Has the perfect Star Trek video game been created? Perhaps not, but by taking key elements from the Star Trek games we've played over the past three decades, I believe we can come up with the perfect Star Trek Frankengame.
Over the years, many Star Trek video game titles have come close to perfection in certain areas, but none has successfully combined all of the important elements of Star Trek to create the definitive experience. Some have nailed starship combat, while completely ignoring exploration. Others have embraced the concept of mankind reaching out into the universe, bringing our humanity to bear on issues that are both alien and familiar, skimping on the epic space battles.
No one Star Trek game captures every important aspect of the show, but several of them torn apart and pieced together might do the trick. Here's my recipe for the perfect Star Trek video game.
One part boldly-going:
Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary's Exploration Gameplay
In a medium obsessed with weapons, it can be hard to create a Star Trek title where the characters' phasers aren't always in their hands, the photon torpedoes always a button press away from launching. Creating a Star Trek game where all you do is fire guns is easy. Creating one that captures the essence of the original opening monologue is much more difficult. While many Trek titles have excelled at shooting, one fully encapsulated what it meant to explore strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilisations. Interplay's Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary (and its follow-up, Judgment Rites) for the PC embodied the original series' spirit of discovery, using adventure game point-and-click mechanics during away team missions, though allowing the player to control up to four characters instead of one. When I beam down on a bizarre alien world in a Trek game, this is how I want to interact.
One part frantic phaser battles:
Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force's First-Person Combat.
Once the shooting starts, point-and-click navigation isn't going to cut it. That's where Raven Software's Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force comes in. Translating the Star Trek universe into a first-person shooter seemed like a ridiculous idea, but Raven managed to surprise everyone, delivering a story-driven shooter experience with a focus on teamwork that immersed players in the world of the series, rather than simply cutting and pasting Star Trek elements into a standard shooter template. More impressive still, they did this using the Star Trek: Voyager licence, arguably creating the best thing to come of that series, the television show included. While I'd still prefer to explore with my mouse, when it's time to take the phasers off stun, sign me up for Elite Force.
A heaping helping of space combat:
Star Trek: Starfleet Command's Starship Battles.
Star Trek is not Wing Commander. When you're heading into battle with a 641 meter-long Galaxy class starship, you aren't reaching for a joystick. The crack crew needed to maintain such a vessel during combat can't be represented with an arcade experience. You need strategy, maneuverability, technical expertise, and a working knowledge of your enemy. Stephen Cole knew this when he created the tactical strategy board game Star Fleet Battles, so when Interplay took that board game and brought it to the computer as Star Trek: Starfleet Command, it created the best Star Trek space battle game of all time. Utilising the LCARS (Library Computer Access/Retrieval System) interface created by franchise technical consultant Michael Okuda, Starfleet Command gave players quick access to every function needed to command a starship in battle, from weapons and shields to evasive maneuvers and electronic countermeasures. There is no arcade shooting here. It's all about finding and exploiting your enemy's weakness while making sure they don't discover yours. I don't want to fly my starship into battle; I want to command it.
A handful of aged actors:
Star Trek: Legacy's Cast of Captains and Commanders
Fans can argue all day long about which Star Trek series they prefer. I've seen civilised discussions come to blows when the subject of The Original Series versus The Next Generation comes up, and even the weaker entries in the franchise like Voyager and Enterprise have their passionate supporters. There's really only one way to satisfy everyone, and that's by including key figures from every series. That's what Bethesda and Mad Doc Software's Star Trek: Legacy did. While the Xbox 360 and PC game failed as a real-time strategy starship combat game, it did feature the most diverse cast of any Star Trek video game, with every major leader represented. From Scott Bakula's Jonathan Archer to Kate Mulgrew's Kathryn Janeway, Legacy brought together the strongest voices from each generation. While I don't necessarily require all of the leaders, representatives from each iteration of Star Trek would be required in the ultimate Trek game, as well as…
A bit of ham and cheese:
Starfleet Academy's Overacting
It's not a Star Trek without hammy dialog delivery from self-important actors, or established thespians stumbling over the thickest technobabble this side of a Larry Niven novel. I'm not saying it has to be quite as awkward as it was in High Voltage Software's Star Trek: Starfleet Academy, but it had better be damn close. Extra points would be awarded if our franken-developers managed to include full-motion video of Kirk waddling about in an outfit that doesn't fit quite right. If I wanted Oscar-award winning acting in my science fiction, I'd have been born in another reality completely.
And there you have it. Take each of those elements from those five different games, place them on a transporter pad, throw a wrench in the machinery and beam them to my PC or console, and I'd be completely satisfied with what comes out on the other side.
Of course, your results may vary. Perhaps your perfect Star Trek game contains elements the developers of these titles hadn't dreamed of incorporating into a video game. Maybe you're the harbinger of a new age of science fiction gaming, sitting there chewing your lip thoughtfully, trying to figure out how best to phrase how wrong my choices are.
Or perhaps not. The bridge is yours.
Check back all week for more of Kotaku's Star Trek Week, including an in-depth look at the band-new Star Trek Online.