Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network lend themselves to quick, pretty games with multiplayer – and that's exactly what Star Trek D-A-C aims to be.
Rather than licensing a full-blown movie tie-in game for Star Trek's upcoming "reboot" film, publisher Paramount is pushing for a decent game with a smaller scope. Pretty much the only thing D-A-C the game has to do with the movie is music from the film's original score. Other than that, everything is pure top-down shooter tradition and familiar Star Trek franchise naming conventions.
What Is It? Star Trek D-A-C is a top down space shooter made up of various online multiplayer modes that can be played alternately offline with AI. Players choose either the Star Fleet faction or the Romulan Empire faction and then pick one of three types of starship to control. The various game modes allow for up to six players per faction with AI-controlled units to flesh out the ranks. The different modes are team deathmatch, conquest and assault and each have a versus, co-op or solo variants. It's coming out for XBLA, PSN and later on for PC.
What We Saw I sat in a room in the Westin St. Francis hotel for about 20 minutes, watching Producer Tarik Soliman play through quickmatch rounds of deathmatch and conquest against the AI on the XBLA version. Then I took a turn with assault mode for about 25 minutes before I lost and had to pass the controller to the next journalist.
How Far Along Is It? The build looked pretty final. D-A-C will come out "around the same time" as the movie, Soliman, so start looking for it on XBLA and PSN the week of May 8.
What Needs Improvement? Tutorial – What Tutorial?: Perhaps this is something Soliman skipped in during the demo in his rush to show off the game, but I didn't see a tutorial mode or any real expository text telling you how to play the game. Not that D-A-C is complicated – but in a game so focused on multiplayer, it might be nice to keep the learning curve shallow with a decent tutorial so you don't spend the first half our of your D-A-C experience getting slaughtered online.
Can't Control The AI: Soliman said the developer felt it would be too hectic in solo mode to give the lone human player control over all of the friendly AI units. Normally, I'd be okay with leaving the battle plans up to the AI – it's a computer, so it should be smarter than me, right? – but I found that the AI units on my team weren't team players... at least not where I was concerned. I had to tap Y to go into the map view just to find them whenever I respawned and unless I guessed what their tactic was, I couldn't really participate in whatever plan they'd cooked up. Solo feels particularly lonely when even the AI ditches you.
Limited Scope: Because this game relies on multiplayer (and is better played with more human than AI players), it's pretty limited for long term playability. Soliman said there would potentially be DLC for the title; but unless they add a compelling story-based singleplayer mode or some hot, new multiplayer mode, D-A-C might lose its appeal overtime instead of gaining a steady following – like a stick of gum losing its flavor instead of a fine wine aging.
What Should Stay The Same? Shield/Boost System: Your primary controls in the game are shoot and boost – pull the trigger for the former and press X for the latter. Both eat up an energy meter displayed at the bottom of the screen which regenerates slowly overtime or gets replenished through white orb pickups you can find on the map or score from blown-up enemy units. This, combined with a shield that also requires time to regenerate if it gets shot up, adds a nice layer of strategy to the gameplay that sets D-A-C.
Escape Pod Deaths: In D-A-C, you take damage from other ships shooting at you, enemy mines or enemy turrets (not from crashing into stuff). When your shields are gone, your ship can either take a few more hits before it explodes, or you can eject an escape pod. The escape pod can't shoot and has no shield to defend itself, but if you can steer it away from danger ‘til a timer runs out, the game rewards you with a quicker respawn time and by letting you keep a higher percentage of items you picked up before you got shot down.
Different Things Actually Feel Different: Three game modes and three ship classes doesn't sound like a lot in the way of gameplay, but each mode and each ship feels different enough to create a sense of depth. The ship classes work like rock-paper-scissors: speedy fighters can't last long against bombs, the slow flagships pack a wallop and take forever to get anywhere, while the bombers can't last long against a barrage of lasers. The strategies you develop around the different fighters then adapt depending on which mode you play: for conquest, you're better off with a bomber-flagship mix – but for assault mode (which sounds similar to conquest because it's about capturing points on the map), you need to switch it up between bombers and fighters depending on how far through the map you've progressed.
It's Fun: I didn't even notice 25 minutes had passed during my assault match. I must've died at least half a dozen times, but rather than being frustrated, I was always eager to get back to the game.
Final Thoughts Only one thing bugs me about D-A-C: nobody will tell me what the acronym stands for. My best guess is that it stands for Deathmatch-Assault-Conquest, but Soliman was hinting at movie spoilers or something. Whatever; I had fun playing it, so what difference does the acronym make? They could have called it Obligatory Star Trek Tie-In and it'd still be a fun game to play.
If you're not convinced, just sit tight for the demo that's due out the same day as the game; it'll include multiplayer (because it kind of has to) and give you a good idea of what you'll be getting for $US10. All in all, for me D-A-C sounds like it's exactly what an XBLA/PSN game should be: quick and pretty with a healthy shot of multiplayer.