Star Trek has had something of a mixed history, particularly when it comes to computer games. All too often developers have simply slapped the Star Trek name on the box, secure in the knowledge that thousands of Trekkies would buy it. The result is an extensive back-catalogue of Trek games that mostly vary from disappointing to downright terrible.
The Collective are hoping to buck the trend with The Fallen, a third person action-adventure game using the Unreal Tournament engine to great effect and based on the Deep Space Nine series, which recently ended in climactic style with warring alien races, rebellion, religious cults and ancient artifacts...
The Story So Far
The Fallen fits in around the end of the sixth series of Deep Space Nine, with the growth of a sinister Bajoran cult worshipping a group of powerful and manipulative aliens known as the Pah-wraiths.
Thrown out of the Celestial Temple (a wormhole) by the Prophets (aliens who can see the future as clearly as the past), the Pah-wraiths want to recover their freedom and take their revenge. Three powerful Red Orbs hold the key to unleashing them, which the Bajoran cult believes will bring about a new Golden Age, while others fear it could lead to a second disastrous "war in heaven" between the Pah-wraiths and the Prophets.
And as if the prospect of having two factions of powerful aliens fighting it out in your own back yard wasn't enough to worry about, the Cardassians and Dominion are also getting in on the act, as well as a new alien race known as the Grigari. Now you will have to recover the three orbs before any of the other factions can use them to release the Pah-wraiths.
Set Phasers To Stun
Breaking from third person tradition, The Fallen allows you to play as any of three different characters - Captain Benjamin Sisko, the Bajoran Major Kira, and Klingon warrior Worf.
Missions vary depending on which of the three characters you choose to play, with several unique levels for each character, as well as variations in the objectives and gameplay in the other missions depending on your choice. You will also get an individual weapon for each of the characters - StarFleet officer Sisko uses a standard issue phaser, while Kira has a modified Bajoran phaser, and Worf gets to wield the Klingon Bat'leth, a powerful melee weapon.
There are also several common weapons which any of the characters can use, varying from StarFleet phaser rifles to captured Cardassian disruptors, with photon grenade launchers for when you need something a little heavier. Each of the game's weapons also has the Unreal engine's traditional alternative firing mode, giving you a little more variety.
Other favourite Star Trek items also make appearances in the game, including the ever-present medical hypo-sprays to heal your wounds and remove toxins from your system. The tri-corder is also present, offering an almost Elite-style 3D map showing you the location of nearby equipment and life-forms, and allowing you to scan items to find out more about them.
Want to know what you just zapped with your phaser? Scan the corpse! Maybe that rock formation looks a little unsteady? Scan it to see if you can blow it up to access another part of the level. It's a nice touch...
The Final Frontier
The rest of the game follows the same pattern of something old, something borrowed and something new. Settings include the USS Defiant and Deep Space Nine itself, lovingly recreated according to the blueprints from a Star Fleet technical guide.
But the early crash site levels look eerily like the Nali home planet from Unreal at times, with towering cliffs and pools of shimmering water, although the stormy clouds and showers of meteors falling from the sky add to the sinister atmosphere. Other locations include a Cardassian base, a Dominion prison camp, and even a Bajoran monastery.
Enemies include old favourites like Cardassian soldiers and Jem'Hadar troops, alongside the metallic "bio-analagous" Grigari scavengers. Native life comes in the form of bizarre looking fish, poisonous giant bat-like creatures which swoop down on you, and creatures known as "raptors", which look like a cross between your worst nightmare and a tiger.
The Engines Cannae Take Any More
All of this is produced by the excellent Unreal Tournament engine, and the graphics are as beautiful as you would expect. The Collective have also added some new features of their own to the engine to enhance it still further.
Most obvious is the third person camera system, which generally does a good job of giving you a clear view of the action without getting stuck in walls. The camera can be moved around freely with the mouse to allow you to look up and down, and in confined areas your player model becomes translucent so that it doesn't block your view.
Your character's animations are modestly impressive, with a new bone system using inverse kinematics making sure that things stay fluid and life-like. There is also facial animation, allowing for lip-synching when characters speak during the game's many short cutscenes. Meanwhile support for MP3 music has been added, with the soundtrack changing to match the action as you move through the level and come under attack.
From what we have seen so far, The Collective could be on to a winner with DS9 : The Fallen. The graphics are atmospheric, the controls are simple but effective, all your favourite gadgets and weapons are there, and the plot ties in nicely with the TV series.
Unless something goes drastically wrong, this should be a Trek game that you won't have to be a Trekkie to love, and we're looking forward to getting our hands on the final review code...