Weaving Star Trek characters from all different eras and realities into one galaxy-spanning game is a wonderful thing. Wrapping that concept around a twisted mass of free-to-play mechanics and bugs is not.
In these days of Star Wars fever, I proudly identify as a Star Trek fan. I’ve watched every episode of each television series, even the ones that weren’t Deep Space Nine. I own every film. I listen to Star Trek podcasts like the hilarious Post-Atomic Horror and the insightful Mission Log religiously. Seriously, I wear robes and anoint a dagger with essential oils. I’d wear a Starfleet uniform but I can’t decide which one would look best on me.
I am a Trekkie, so I’m understandably disappointed that Star Trek: Timelines, the new mobile game for iOS and Android that brings together Star Trek characters from every era, isn’t as good as the mobile game that brings together Star Wars characters from every era.
Don’t, Star Wars fans. Just don’t.
It’s not for lack of Trek that Star Trek: Timelines stumbles. Developer Disruptor Beam (so appropriate) shows as much love and understanding for the series as they did with Game of Thrones: Ascent, another dense free-to-play offering that’s a bit too complex for its own good. The game opens with narration from actor John De Lancie, the actor who famously portrays Fluttershy’s boyfriend on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Also he is Q.
There is much for a Trek fan to love in Timelines, whether their favourite series is Deep Space Nine or they’re insane (just kidding, probably).
New characters are recruited via a place we wouldn’t be allowed to go if not for the massive time disturbance that’s warping all eras into one fangasmic (totally a word) soup.
You say you want O’Brien? This game gives you miles of O’Brien, with a smile.
The entire galaxy needs saving? There’s only one man-ish for the job!
And not only do they have Ensign Crusher, they have even got one who can act!
Need to upgrade your Rom? Give him some pancakes.
The various characters aren’t just items to collect, either. As you progress through the game’s missions you’ll run into all sorts of interesting characters. Also, Chakotay.
And what would a Star Trek game be without ship battles?
Based purely on these screenshots, Star Trek: Timelines should be one of my favourite games. Beyond the screenshots its another story.
The ship combat? It’s automatic. All the player has to do is activate piloting powers that affect firepower, accuracy and evasion at regular intervals.
The story missions play out as a series of tasks, each with a numbered resource target to hit. Firepower, diplomacy, engineering, science, medicine — each collectible character has a combination of statistics that can be increased through levelling or by crafting and/or assigning upgrade items. Characters also have traits assigned to them — Doctor, Spy, Ferengi, Inspirational Figure and such — that can modify their skills depending on which traits the mission calls for.
Then we do this.
It’s actually a rather intelligent system, though it doesn’t feel balanced. Or I’m doing it wrong and the game isn’t doing a good job of explaining anything. Either way, two chapters’ worth of ship battles and away team missions and I’ve hit a wall. I can’t progress unless I upgrade some characters beyond their default level cap or farm existing missions for equipment slot enhancements.
In other words, the numbers on the right are getting much higher than the numbers on the left, and raising the numbers on the left is a pain — especially considering the energy mechanic that limits how many missions can be run in a single sitting.
During downtime there are timed faction missions.
These are basically timers with randomly generated rewards at the end. Accruing points in the game’s numerous factions unlocks fresh items and characters to add to your ship.
You buy these things using merits, one of the game’s three currencies. There are also credits, used to purchase basic rewards, and dilithium, because of course they’d use dilithium for the game’s premium currency.
So we’ve got a timers, an energy system, more timers, a crafting system with so many random bits of Star Trek in it I don’t even know where to start. One of the series most iconic landmarks is now a place where you might get a shirt.
And then there are the bugs and glitches. Sometimes the app randomly crashes before ship battles begin. I’ve had my ship get stuck in an endless warp between systems. The app doesn’t like being minimised for long — maximising it after an extended period screws up the audio for me. And if you plan on playing across two devices, make sure you shut it down and restart each time.
I get you, Worf. I know those feels.
Star Trek: Timelines has me feeling frustrated, actually. I want to play it more. I want to unlock strange new ships, seek out new characters and away team missions. I would like to boldly go places. Just not all places at once in the most convoluted way possible.