Star Trek: The Next Generation - "A Final Unity"
Heaven. I'm in Heaven." Or to be more precise, I'm in Chipping Sodbury. Now I know that in any normal sense the words "Chipping Sodbury" and "Heaven" don't belong on the same page, let alone the same sentence, but today this small market village just north of Bristol couldn't be closer to paradise if it was surrounded by palm trees and was populated by harpplaying angels. Chipping Sodbury, you see, is home to MicroProse, and MicroProse is the British home to Spectrum Holobyte, and Spectrum Holobyte is home to the Star Trek: The Next Generation CD-ROM, and I, for I my sins, am a Trekkie (or Trekker, if you I prefer, but personally I don't. I've never m once put on a pair of fake ears). So as you B might imagine, I'm fairly excited, since B I'm about to go behind the scenes at H the making of the Star Trek episode H that didn't make it to tv.
Angst and techno-babble
Actually, no. Spectrum Holobyte's forthcoming ...A Final Unity is apparently based on an original story idea that was all set to be filmed as an actual episode of the long-running space opera, but was dropped at the last minute. A pity because it sounds like it would have made quite a good yarn.
The Enterprise chances upon an unknown alien craft being chased across the Neutral Zone by several Garidian Warbirds (the Garidians being just another bunch of alien bad guys that we, the viewers, hadn't heard of until now). Picard and the crew rescue the alien who reveals that there is a major new weapon in the universe called The Unity Device and everybody from the Romulans to the Ferengi are looking for it. The Federation decide they want in on this galactic episode of Treasure Hunt and set off in search of a mythical Fifth Scroll that will provide the clues to its location.
You see, it's a good, old-fashioned race against time. No inter-character relationships. No Data trying to find his human side. No Beverley trying to work out her feelings towards Picard. Basically none of the moral plays that tend to bog down the action. It's full warp ahead, phasers blasting. Just the way it should be.
And jolly nice it's all looking, too. The main thing to take into account is that the finished game will probably come on two (count 'em) cds. Now, we all remember how good Under A Killing Moon looked on its four shiny discs, don't we? ...A Final Unity looks just as wonderful, and without full-motion video either. Just about everything you see in the game has been digitised from art-work and rendered in 3D until it looks like it's come straight out of an actual episode.
The intro sequence is in the traditional "Space, the final frontier..." mode, with all the graphics seen in the series, but without any video digitisation. All the in-game animations have been painstakingly drawn from scratch, and the only place that you'll find digitisation is on the main characters standing on the bridge.
What has been digitised (or rather sampled), however, is the speech. As is the norm with cd-rom games these days, all the text in the game is accompanied by full speech. In this case it's been provided by the actual stars of the show. Picard, Riker, Worf and the rest of the Enterprise crew (otherwise known as Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Michael Dorn etc.) have all contributed their vocal talents to the game in order to give it that essential authentic feel - Stewart and Dorn, of course, being no stranger to this voiceover malarkey, having already contributed them for the cd-rom versions of Lands of Lore and Gabriel Knight, respectively.
What's it like in... The Chair?
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "It's got brilliant graphics and real actors for sounds, it must play as well as the fat kid we always picked last for football at school." To be fair, I couldn't tell you. The version MicroProse let me take a peek at was very fragmented and not what you or I would call "playable" in any true sense of the word. What I can tell you is that despite being an adventure game at heart, you're not stuck on any kind of linear path. After all, you are in command of the Enterprise and if you want to take it to the farthest reaches of the Zanussi Quadrant and beam down to an uninhabited planet orbiting a moon made of blue cheese, then you can. There are a thousand different stars to visit if you want to, all of which have different planets and moons orbiting them. If Spectrum Holobyte had included a trading aspect to the game, we could have been looking at Elite III here.
If you do decide to follow the game's pathways though, you essentially get two main sections. On board the ship you are limited to the main areas of operation seen in the show (Bridge, Engineering, Sickbay etc.), but each of these is pretty damn comprehensive in what you can do. For example, all the computer screens on the bridge can be accessed, and they all contain a wealth of buttons to press and dials to switch. The ship's computer is constantly updating as you find out new information, and has a pretty hefty database of info to peruse when you start.
Beaming down to a planet takes you into the main adventure game where you get full control over the characters and the more familiar side-on view of the surroundings and . It's similar to the Star Trek: 25th Anniversary adventures, but with more detail than Interplay's efforts could ever hope of achieving.
The next Next Generation
Obviously, being an adventure game, eventually you'll finish it and when that happens you'll probably be screaming for more. Well, apart from the 3do version (which is an entirely different game - just a slightly similar interface), you'll be pleased to know that Spectrum Holobyte signed a five-year agreement with Paramount to produce Star Trek games and related paraphernalia, and it's almost certain that we'll see other adventures using this system. As well as a tie-in with the forthcoming Generation's film (due for release next February), there was also talk of a Star Trek action game, but that is still a long way off, and what form it's likely to take is anyone's guess (although I'll be happy to take bets on a Dark Forces/Doom-style affair).
For now I'll be happy to make do with what I've seen to date. A game that looks like it'll easily live up to, not to mention put to shame, the hype it's managed to generate so far. Hopefully we'll see it just as the seventh and final season comes to an end on Sky, giving us something to do with, what will surely become, empty lives after that. (So I'm sad, give me a break will ya?)
If you've never heard the phrase "phase inhibitor" before, then you'd better turn over now. If you thought the crash sequence in Ge?ierations was a little "Thunderbirds" - maybe it's best you skip the next six pages. And if you have never had a dream in which Marina Sirtis did funny things to you with kitchen utensils - get out of it. We are about to enter pure, distilled, 112 per cent-proof Trek heaven.
However, before we venture into the main part of this review, I would like to dispel a couple of myths about Star trek. Two commonly held beliefs that some Trekkies, or Trekkers as we call ourselves - did I say "we"? Er, well, I meant "I". No, no, no... "they as they call themselves - hold onto for dear life.
Star Trek: The Old Series is better than Star Trek: The Next Generation It's unbelievable that so many people still whinge: "Oh I don't like the Next Generation. I prefer the old series." What? The old series was crap. It had bad production values, awful storylines, and trite sociopolitical moralising. It flagged badly in the ratings and was axed after three seasons. The only reason people still go on about it is because BBC2 has continuously brainwashed us over the last 20 years; repeating it and repeating it and repeating it until its kitsch rubbishyness became "cool". And the characters - Jesus. "But I like Mr Spock," you say - old Leonard "I built quite a good character but then I directed Three Men And A Baby" Nimoy? "But the characters aren't the same," you moan, "and it hasn't got Kirk in it" -What? Fat-boy, smarm-man, Class-M-inhabitable-buttocks Kirk, who wears a corset, a toupee and probably has a colostomy bag tucked away in there somewhere? Scotty is the only character with merit, but even he's got a little lipid-heavy with age.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST: TNG) went on for an unprecedented seven seasons. It had excellent production values, good scripts, and much better characters than that hotchpotch of badly sketched manequins on board the NCC-1701A. I doubt the old crew members could survive five measly minutes in a TNG episode. I'd like to see them try.
Gene Roddenberry is God
What? Excuse me. Gene Roddenberry created and produced the original Star Trek (see above) and executive-produced the first two seasons of ST: TNG (the mainly crap ones). Only when Michael Piller took over in the third season did ST: TNG begin to become excellent. Before that it was a crap rehash of the original series with poor characterisations, remakes of old episodes, and - get this - female crew members in '60s short skirts and kinky boots. He was rubbish and his canonisation by the Trek world is one of the most anal things about fandom.
Enough Of That
Right, now that bile is off my chin, we can continue.
Final Unity is basically an interactive arcade adventure in the mould of Star Trek: 25th Anniversary or Judgement Rites. Like the previous cd-rom Star Trek games, the principle actors from the series (Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Marina Sirtis etc.,) have been roped in (with fat juicy cheques) to provide the voices of their characters.
It combines SGi-rendered cut-scenes with standard-scaling bitmaps, and uses a standard "pointy-and-click" interface to give you full control over the Enterprise NCC-1701D, its crew, and the missions that it undertakes.
As the game opens, the Enterprise is patrolling the border of the Romulan neutral zone. Listening posts have detected increased star-ship activity in the area. Suddenly, a Garidian scout ship enters Federation Space. Badly damaged and with its warp drive failing, the ship tries to hail the Enterprise. A Garidian Warbird decloaks ahead. The Warbird fixes a tractor beam on the scout ship. The ship is dragged in. Picard declares red alert!
All this blood-coagulating action is delivered to you in special cinematic cut scenes, gloriously recreating the look and feel of the series with expertly designed rendered ships, the special ST: TNG close-up camera work (dramatic zoom-ins on Picard's frown), and, er, rendered crew members looking (and moving) distinctly like Thunderbird puppets.
Unfortunately, the visual rights for the actor's faces cost too much for poor old Interplay (Patrick Stewart charged $22,500 a day for his voice when recording the script), so they had to render their likenesses from scratch.
After this scrotum-parching intro, up pops the credit sequence from the series (spinny planets, comets, "Space the final frontier...") followed by a rousing chorus of the theme tune. And then, quicker than you can say "Bill Shatner writes really crap sci-fi novels," you're in the game.
Final Unity works in a kind of "modular" way. That is. the game is split into various areas (the bridge, combat, beaming down planets) and each area has its own interface and sub-modules which lead to other sub-areas and sub-sub-modules, if you see what I mean. On the bridge, for example, where you first find yourself after the pant-wettingly tense intro, you (as Picard) can talk to any of the crew present or operate any of the bridge stations. Comms will allow you to hail nearby ships or talk to StarFleet. Tactical gives you control over shields and weapons. Ops allows access to the ship's computer, and the doors on either side of the bridge lead to the conference room (for chats with "guests"), engineering (for monitoring the ship's "complicated bits"), and the transporter room (obvious use). And each of these locations have an array of controls and sections for you to browse through.
Each of the bridge officers' personalities and reactions are faithful to the series. Should Picard asks for suggestions. Worf will pro dictably opt to "kill them all" and go on about honour for five hours. Data will offer some mind-bafflingly complex solution involving "the inertial dampeners". Ceordi will suggest "a level five diagnostic". Troi will sense something but won't be "quite sure what it is". And Riker will just grin. It's up to you to decide which option to choose. Likewise when you beam down to planets later on. different characters will offer different suggestions, and certain crew members will be more skillful in dealing with certain situations (you wouldn't send Bev to mend the plasma conduits, for example, nor would you direct Data to talk to a distraught alien).
Final Unity has three skill levels: Ensign, Lieutenant, and Admiral, which dictate how the characters respond. If you're on the easy level (Admiral), the crew will take over, suggesting options out of the blue, automatically deciding on away team members, and managing the ship's resources. Venture into Lieutenant status however, and you'll have to use your initiative - asking Data when you think you need Data, working out who'd be best for an away team, and servicing the warp containment field by hand. And if you're Trek enough you can bump the skill up to Admiral and make every single decision yourself.
Where Judgement Rites had pixillated cartoony graphics and "com-putery" scenery, Final Unity has hi-res, scanned, rendered sprites and painted backdrops. Where Judgement Rites bowed to the camp nature of the first series, Final Unity attempts a full-on recreation of the ST: TNG universe - from computer-panel design and technobabble dialogue, through spaceship design and the alien races you encounter; Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians - they're all there. Where Judgement Rites was episodic. Final Unity is non-linear. You can go where ever you want, whenever you want - you have the whole of Federation space to explore.
There is a main plot line - the quest for the Garidian's Fifth Scroll - but you are continually being nudged and distracted by other missions, which you can refuse or take on. There are tens of missions, hundreds of planets to explore, huge amounts of information to disseminate, and loads of puzzles to unravel and temporal-spatial baryonic quantum-flux anomalies to fall into.
The game oozes style. The designers and programmers have obviously spent time and effort recreating every femto nuance of the ST: TNG series. The cut scenes are superbly done. The Enterprise and alien world backdrops, although patchy, are well drawn and atmospheric. The animation is excellent - with Worfs hard, strutty gait and Data's gangly walk mimicked exactly. The sound is great too, with Patrick Stewart's "melififuous" tones blending well with the ambient hum of the Enterprise's engines.
Even small sonic details, like the sounds of photon torpedoes and tractor beams, have been recreated exactly as in the series. There's no doubt that Spectrum Holobyte have studied 25th Anniversary and Judgement Rites, and absorbed every other arcade adventure en route. You'll have seen similar interfaces, puzzle designs, and point-n-click interaction before. You will have bared your teeth and drummed your thumbs as your characters slowly mill around the locations searching for clues and mouse "hot spots" you might have missed. You will have neglected to save the game before a fatal encounter and ended up dead, with two hours of galactic exploration lost. And no doubt, you've spent entire Sunday afternoons frenetically etching little clues, passwords, and conversations down on infinite notepads. But did you ever have such instant sympathy and understanding of a game's characters? Did you ever feel like you were actually inside a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, controlling the script and fighting hand to hand with Romulans? Did you ever feel like Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner and Michael Dorn - all the idols you'd love to shake hands with and drool all over - were in the room with you as you played, and were helping you, and they were your friends, and you were in this together? Did you ever hear that much maligned buzzword "Interactive Movie" and wonder what it was like?
It's like this. Final Unity is fab. Star Trek nut or not Star Trek nut, the game has its problems. The cd disc accessing is slow and tends to tug on the pace of the game. It lacks some of the humour of the tv series, and with most of the plots having the crew wrestling with some nightmare crisis there's little time for inter-character larks. The combat sequences are tricky to get a grip on. The Admiral skill level demands a Trekker rating of "Ninja" -knowledge of the Enterprise's systems down to the quantum level is necessary.
But whether Mr Worf is your "cha'dich", or Bev Crusher haunts your sleeptime with oiled tricorders, or you want Patrick Stewart to be your dad, or you just enjoy the consistent excellence of the much mourned scries. Final Unity is the game.
Processor: PC compatible, P-100
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode