Any red-blooded Trekker worth his or her weight in dilithium has yearned for the chance to sit in the center seat, the ability to be the master of a mighty starship plying the spaceways. With the release of Star Trek: Bridge Commander these loyal fans will finally get their chance.
Bridge Commander is quite possibly the most anticipated Trek game ever. When it was announced that Larry Holland's team at Totally Games was to create the game, some felt that Totally Games would turn the majestic splendor of Trek capital ship battles into a WWII-style slugfest, which is what the previous two space combat sims, Starfleet Academy and Klingon Academy, managed to do. The fear that Bridge Commander would turn out to be the same was amplified by Totally Games' previous efforts with the Star Wars franchise which were in the same vein. Fortunately, these fears have proven to be unfounded.
Set in the Next Generation era, the game puts you in charge of a Galaxy-class vessel in a disputed area of space known as The Maelstrom, where a star has suddenly exploded for no readily apparent reason. Starfleet makes it your job to find out what's happened through a series of missions ranging from reconnaisance to full-on assault, with the bonus of upgrading to a Sovereign-class starship later in the story. Overall, the game has a very cinematic feel to it, with the introductory movie detailing the star's explosion and how you came to be in command, then moving seamlessly through a visually impressive opening credits sequence into the first mission.
The graphics look like they came straight out of the movies on a decent video card, and are quite superb, as is the sound which includes a nicely done if sometimes repetitive musical score, and crisp, authentic sound effects for the weapons. The voice acting while well-executed sometimes sounds a little contrived... which ironically makes it even more like a Trek episode at times. Captain Picard and Mister Data both make appearances, with their digitized selves looking rathermuch like the real item... aside from the lipsynching being off enough to be familiar to any Godzilla fan.
You assume the position of the ship's captain, and can control the ship either from the center seat by using the mouse to look at each of your bridge officers and issue commands through context menus, or by flipping into the tactical mode, which switches to an external view of your ship and allows you to either control your mighty vessel with the keyboard and mouse, or just sit back and enjoy the somewhat enhanced view while your crew takes care of business. For large scale battles, the latter is the best option as it allows you to more readily see when someone attacks you from the sides or behind, although in the case of the manual control, the lack of an option for joystick control is sorely felt at times. Remember, this isn't fighter-ship combat. These vessels do not turn on a dime, and it takes awhile to get through the shielding to do any real damage. Concentrating fire on one aspect of an enemy vessel is a must. Even without the use of a joystick however, the physics have the appropriate feel to them, with the ships turning just as fast or as slow as say, a large naval ship would do.
The single-player campaign, while somewhat short, is richly detailed in terms of plot as the story unfolds from mission to mission, with periodic intermissions for your crewmen to express their thoughts and advance the story through the usual device of personal log entries. Individual missions range from short to medium-long, the latter sometimes turning to very long if a complicated battle is involved, as ship-to-ship melees can sometimes take as much as fifteen minutes. Here, one thing that is a nuisance is the lack of a voluntary save feature. The game will autosave at certain points, typically at the start of a mission, but given that missions are totally linear and sometimes take a half-hour or more to complete, having to go back and do it all over again gets bothersome over time. Another aspect that seemed glossed over was your character. You never actually have a voice in the action, and it seems rather incongruous at times when the alien of the day on-screen addresses you, but gets a reply from your executive officer. Even a few token lines would've helped here.
Multiplayer can be fun and interesting... if you can manage to stay connected. Here, the only view available to you is the tactical view, and the bridge AI has been disabled, leaving you to figure it out for yourself. Matches range from your standard run-of-the-mill deathmatching to team deathmatch, base defense, and an interesting variant of TeamDM called 'UFP Versus Non-UFP' where one side takes on the role of Starfleet, and the other players hop into the ships of other species. You can pilot any ship in the game in multiplayer, from the Sovereign to the Shuttlecraft, and each responds differently and has its own arsenal of weaponry. (Note: Shuttle to Shuttle dogfights can be quite amusing!) The main drawback, and I'm not sure if this is a bug in the code or just how the server/client handshaking is done... if a match ends, you get disconnected, and have to reload the server list, hunt up another match, and get in. Other times, it seemed to just disconnect me at random, and just as the match was getting intriguing.
All things considered, Bridge Commander is a good pick if you're yearning to travel to distant stars, meet interesting aliens, and kill them. While the lack of replay value may mean it gets played through a couple times then shelved, it should be a memorable experience.