thought was a horrible character - until I saw Episode 1 of Voyager) somehow felt more authentic.

"Mais retournons aux nos moutons," as the saying goes (and means, roughly translated, "let us return to the matters at hand"). The story starts off with you, playing as a dinky Ensign, part of the elite Hazard Team unit commissioned by Tuvok to deal with the… spicier of situations. Contrary to most games where you start off as a dinky nobody and rise to the rank of Space Admiral, though, you pretty much remain a dinky Ensign throughout the game, and finish as a Lieutenant. (The only other game I know that was like that was Descent: Freespace - where you started off as an even dinkier complete nobody, saved the Galaxy, and ended as that same nobody called Alpha One). You go through a variety of missions, including infiltration, defense, stealth infiltration and so forth. I don't want to spoil the game, so I won't go into detail - but permit me to say this: unlike in Deus Ex or System Shock 2, where stealth actually gets you something (i.e. a successful mission), it gets you absolutely nothing in ST:VEF. You may just as well whip out your Compression Rifle and just drop every single live body on the ship, it will be just the same. Some of the story twists are unexpectedly (wait… Voyager? Replace that by "predictably") cliché. In one scenario, you break into an alien ship full of aliens; you blast them all to high heaven, sterilize the ship, only to find out that they were just trying to be friends! So you apologize, and just move on with life. There is also very few decisions you can make in the game that affect anything, besides a few times where you actually have to act in a certain constrained period of time - a concept rare to FPSs. An example is containing a warp core breach - you have to perform a sequence of actions in a certain amount of time, and if you do not… well, we all know what happens when the core breaches. Aside from that, there really isn't much you have a choice about. Best of all is the ending, though. Again, I don't think I should break it, but it is so… so… I am at a loss of words, because the word "cliché" does not describe how badly cliché it is. It is abysmally bad, though in line with what I would expect from Star Trek: Voyager.

Let us examine the gameplay now. This is a FPS game, which means the main concept of the game is that no matter what happens, you can bet anything that you do will result in you killing other people, monsters, or anything else that moves and has a red cross-hair. Now, don't get me wrong, this trend has fortunately been modified lately with absolute classics like Half Life, System Shock 2 and Deus Ex, but, since this isn't a classic, you can still bet that the best way out of anything is by using a high-powered Compression Rifle (or something more exotic). Usually you do it alone, but sometimes (about half of the time, actually) you do it with a team - a feat that deserves special mention. For merit, you might think? No, not really - rather, for the dubiousness of the idea (or more precisely, the implementation of it). By this, I mean to say that teammates a good idea (and have successfully been done before in space sims) - but the way they act and behave in ST:VEF is completely counterintuitive, and totally flips the whole idea feet up. First off, they cannot aim worth a pile of… empty shells. If you back off during a fight and watch them engage, you will see that about half of the time, they hit walls - and their shots are VERY far from where the actual enemy stands for. Elite force? I don't know about that. Next, they are in perpetual God mode, but with a twist: they can be killed by friendly fire. They also have an Achilles' heel: the script. The game claims that it has some special scripting language for it, called ICARUS (no, not the intelligent AI from Deus Ex). I think this is one manifestation of it: it's intelligent in the sense that it knows who to kill when. The result of that is that you can be 100% sure that none of your teammates will ever die, and if they do - the script requires it, and there will be a little cutscene about someone crying over his/her body. And in another completely unexplainable occurrence, they will turn on you and actually *shoot* you if you don't participate in some fights to the best of your ability (it appears that it's usually against turrets and not against live enemies only, though). And, on a last note, they seem to be particularly skilled at picking the worst available weapon for a fight (and also shooting you in the back with it). So once they scream "Get down!!!" - you better follow the advice and hit the floor, lest they blast you in the back with a Compression Rifle (I guess, in the end, it's a good thing they don't pick a better weapon - I doubt you'd want a photon torpedo in your back). It's also interesting how the enemies never go for them - as soon as your team and you appear in a room, every single enemy goes straight for you. That shouldn't worry you, though, because the enemy AI is very simplistic, and often feels like they don't even really want to kill you: they don't shoot well, and they don't really try hard. Sometimes they run for cover, too. But they run in a straight line, with their back to you. Now I'm sure a Klingon would never take advantage of that, but I think I can see a problem there.

So what of the graphics and the fun factor? The graphics are fairly good, since it's the Quake 3 engine; but it goes down the drain very fast when you need to read the display consoles on the walls. There is actually useful information on them, such as maps of where you are - IF you can read what it says. The levels are fairly short, extremely straightforward, and resorting to cheap tricks like erecting forcefields around areas where you aren't "supposed" to go. You rarely (if ever) find traps, the most complicated manoeuvre you'll ever have to do is look for a semi-hidden switch, and the most brainpower-intensive puzzle that I found was pushing a series of console buttons to turn a laser from pointing westwards to make it point northwards. And why is it that game designers don't allow players to pillage the surroundings? I mean look, I know Voyager is about peace and mutual coexistence of races, but you are in an enemy ship, with a portable photon torpedo launcher (or a grenade launcher, if you so prefer), and there are lots of computer terminals and other apparatus sitting around - why can't you blast them? Incidentally, speaking of weapons - I should warn you off-hand that you won't find anything particularly inventive here. Of course, there is also the issue of it all having been invented before - hey, how many projectile-firing weapons can you come up with before you start repeating yourself? What you will find in the game is this: the phaser, the Compression Rifle (the standard-issue "fancier" phaser that you see all security people holding); the IMOD (Infinity Modulator) - an anti-Borg weapon that lets you consistently shoot them without them adapting to it (funny how they never have that on the show…); the Scavenger Rifle (a sort of an imprecise machine gun, with a grenade on alternate fire); the Stasis Weapon (a yet another energy weapon, though more powerful than the Compression Rifle); the Grenade Launcher (with EMP grenades on alternate fire); a Tetryon Disruptor (a much nicer machine gun - high rate of fire, too); a Photon Burst (that portable photon torpedo launcher I keep mentioning); and the Dreadnaught, a lightning-bolt type of weapon, seen before in Quake. On a side note, when you fight the Borg, you will actually notice that if you use anything other than the IMOD, they will actually adapt to it after a few shots, and even flash in shielding, "as seen on TV." Pretty cool.

Oh, and on a last note: why are the loading times so excruciatingly long? All's I gots to say is… Resident Evil: Code Veronica for Dreamcast…

So should you buy this game? If you're an avid Star Trek fan, and you just must run around a few decks on Voyager (by "few" I mean about 3, and even those, partially), then you should try to borrow it from a friend who bought it. Besides that, there really is absolutely nothing that would make this game worth buying over some of the other games on the market. Do yourself a favor and buy Deus Ex instead - that's much more fun, better weapons, more varied gameplay, and doesn't help support a show that should have never aired in the first place. As it stands now, ST:VEF is just a Quake 3 with different enemies and one of those incomprehensible and counterintuitive LCARS interfaces (which, fortunately, you never actually have to *use* to get around the place). And as an aside… yes, you can actually kill Janeway, Chakotay, Tuvok and all the other crew members on the ship (but not the Doctor!) - but you have to be pretty good at it, since the entire ship turns on you, and, surprisingly, their aim is much better when firing at you, and their weapons are MUCH more powerful. God mode doesn't work, either. What do you know…


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Divider Left By: Rorschach Divider Right

Maybe it’s a little late for a Voyager: Elite Force follow up review, but I’ve been on the fence about writing this review for about a week, and only recently decided to go ahead with it. When I had first read the review of Elite Force written by Pseudo Nim, I felt that I had to open my big, fat yap. I couldn’t see why it got such a bad rating. People seemed excited by the game on the web, and I’d been kicking around the borg and the first Voyager level, and I felt that the game was pretty good. As I read it, the bulk of his complaint with the game seemed to be that it was based on the Voyager series, which he quite clearly hates. To be perfectly clear, no one hates Voyager more than I do. I’ll take Pseudo up on an ‘I hate Voyager’ contest any day of the week - whatever the hell that would consist of. There should have never been a captain other than James Tiberius Kirk, nor should there have been a James Bond other than Sean Connery, and as far as I’m concerned the Angels will forever be Jill, Kelly, and Sabrina (and perhaps to a lesser extent Chris). But time goes by, and I’m clearly no longer squarely in the advertiser demographics crosshairs when it comes to making shows - it’s the next generation (or perhaps the one after that) that they are catering to now. There’s a guy I work with, who’s about 21 or so, who may start shaving any day now, and he loves Voyager. How can I watch Shatner suck in his gut and ham it up? Clearly, he doesn’t understand. But just as clearly, there are more than 3 people watching Voyager. A little research showed me that it’s almost the highest rated show on UPN, behind only WWF Smackdown, Moesha, and the test pattern. I’ll go out on a limb and say that there are at least 40 people watching any given Voyager episode, fully half of them looking for Jeri Ryan’s nipples. True, the remaining 20 are made up of women and the mentally infirmed, but Voyager has fans. Still, I suspect that Gene Roddenbery’s spirit is so highly agitated that the inside of his urn looks like a snow globe in a paint shaker. But DeForest Kelly is dead (Dammit, Jim! I’m a corpse, not a doctor.), NCC-1701 is in mothballs, and we’ve got to move on. I’ve finished the game since reading his review, and in retrospect Pseudo Nim got most of it right, but I still feel like putting my two cents in.

The game looks great. True, as you get close to a wall panel to look at a map, the graphics become blurry. I have no idea why that happens, and it does make it a little difficult get information, but not so often that it ruins the gaming experience. The borg level does a great job of feeling like a borg ship, and Voyager is undeniably Voyager, at least from the pieces of 3 or 4 episodes that I’ve flipped past, and the Klingon ship and at least one of the surprise levels is a real treat for this old-timer. 7 of 9 looks like and escapee from a Barbie factory, Janeway looks like a guy in drag and a bad wig, and Neelix looks likes Neelix, either that or some kind of odd, melting, leprotic dwarf. Everything looks just as it should. Force fields, weapons sounds and graphics effects, and lighting are all done very well. It’s a little odd to me that pretty much all the Federation weapons are so lame compared to the alien ones, even including the personal photon torpedo launcher. The only times in the entire game that I would find myself using a Federation weapon was when I had depleted the alien ones (apparently the alien and Federation weapons run on different size batteries).

The maps are very linear, and you often choose one path because force screens block all the others. In the early levels, say the one where Voyager is badly damaged from an attack, the force screens are OK. You look down a hallway that is blocked and figure there must be damage down there - venting plasma conduits, environmental failure, something. Later when you’re back in Voyager, and supposedly much has been repaired, the force screens are still there. Empty hallways that you can’t go down. Why they couldn’t have just gone with an empty hallway with empty rooms on it, I don’t know. It would have been more realistic. As it is, you really feel like you’re playing a game with very limited choices. The problem is even more obvious on alien vessels with blocked doors, jammed doors, and force screens all over the place. In the only case where you come to a genuine fork in the path on the borg ship, 7 of 9 comments ‘It doesn’t matter which way you go, they will both take you to the same place.’ Sure enough, the two paths rejoin just a little ways down either hallway. Almost like the developers were laughing at themselves for making such linear levels.

As Pseudo Nim pointed out, the AI is extremely suspect at times. Your teammates sometimes open fire on you after turret encounters. I’m not sure if they’re shooting me for cowardice, or maybe for killing too many of the turrets myself. The only way I’ve found to keep them from shooting me is to go and let the turret hit me a couple of times, and then destroy it. Funky kinda AI bug. Save early, save often. I didn’t have them shoot me in the back, but they did seem to get in my line of fire constantly. On the plus side, despite the “Watch your fire!” or “Hey, it’s me!” they don’t seem to object to being shot, and they are hard to kill. Enemy AI doesn’t duck much, and if you go and stand in front of an enemy he’ll shoot you a couple of times, but then stop, and then shoot you a couple of more times. The pauses are shorter with higher difficulty levels, but it’s still peculiar behavior.

Finally, the ICARUS engine is a big disappointment. The branching points for the plot are VERY few and VERY far between, and ultimately don’t add up to much of anything in the scheme of things. In combat missions, I’ve had my teammates get caught on a wall or in a niche - they won’t move forward, and the plot won’t move forward without them. For example, in a mission where my team is supposed to get into an elevator (and there are lots of elevators in this game), one of them doesn’t get in because they’re off stuck somewhere. The elevator won’t go without them, and I’m forced to reload at my last save before it happened because no force on earth is going to get them on that elevator, even shooting them. In missions that are not combat based, the game engine sometimes fails again, and I’m running around the cafeteria or locker room like an idiot trying to figure out who I need to talk to in order to get the plot train rolling again. I think the end of the game is perhaps the most disturbing of all, because a super-intelligent creature, that could flatten you with some sort of psionic crush attack, decides instead to go toe to toe with you hurling energy balls. A huge step back to the likes of Doom wherein the game ends with some high hit point, heavily armed boss.

But what I think makes this game work despite the flaws above is the plotline, which is extremely well done. It brings to life that quintessential cheesiness that keeps those 40 Voyager fans coming back week after week, except of course when it conflicts with their electroshock therapy. The scriptwriters, I am told by people who watch Voyager, have captured all the little idiosyncrasies that make the characters who they are. You really feel that you are part of a voyager episode, and you’re even somewhat curious to finish it to see how it turns out. That’s really the mark of a good game, right? You want to play it to the end.


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