Star Trek: Away Team
We've accused some developers in the past of shoe-horning the Star Dek licence into established genres to create a quick and easy, if not always very good, hit. They've done it with Birth Of The Federation (Master of Orion turn-based strategy), Armada (traditional RTS), New Worlds (3D RTS) and, more successfully, with Voyager: Elite Force (straight-forward FPS). As you may have figured out for yourself after looking at the screenshots,
Away Team borrows heavily from the likes of X-Com, Jagged Alliance and, in particular, Commandos. In the game you can select a team from a pool of 18 characters with individual characteristics, it has an isometric viewpoint and you can pause the action at any stage to issue orders at your leisure. It's all been done before but, as Elite Force has shown, that's no reason for it to fall flat on its face. In fact, Away Team is looking supremely polished. Taking a leaf out of the Voyager book, Reflexive Entertainment has created a Special Force similar to the Elite Force from Raven's game. This team is sent out on the most dangerous missions, when diplomacy has failed and combat is almost inevitable. That doesn't mean it's a violence-packed, tactical warfare game. Au contraire, mon capitaine, there will be as many adventuring puzzle elements as there will be combat, and your team must uphold Starfleet protocols at all times. In addition, one of the Away Team's main priorities is to approach all its missions stealthily, linemy soldiers have a line of sight, which you can toggle like you did in Commandos to find out whether you're in their view range, and sound metres to let you know how much noise you're making.
Each of the officers in your squad has an area of skills in which they specialise. So, for example, you'll have snipers, demolition experts and hackers, each of them useful for particular missions. Certain levels will require you to keep members of your team alive, but generally you won't suffer any penalties for losing an officer, other than the obvious disadvantage of having less characters to choose from. Missions will involve rescuing idiotic diplomats, sabotaging terrorist facilities and keeping the peace.
But the most exciting thing about them is that, unlike in Commandos, there is no one way of completing them. Depending on the approach you take there can be different outcomes. The Next Generation touch will be improved by the voices of Brent 'Data' Spiner and Michael 'Worf Dorn, both actors who have struggled to make an impact outside the series and who are becoming regulars in the voice talent credits of Star Trek games. No date has been set by Activision for release, but with so many Trek games either out or in the offing, Away Team should be one of the few to stand out from the crowd.
In hindsight, the marriage of the Star Trek licence with the challenging and compelling gameplay of Commandos is an obvious thing to do. If the developers working on Away Team did nothing more than stick some Star Trek sprites on top of the Commandos game engine, that in itself would be enough to make the game a sure-fire success. Of course, that would be silly (not to mention illegal), and developer Reflexive is currently working night and day to bring you a real-time strategy game that will be much more than a gratuitous Star Trek tie-in.
For those of you who are unconvinced that real-time strategy games involve any great degree of 'real' strategy, Away Team will come as a refreshing change. In fact, the strategy begins even before you embark on any of the missions. You have 17 members of your team to choose from, but you can only take a maximum of six players on each mission. This means that careful planning is essential: if you don't take the right people for the job, be prepared to head back to that last saved game and try again. The team members are divided into different disciplines, all of which have been lifted directly from the Star Trek universe, and they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Medical units act as healers and you are advised to bring at least one on every mission if you want to keep your team alive. Command units have strong leadership skills and enhance the morale of your characters. Engineers, science units and security officers are also at your disposal, and you are advised to get to know the skills of all your characters very well, because if you lose one of them in battle, it's literally game over.
You must keep all your members alive during the missions or you will be rewarded with the end game sequence. For this reason, it appears it would be safer to bring less units on a mission rather than more, since it would be easier to keep them together and alive, but we won't know for sure until we get our hands on the game and play it ourselves. But if it's tension you're after, the constant threat of losing the game when one of your characters dies should keep you happy. Added incentive to keep your team alive comes in the form of experience points given to your team at the end of every mission. The more experienced your characters are, the better they become at their individual skills, making future missions a tad more manageable. Weapon and item upgrades are available throughout the game, and you'll find them as you make your way through the missions. Completing secondary objectives will often lead you to the 'hidden' items sooner, so thorough exploration of each mission area is advised. Most weapon types will be easily recognisable from the Next Generation universe. Phasers, tricorders and hyposprays will all be recognisable to Trekkies as standard Starfleet issue, but there are also a large number of weapons created purely for the game.
From the demonstration we were given of Away Team, a number of things became very clear. For one, it is not a technological masterpiece. The graphics are admittedly impressive for what is essentially a 2D real-time strategy game, but Reflexive have spent more time working on the actual game mechanics than creating a fully functional 3D universe, and it shows. However, there's a lot more to this game than you will find in most recent real-time strategy games, which, with few exceptions, amount to nothing more than building an army and wading into the opposition. Away Team is a thinking man's RTS, and Reflexive estimates that the 18 missions of the game offer at least 60 hours of solid gameplay. There is always a worry with games of this type that the gameplay might prove fairly linear, an almost unavoidable knock-on effect in games based around preset objectives, but the demo we were given revealed a variety of approaches to completing missions. How you go about completing each of the objectives will depend greatly on the kind of player you are. You can wade in with all guns blazing, but often a more covert approach will get you to the end of the mission a lot quicker.
Clearly, we are impressed. The real-time strategy genre could do with an injection of originality and an emphasis on strategy over action. From what we've seen, Scar Trek: Away Team stands a good chance of delivering the goods.
Choose rather than lose.
Before each mission begins you will be given a full briefing, telling you what to expect when you leave the ship and head into the action. You will probably be used to skipping through this bit in most games of this type. Don't The briefing will give you a good idea of which characters you should bring on the mission. If the area is infested with enemies you might want to bring an extra healer for example. Whatever the situation, cock up here and it's game over, so use this opportunity to study the mission area and choose your team members to suit the occasion.
They usually come In big boxes, intent on complete domination, assimilating all that lies in their path on a quest for true perfection. Many fear them and will engage illegal warp levels to get away. But resistance is not of much use. They come at you relentlessly, adapting to your defences and multiplying quicker than you can possibly cope with. You are only human after all, and they are Star Trek licensed games. This is a species that will go to any lengths to get you to part with your money, and will sleep with any genre to get where it wants. It also has a history of low quality control, despite the recent success of Voyager - Elite Force, and tagging the license on to any established game with as little effort as possible. Away Team is another Star Trek drone that will surely face these kinds of accusations, and not without reason. It borrows heavily from many squad games - especially Commandos and Jagged Alliance 2-and would have a lot of trouble making friends without the official endorsement. So is it any good?
First let me tell you what it's all about. You control an elite and secret squad of Federation officers trained for stealth operations and high-risk missions. Not unlike the Elite Force from Raven's shooter, but operating within the Alpha Quadrant and looking much smaller. The plot involves most of the major Trek races, and reintroduces the conspiracy theory exploited so successfully in a few Next Generation anti DS9 episodes, with a faction called The Wardens controlling high levels of Starfleet Command and forcing you to infiltrate Romulan, Klingon and Federation bases. Brent Spiner-never one to miss a quick buck - once again provides the voice of Data, while Wort also makes a vocal appearance.
Good tactical team-based games in the old X-COM vein are hard to come by, despite the proximity of Commandos 2 and Fallout Tactics, so the combination of isometric prowling and the Star Trek universe make the first few hours pleasantly enjoyable. The game isn't turn-based but you can pause it at any time to take a good look around you and decide on the best course of action, something which instantly appeals to my laid-back approach to strategy. Then the problems begin -and there are plenty of them.
Dumb And Dumber
Let's begin with one of the most irritating ones. When you shoot someone you need to get the whole team to do it, otherwise you have to spend 20 seconds exchanging phaser fire - even on the 'kill' setting - before they die (or you could just stun them, a quicker but less permanent solution). The problem is that when you select all the team to shoot, only those with the same weapon as the leader of the group will do so. This means that if Wort is on your side or you want your security members to use their Phaser rifles, you need to go to each character one by one and select their weapon. If you don't, you could end up with only one person firing, caught with his pants down. Then, next time you encounter a foe, you have to go through it all again. Arduous, to say the least.
The game goes automatically into pause mode when one of your team gets shot. This is just as well, since characters won't do anything unless you make them and will quite happily stand still while a Romulan melts their face with slow and deliberate cruelty. Yes, your team Is helplessly stupid. There's no option to make them shoot on sight or at the very least return fire.
Not that the intelligence points have been spent on your enemies. What a bunch of saps they are. Whenever they see a fallen body they'll run to it, but then completely ignore it if they don't see you near it. There was one map where I'd managed to kill one Klingon at one end of the screen and then another one at the other end. Because this was a critical point in the map, about a dozen Klingons materialised out of thin air on discovery of the first body, and then spent the next ten minutes running to one body, forgetting all about it after seeing the other one, running to that one and repeating the whole thing ad infinitum. Even if you should fall into the line of sight of a guard, you'll find another display of goldfish memory as they promptly forget you once you've run far enough away.
You Will Not Be Assimilated
It's not all bad, though. There are lots of Trekkie devices - which only certain members of the team can use - to make the missions more interesting. For example, your top scientist can operate a miniature cloaking device, so he can sneak past guards unseen, if not unheard. Elsewhere, you have transporter gadgets so you can make the fallen bodies of your enemies disappear conveniently, phasers that can be overloaded to use as grenades and audio decoy tools - as well as the usual array of proximity grenades and sniper rifles you'd expect in this type of game.
You soon learn to make the most of the Artificial Idiocy and completing early missions is a doddle. Later levels, though, get tougher and you reach a point where you suddenly realise you really should have brought that ugly sniper along to take out that Klingon sentry, and just how useful a medic would be when your team is at the end of its health and you're only halfway through the map, making you start all over again with other characters. Whether you actually bother to do so will depend on how much patience you have. If you're after a good squad-based tactical title we suggest you head on over to Fallout Tactics.
Kill Kill Kill
Mindless death and violence? In a Star Ttek game?
There is one aspect in which Away Team really does buck the Star The trend: the almost complete lack of patronising humanitarianism. While most other licensed games avoid death and blood - Elite Force included - this one offers it in buckets. You are even authorised to make unnecessary killings. "We suspect these Federation officers are under the control of The Wardens, so use whatever means necessary," you are told at the start of one mission. Can you imagine Picard giving such an order? Especially when you consider that they are not willingly against the Federation and could theoretically be cured of their treason. Not that we're complaining. Running around a Starfleet ship killing every officer on board indulges one of our little fantasies, particularly when you can imagine that they're such tiresome characters as Wesley or Riker.
Processor: PC compatible, P-100
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode
Star Trek: Away Team Screenshots
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