The Star Trek franchise has seen something of a renaissance in recent years, and the trend looks set to continue into the new millenium with games like Raven's "Star Trek Voyager : Elite Force". But amongst the mass of Trek games due to appear over the next year, one of the most promising but least well known is "Star Trek : New Worlds" from Britain's own Binary Asylum.
Gestalt boldly went where no EuroGamer journalist has gone before, venturing into the depths of Virgin's overheated hell hole at ECTS for an hour long viewing of this impressive 3D strategy game... Where No Man Has Gone Before
Set just months before "Star Trek VI : The Undiscovered Country", New Worlds starts with an impressive rendered cinematic showing a Romulan military experiment being interrupted by a Klingon bird of prey, and promptly going pear shaped. The end result is several new star systems appearing out of the vaccuum of deep space, and this is where the game kicks off.
The Romulans claim the systems, as it was their experiment that caused their appearance. The Klingons want the rich resources that can be found on many of the planets. And the Federation has received a distress call from the inhabitants of the system, and are attempting to prevent a war.
The plot has a number of twists that should keep players interested throughout the game, and you'll soon discover that the situation in the new systems is far more complex than anyone had originally believed. You'll find yourself with some strange allies by the end of the game, not to mention even stranger enemies. A Private Little War
You can play as any of the three main races - Federation, Klingon or Romulan - and the campaign for each race will follow the same plot line, but seen from different points of view. Once you arrive on a planet you will be given a series of missions to carry out, ranging from exploration and scientific research to mining and military conquest.
The type of mission will largely depend on the race you are playing - the Klingons are militaristic and hungry for resources, the Federation interested in humanitarian work and exploration, and the Romulans are big on spying and research.
Each race has its own strengths and weaknesses as well, so you will approach the game differently depending on what race you are playing as. The Federation have strong defensive shields, the Klingons have powerful weapons, and the Romulans rely on their advanced cloaking technology.
Even the interface changes depending on what race you are playing as.Let That Be Your Last Battlefield
The worlds have an authentic Trek feel to them, except that they're made of polygons instead of polystyrene. There's everything from desert worlds to ice moons, and forested mountains to volcanic wastelands, giving you plenty of variation.
And the terrain is surprisingly detailed, with caves, fissures, weird alien plants, crashed starships, mountains, crevices and alien settlements. Best of all you can see for miles without any noticeable scenery pop-up.
Special effects are another strong point. Explosions and weapons fire look incredible, the lighting subtly changes as the sun moves about overhead, and the skies are beautiful. You can even see the world reflected in the windows of buildings and units, and the effect as the Romulan ships cloak has to be seen to be believed. Shore Leave
Although most of the units and buildings in the game have been created by Binary Asylum, they all look totally in character for the various races and have been cleared by Paramount.
The game's characters are also created specially for the game - you won't find Kirk, Spock, Sulu or any of the other Star Trek regulars in New Worlds. They're obviously busy swanning off across space somewhere in the Enterprise... Instead you get your own cast of doctors, science officers and so on for each race.
These main characters can be used in away missions, or to boost your efficiency. For example, place your chief engineer in a tank and he'll increase the shield strength, firing rate or whatever for as long as he's on board. But then, if that unit is destroyed you just lost your chief engineer.
You can even train your officers between missions, though you will have to prioritise which are most important to you. It all adds a bit of an RPG element to the game, and helps add depth and make you feel more attached to your crew than if they were simply a bunch of faceless red shirts. Conclusion
Even ignoring the lucrative Trek license, New Worlds would be a strong contender in the crowded RTS genre. It's going to be one of the first wave of true 3D titles, and it has an intricate storyline, strong characters, and beautiful visuals.
The gameplay is already looking promising as well, with an ingenious transparent interface, interesting missions, three highly individual races to play as, and AI that can take full advantage of their strengths and weaknesses.
I think I'm in Trek heaven...