Two years ago, Elite Force was one of the finest first person shooters to grace our PC screens since Half-Life. Two years ago, the Quake III engine pulsating beneath the surface was a purveyor of jaw-dropping visuals, and we were suitably impressed by the way developer Raven wielded this power. Then again, two years ago was two years ago, and we've all moved on. Sadly, Elite Force hasn't, and yet Codemasters are still dangling the game like a mouldy carrot in front of PS2 gamers with nothing better to do. Except, shock horror, they do have better things to do. Something bad happened in the transition between PC and console - it always does; the textures are of dismal quality, the character models are grotesquely angular and the environments are depressingly simplistic. Despite this, nothing has actually changed much. Overlooking its technological shortfalls, Elite Force is still very much the same enticingly atmospheric and yet disappointingly short game we remember it to be.
The story starts on the many decks of a Borg cube, and you, as Ensign Munro, are charged with the task of locating the rest of your assault team and getting them back to Voyager. The first Borg mission is a perfect example of how the player can become unnerved simply through the use of spot effects and a moody soundtrack. Well, that and the way the sneaky sods come barging out of nowhere mumbling rubbish about assimilation to take a swipe at your head. The first mission also lets you to get to grips with the PS2 pad controls and the finely balanced auto-aim system. USB mouse and keyboard support is included, something missing from the likes of Medal of Honor, and this combination does of course offer the best level of functionality for first person actioneering, but the level of functionality on the pad and the ease with which you can pick up the controls is surprising.
It's rare that you find yourself physically ducking, weaving and jumping in surprise when you're playing an FPS, and the only games in recent memory to evoke similar reactions include Aliens vs. Predator and, of course, Half-Life. This lends a deal of weight to Elite Force's argument. Furthermore, the scripted behaviour of your teammates also adds to the atmosphere, and occasionally you even care what happens to them. Shocking. It's just a shame that while these elements of the game shine, it looks and feels so dated that it dulls the experience, and the fact that it takes two days to complete it seals the game's fate. When compared to stronger PS2 titles like Deus Ex and Medal of Honor: Frontline, it lacks longevity. The addition of a split screen multiplayer mode is a nice move by the developers, but it really doesn't prove to be much of an attraction after a couple of hours play, suffering from the same afflictions which drove the PC equivalent into obscurity.
While Elite Force could have been worse, there's still not much of a reason to spend your cash on it when there are better alternatives waiting in the wings. In addition to the titles name-checked above, Red Faction is also a fine PS2 sci-fi shooter with twice as much content for half the price. But as far as Elite Force is concerned, only Star Trek completists and PS2 owners completely out of options need apply.