There are better Star Trek video games out there, but none that come close to delivering the immersive cooperative experience offered by Ubisoft's virtual reality-powered Star Trek: Bridge Crew. It's the closest you can get to being on the bridge of a Federation starship.
Announced at E3 2016 and delayed a couple of times since, Star Trek: Bridge Crew gives one to four players the ability to live out their science fiction fantasies on the bridge of the U.S.S. Aegis. Players take up their posts at the helm (driving), tactical (scanning and weapons), engineering (giving her all she's got) or the captain's chair (barking orders).
Once the crew is assembled they can embark on a series of missions that will test the limits of their piloting, combat, and general bullshitting skills, just like the television shows.
You can play Star Trek: Bridge Crew by yourself, hopping from station to station with a click of a button. Less than four players can group up, with AI taking over whichever positions are unmanned. But the game is best with a full crew compliment.
You can also play as the original TOS Enterprise, but it's all switches and buttons. As one crew member put it, "It's like driving a Model T."
As with many virtual reality games, getting started is a little awkward. Players gather in the ship's ready room before launching into a machine, seated at four sides of a table in a room filled with cool Star Trek things they can't touch (why can't we play 4D Chess?) Arms flail about awkwardly as crew positions and missions are selected. The game relies heavily on voice communication, so expect plenty of goofy Trek humour between missions.
So far I've yet to play with anyone who wasn't completely awesome. These guys were great.
Once a mission gets underway, the silly things suddenly aren't quite as ridiculous. In a full game everyone has a role to fill, and everybody needs to be on point to make it work. The helmsman's manoeuvrability and warp capability depends on how much power the engineer delivers to essential systems.
The tactical officer can't scan mysterious objects in space until the helmsman gets the ship in close. And nobody has all of the information at their fingertips except for the captain, who needs to keep up with mission objectives that change quickly depending on the situation.
When it all comes together, it goes a little something like this:
Note that this is not me playing with a group of friends (or at least they weren't friends when we started). This is me playing on my Oculus Rift with like-minded strangers. Maybe they're playing on PlayStation VR or the HTC Vive, but we know our roles (mostly) and work together like Starfleet professions.
The mission above involves a great deal of stealth. Save for an early mishap involving a cloaked Klingon ship, we managed to get in and out of some incredibly sticky situations without being detected. With me at the helm we skirted the edge of the Klingon sensors.
Hundreds of years into the future and we're still using touch screens.
Tactical analysed local anomalies, discovering one that helped obscure us from patrolling enemies.
I am bad at tactical. I tend to shoot things that didn't need shooting.
Engineering kept power to the engines low to ensure we were running as silently as possible. The captain sat behind us all, conducting the mission like the symphony section of a grand space opera, only with less passion and more science.
Did a bunch of civilians get vaporised by our tactical officer? Sure, but the needs of the many often outweigh those of the few. Maybe they shouldn't have been hanging around military technology too valuable to let fall into Klingon hands.
Being able to see your teammates working and talking makes dire situations feel slightly less so. The lipsync tech here is pretty sweet.
You may also notice that I keep communications mostly formal in the video, referring to the captain by rank. Sometimes — OK, a lot of times — I speak in a pseudo Sulu voice. It's not a conscious decision on my part. It's the whole Star Trek vibe, dragging me off into deep space.
Here's another video I did that's not featured on our main YouTube channel for reasons that will be pointedly evident. Stupid mouse cursor.
Star Trek: Bridge Crew is exactly what I was hoping it would be — an immersive simulation that delivers an experience fans have been dreaming about for decades.