Star Trek Online
Much Like When 1980 passed by without personal heli-cars, and 2001 passed without insane computers refusing to open pod bay doors, it's likely our descendents will reach the year 2400 and be gravely disappointed with the lack of Klingons and warp drives. "All I wanted was a replicator," they'll moan, "but we've just got faster microwaves and slimmer iPhones."
This is probably the reason Cryptic have set their Star Trek MMO 30 years after the 10th movie - Nemesis - to give technology a little extra time to catch up. The Khitomer Accord - a peace treaty between the Klingons and the Federation - has broken down, and the two sides are at war once again. An ideal setting for a PvP-lead massively multiplayer Star Trek game.
"Setting it in the future lets us do some interesting things with the story," claims Craig Zinkovicz, executive producer on Star Trek Online, "to really liven up the universe. CBS are excited about us moving the franchise's storyline forward, and they've been really involved with what we're doing. We wanted to make something really familiar to fans of the show - but we weren't trying to recreate the show, the episodes, or a moment in time."
You play a Captain in either the Federation or the Klingon Defence Force, commanding a ship in an expansive, procedurally generated chunk of space. Exploration, questing and combat are the three pillars here. You can warp drive your way into uncharted systems, uncovering Borg wrecks, distress signals and mysterious planets. You can take missions from your superiors to defend or attack planets, fleets and space stations, beaming down and setting phasers to kill. And you can indulge in the sort of paced, methodical, tactical space combat the franchise is known for.
As "slow" is a negative word, this is why Cryptic refuse to call their MMO's combat anything but "paced". That said, space scraps in Star Trek Online are slow - ships have wide turning circles and crawl around one another to expose weak spots in enemy shields. You'll pick away at your enemy's defences with phaser fire from the bow and aft of your ship, before unloading a salvo of photon torpedos at the exposed hull. All the while, your own shields are being eroded as you attempt to redistribute power to affected areas.
The slowness of space combat is a definite positive. In fact it's no small relief when compared to the frantic key hammering of combat-orientated MMOs like Champions Online. While battles are paced and heavily strategic, there's an underlying urgency to each battle fought, and a good mind for tactics brings genuine advantages.
Your phasers, for example, have firing arcs slightly in excess of 180, meaning that if you expose your flank to the enemy you can double your firepower. Of course, this'll ensure your port or starboard shields will take a hammering, so a smart Captain will divert power to the required shielding - but how much power should you divert to the shield systems in total? Perhaps you'd rather pump more energy into your weapons systems, propulsion, or life support? Or maybe you'd prefer to just plough into the enemy with your ship and see who explodes first?
That's an option - "ramming speed'' is one of your unlockable abilities. You earn these through recruiting Bridge Officers, your Geordi La Forges, Spocks and Deanna Trois. They can be found in a number of places (in Starfleet for example) or just randomly placed in the game world. You might help out a planet while exploring, who'll then offer you their best engineer. During space combat, your bridge officers' skills will unlock abilities like ramming speed, spreads of torpedoes, phaser overloads and other tricks.
Bridge officers are essential to playing the game, they've got names, can be leveled up and outfitted with new equipment, and they'll unlock new skills as they earn experience. On away missions - the on-foot segments of Star Trek Online - they'll act as Al allies, effectively MMO pets, falling into roles such a medics, soldiers and engineers.
Away teams consist of a squad I of five officers. When playing alone, ' four bridge officers will make up this number, and when playing with other captains you'll all choose which of your officers will fill in the gaps. If you're particularly nifty with a medical tricorder, you'll rope in your security officers with their hefty plasma rifles to get your back. Similarly, if you're infiltrating a hostile station, you'll want some engineers around you to break through security systems you'll encounter.
These away missions remain under wraps though - only the space combat is being presented.
"You can give bridge officers limited sets of commands," explains Craig Zinkievich, executive producer on Star Trek Online. "But it's not like playing Rainbow Six, or commanding a squad, it's more of a way of directing them during encounters."
Planetary and station-bourd missions will be fast-paced, third-person affairs with "positional aspects" to consider when playing and Cryptic are reluctant to say much more. Rather than being revolutionary in itself, it seems safe to suspect Cryptic are selling this on the enticing mixture of these on-foot sections and the space combat sections. You're always moving from space exploration to alien planetary surfaces, and then to station interiors before engaging in climactic space battles. "It's important that it feels like the show," assures Zinkievich.
Customisation plays a strong role in Star Trek Online. Not only can you shape the character you play, you can design completely new races (to hell with the canon) by slapping a load of ridges and antennae on some poor lass' face. Your ship - and you can own any number of them - can be customised with nacelles and saucers, or whatever kinds of things Klingons like to put on their ships (spikes and green paint probably). "You can customise ships both cosmetically and in terms of their function," explains Zinkievich. "The cosmetic changes keep the ship within a certain look and feel, depending on the ship class. You'll still be able to tell by looking what class of ship it is." Colours, running lights and materials can all be changed too, and you can enter your own ship designation. Finally, the USS Burger King can be an all-too terrifying reality. "We're still thinking about how we'll number the ships - maybe we'll let the player choose the designation number, and end it with a letter that increments every time they die."
"On the functionality side," continues Zinkievich, "obviously you've got the equipment you outfit your ship with, the abilities of your bridge officers and how you outfit your remaining crew." These red shirts are a nameless swarm of disposable units under your command, and can be beamed on to allied ships to help repair their systems, or beamed on to enemy ships to perform hostile boarding actions.
Star Trek Online is still in its early days though, and entire chunks of the game remain neatly under wraps. We've only still screenshots of away missions to gawp at. The PvP is vague and mysterious. And we haven't even seen a Klingon yet. But already we're excited about the sci-fi MMO. Star Trek Online is a bold step away from the stagnant fantasy in which the MMO genre is steeped in, a name that carries with it a base expectation of quality, from an experienced developer who knows how to deliver. The future looks bright.
Download Star Trek Online
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode