This may be a deal breaker for some, but the story of Red Storm Entertainment’s Star Trek: Bridge Crew is set in the Abramsverse, after the destruction of the Vulcan home world. The crew of the USS Aegis has been tasked with locating a new home for the remains of the race, a task that accidentally lands them in conflict with the Klingons. Using stealth, cunning, and judicious use of firepower, the crew must complete their assignment and, hopefully, survive the journey.
To be honest, the story isn’t what will attract players to this title. Yes, it does matter, but most of the potential audience just wants to get some hands on time with a Federation Starship. With the availability of consumer grade virtual reality equipment, this is the first time players have been able to physically immerse themselves in this universe. Or, at least, the bridge of the different starships on hand. While some might bemoan the fact that there is a lack of options to explore the ships as a whole, this isn’t what Red Storm Entertainment set out to create. Instead, they wanted to put together a fun multiplayer experience for friends and strangers to enjoy. That last really is the hook upon which the entire experience hangs. Bridge Crew does, technically, offer a single player campaign, where the player is able to jump from each of the four positions available on the bridge as needed, or just give the AI crew orders. This is a perfectly serviceable, if dull, way to experience the campaign. When trying to sneak past some Klingons on low power, having other players present builds the tension, as they talk back and forth, confirming the implementation of commands and, more commonly, make asses of themselves. This is missing in the single player mode. The best recommendation that can be made is to clear the tutorial and get online, where the real fun lies. Fair warning, though: the tutorial is necessary but rather dull.
Each of the four stations manages to be fun in its own right. Most people seem to want to take the role of captain, which is understandable. Most people aren’t actually good at it, though. I was perfectly happy bopping around, taking whatever happened to be free. This means that I spent most of my time happily taking the engineering role or the helm. Engineering is all about power management and keeping on top of repairs, which can be really stressful and kind of exciting when the other three players are working hard to ensure that every weapon fired in our direction hits. It felt like they were playing Arkanoid, but the ball didn’t bounce back. Lots of people didn’t like helm, which is confusing. You drive the ship! Into rocks! Okay, I’m not very good at it.
The other two positions are Tactical and Captain. Tactical is, in my book, the least interesting post. Yes, it gives the player direct control of the weapons and scanning capabilities, as well as raising and lowering shields, but the experience never got as exciting as it sounds, at least to me. Since the randos I encountered seemed love the post, I’m happy to let them enjoy it. Finally there is the Captain’s Chair. This is the glue that holds the team together, the only person that has direct access to the mission objectives, and keeps the rest of the crew on task. This position also kind of doubles as the communications officer, as hails are answered and red alerts are sent from the chair. The captain also controls the clicker, deciding what will be displayed on the view screen. It’s interesting watching what this position does to random people. Some look for advice and alternate perspectives on how to surmount the current challenge. Others demand obedience no matter the cost, which invariably causes failure.
This last point is actually what really gives this game its legs. Yes, there is plenty of bonus content, including randomly generated missions and the ability to man the original Enterprise. However, seeing how different personalities gel with assignments, how they are willing to treat subordinates or follow orders, and how different leadership styles are, as well as different ways to handle a superior, makes this a must-play game. It’s a compact masterclass in business management and interactions in a Star Trek wrapper. Others might bemoan a level of shallowness in the interactions at each station, as well as the mission types, but this is where the meat actually is.
That Star Trek wrapper is really something, too. The bridges of the available ships are lovingly rendered and striking to the eyes. The authentic sounds keep the atmosphere intact, too. There are times when a bit more attention to detail would have been in order, such as the fact that background crew members are perfectly happy to let fires burn on the bridge when there is nothing else going on. Somebody should really put that out, or at least break out the s’mores.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Star Trek: Bridge Crew is that it’s a VR experience that encourages repeat play. Having put a decent amount of time into the title already, it’s understandable that some may hope for additional content added, such as an adversarial crew vs crew mode. What’s in the package already, though, makes for some hectic times and an incredible use of the technology. The message behind the actual game mechanics, that of the need for understanding and cooperation among the players, is possibly the most clever expression of the themes of the franchise a game has ever mustered.