Although the Star Trek television and movie franchise seems to be at its lowest ebb in many years - Deep Space Nine has finished, Voyager is on its last legs, and there's no new movie due to hit our multiplexes any time soon - it's nigh-on impossible to move these days without tripping over a computer game based on the Trek universe. From first person shooter to real-time strategy, space combat sim to turn-based strategy, Magic-style card trading to graphic adventure, every gaming genre has been infiltrated by the Trek franchise at some point.
The latest to gain a Trek game is the third person action-adventure genre, with "Deep Space Nine : The Fallen" due for release in Europe next month. We took a look at a beta version of the game to find out more...
Tachyon Mud-Flinging, Captain?
Traditionally Star Trek is a license that tends to produces lacklustre games, especially in comparison to the rival Star Wars license. Recent relaxation of the rules governing the franchise though has meant that the occasional gem is to be found amongst the new glut of Trek games, such as Raven's popular first person shooter "Voyager : Elite Force", and the rather excellent space combat game "Klingon Academy".
This isn't to say that there aren't a lot of terrible Trek games being made though, and you need look no further than the likes of disappointing real-time strategy clone "Star Trek : New Worlds" for examples of this. Indeed, the cynics among us might almost claim that Paramount's overall policy with the current crop of Star Trek games is very much a mud-flinging exercise; release enough games, and there are bound to be some good ones in there.
It's interesting to note, however, that despite the huge space battles and extended warfare of the Deep Space Nine TV series, no Star Trek game has taken on that particular area of the license .. until now. All that remains to be seen is whether The Collective's "Deep Space Nine : The Fallen" will stick to the wall, or slide down and join the growing pile of substandard Trek titles at the bottom...
"The Fallen" sees you taking on the role of one of three popular Deep Space 9 characters - station commander Sisko, the Bajoran Major Kira, or the Klingon Starfleet officer Worf.
Each of the characters progresses through the story arc of the game in a different way; indeed, one of the cleverest things about The Fallen is the interaction between the actions of the three characters. At points in the game your character will come across obstacles that have already been moved to permit further progress; then, when playing through as another character, you will find that you actually have to go through the process of moving the obstacle, thus interweaving the different threads of the story.
As with Elite Force, the game works hard to make itself seem like a plausible episode of the TV series on which it is based. As well as the three playable characters, all of the other popular characters from the series are also present in non-playable form, and the actual actors who played them on television voice their own dialogue for the game. From a fans standpoint this adds greatly to the quality of the game, although sadly the actors for two of the major characters, namely Sisko himself and Chief Engineer Miles O'Brien, were apparently unavailable for recording, and their places had to be taken by stand-in voice actors.
Building The Station
Adding further to the overall Trek experience of the game is the ability to use your personal communicator to talk to other members of the Deep Space 9 crew during the missions, not to mention the inclusion of the Tricorder!
Yes, the ultimate piece of Star Trek pseudo-science is indeed available for you to use, in this case presenting the player with an unusual 3D spheroid representing the surroundings with points of note such as structural anomalies, life forms or hidden items marked out quite clearly. The potential for using such a device - especially the system for detecting structural anomalies - is clearly superb, although it will be interesting to see how well it is used in the final game.
Each character also has his or her own unique weapon - a standard issue Phaser for Sisko, a modified Bajoran hand-pistol for Kira, and a Klingon Bat'leth (a bizarre hand-to-hand weapon which looks more like an obscure kitchen implement than a tool of death and destruction) for Worf. Aside from the different weaponry, however, the characters are all very similar in terms of controls and abilities; they all carry the same equipment, and their movement seems to be entirely the same.
While this does certainly make the learning curve of the game easier - master the control of one character and you have effectively mastered them all - it would certainly have been nice to see a little more distinction between the different playable characters.
Graphically, The Fallen certainly impresses - The Collective have made many improvements to the Unreal Tournament engine which, combined with the beautifully constructed levels, makes The Fallen one of the best-looking 3D games in a good while.
The models of the different characters are very life-like and accurate - more so, in fact, than the admittedly impressive ones in Elite Force. The weapon effects are not overdone, but rather are modelled accurately after those in the TV series, and the lighting manages to steer well clear of the gaudy "disco dance floor" effects for which many Unreal engine games receive so much stick, going for more muted colours and a realistic feel instead.
The animation of the various characters is worth a special mention as well, making The Fallen feel more alive than many third person games. Animations are much smoother and more natural looking than almost anything we have seen before, especially during the idle animations which occur when a character is simply standing around or gesturing during speech.
One to Beam Out
Deep Space Nine : The Fallen is shaping up to be a very impressive 3D action-adventure game indeed. Fans of the TV series will be delighted at the level of accuracy and detail in the game, and it's clear from the outset that The Collective themselves are massive Star Trek fans. Even those who wouldn't recognise a tricorder if they tripped over one will be able to enjoy the game though.
The question of longevity remains unanswered, especially as the game will not feature any multiplayer modes; but aside from that, this sci-fi romp could be the perfect antidote to the inevitable new Lara outing this Christmas.