The summer, quite frankly, is a difficult time to keep up with game reviewing. When you’re stuck inside in the winter, almost nothing short of snowbound here in New Hampshire, there’s often nothing better to do than play games and write about them, but in the midst of summer, my wife lying in the sun slathered with oil and modeling this year’s bikini, well, you get the picture. Just so you understand the sacrifice I’m making here for the venerable GO network. Still, I reviewed the original Elite Force and, while it was nothing really stunning in the realm of 1st person shooters, it was satisfactorily action-y and plot-driven, despite my general nearly-overwhelming dislike of the Voyager franchise. What improvements did they make for Elite Force 2? What changes have they wrought? Those aren’t rhetorical questions; I want someone to tell me – what changes did they make? In all the playing I did, I didn’t see anything worth mentioning.
The nuts and bolts, for those of you who missed the first one, is that you play Alex Munro, a crewmember assigned to a special security detail, called the Hazard Team, onboard Voyager during her time in the Delta Quadrant. The Hazard Team supposedly had special training and tactics to deal with the unique threats posed by the creatures of the Delta Quadrant. In truth this formed the basis of a wholly adequate squad-based 1st person shooter, hampered primarily by the poor AI of your teammates. The other big hook offered by the game was something they called (I think) the Icarus engine, which was supposed to allow for sort of a living plotline, the direction of the game changing depending on what you did, or didn’t, do. That turned out to be a big pile of hooey, as the branches turned out to be by and large insignificant, often rejoining the central plotline just a few minutes later independent of which branch you took.
EF2 picks up where the other one left off, more or less, with Alex as part of the Hazard Team onboard a Borg vessel that holds Voyager prisoner and keeps it from passing through a transwarp duct back to the Alpha Quadrant. I have no idea if this lines up with events that took place in the series or not, and before someone emails me and gives me some long-winded summary of the last season or so of Voyager, let me state for the record that I don’t care. Upon return to the Alpha Quadrant (needless to say you defeat the Borg), the Hazard Team is split up by some pencil pusher at Federation HQ, its members scattered to the four winds. Alex ends up teaching at Starfleet Academy. It takes two long years (which fortunately you are spared from playing) for Picard to come along, learn of the Hazard Team, and rebuild it using the original team members on Enterprise, ready for a new set of hazards. The move from the Voyager plot to the Enterprise is a welcome one for me, and represents IMHO a move in the right direction, if pretty much the only discernable move in any direction this sequel has taken.
EF2 remains a squad-based game with poor squadmate AI. They get snagged up on all sorts of objects and dead ends, and you frequently have to double back to pick up some lagging member. Apparently I’m half team leader, and half border collie. The problem is exacerbated when the plot often will not move forward until all members of the team are in a certain location. They had a big opportunity to fix one of the more annoying gameplay aspects from Elite Force, and as near as I can tell did nothing about it. And as in EF1, the use of the term Hazard Team is something of a misnomer, because often in the game you leave the rest of your team behind (at an elevator, ladder, or duct entrance) while you go off and accomplish tasks on your own. So, onto the Icarus engine. Big improvement there, right? Nope. The changes you can cause to the overall plot are tiny, itty bitty, miniscule. Take a left at this junction, or a right? Hmm, they both meet up a couple hundred meters down the hallway. Not all of them are that blatant, but it’s close.
The graphics engine remains a highly modified Quake III engine. Is it more highly modified this time around? Eh, maybe. It honestly looks pretty good given its age, and faithfully reproduces the Trek universe with steam, and particle and weapon effects and such. The character models still have a low polygon count and move very stiffly. Voice acting is better than average, and though Patrick Stewart is the only member of the Next Generation cast that you come across, the man still has more acting capability in one shriveled earlobe than the entire cast of Voyager has in their collective bodies. Cool sound effects abound, but I don’t think that they changed a whit in terms of the weaponry you come across, at least not so far as I can remember.
Elite Force ranked solidly OK as far as I was concerned, and, with very few changes to it, Elite Force 2 is OK as well. I would have liked to see some improvements for a game that was this close to something special, and I’m kind of perplexed that they took as long putting it together as they did. I mean, how long does it take to make a pile of new maps and hook it all together with a few engine-generated cutscenes. The answer is apparently 2 years, which is the time span between EF1 and EF2. One final note is that the game, much like the first one, is kind of short – the single player missions lasting something like 6 hours depending on your skill level. And while the multiplayer aspect obviously adds a little more playtime, the maps are, like everything else, just OK.
How many ways are there to say average? Middling, satisfactory, acceptable, passable, modest, adequate. Grab your favorite thesaurus – they all apply here.