Another Star Trek series makes the transition from television to PC, and it is the "Star Trek" part which is most worrying. Sadly, some people will discard Elite Force simply because of Star Trek's lack-lustre gaming reputation. This, if anything, is its biggest flaw, because Elite Force is undoubtedly a success. With the Star Trek and Quake III Arena licenses in hand, Raven Software has not only started off the first of the Voyager series of games in the best possible way, but they have given hope that the future for Star Trek games is far from grim.
With the help of Paramount Pictures, Raven Software have ensured that people with an appreciation for Star Trek will enjoy it for just that -- a story and setting of the Star Trek kind. Paramount Pictures have been involved in the entire creation of Elite Force, providing the voices, scripts and access to the actual Star Trek: Voyager sets. At first glance, the story will seem like an unseen episode in the Voyager saga. In the traditional Voyager manner, the atmosphere is set and the action is quick on the pace before dousing in a familiar Voyager intro. Non-Trekkies needn't be hesitant about buying Elite Force, because no prerequisite Star Trek knowledge is needed. This is all thanks to the portable nature of the FPS genre and the way Elite Force has been made. Star Trek fans and FPS junkies alike can pick up this game and enjoy it.
Star Trek: Voyager is a television series about a Federation starship that has been helplessly transported 70 000 light years across the galaxy to the Delta Quadrant. From there, Voyager begins its 70-year journey home, encountering interesting and hostile species as they go. In Elite Force, Voyager encounters an unknown vessel which sends out a distress signal and then responds to friendly communication attempts with hostility. Voyager narrowly escapes destruction by destroying the enemy vessel, but the explosion transports Voyager to some kind of ship graveyard in an unknown part of the galaxy. It is here that you enter the game. You are Ensign Munro, second in command of a newly formed elite security force: the Hazard Team. Under the command of Lt. Tuvok, you and your team must strive to defend Voyager at all costs while repairs are made to see the crew continue their journey back home.
The integration of in-game, real-time cut-scenes and pre-rendered cinematics has been used to great effect to progress the game's storyline, and it breathes life into the characters when you see them acting out, and then have the opportunity to interact with them yourself. The camera angles, zooms on facial expressions, and panning of the scenes are all of a truly professional standard, as one would expect.
The gameplay of Elite Force is still of the generic FPS fashion, making it hardly revolutionary, but the missions are quite diverse. As you progress through the game, you embark on squad-based attacks, stealth missions and all out brawls with enemies attacking from all directions. The beauty of team-play in Elite Force is the lack of control you have over your team. This might sound strange, but the simplicity of having your team loyally follow your lead and attack only when necessary works very well. It does soon become obvious though, as you move into more intense situations, that you are the sole target of the enemies you encounter, not your team.
Character interaction is one of Elite Force's strongest points. Simply initiate a conversation with one of the Voyager crew and watch as each of their personalities show through. For instance, some will tell you in confidence that they are worried about the next mission, or they might let off some steam about disliking Tuvok. It only takes a few interactions to become fully immersed in the game. The environments are also quite absorbing -- you will feel safe and calm when roaming the corridors of Voyager, but vulnerable in the eerie alien spacecrafts.
The AI in Elite Force is somewhat disappointing. Typical of the Quake III Arena bot programming, an increase in difficulty means nothing more than an increase in the uncanny aiming of the enemy. Very little tactics are required to overcome the opponents, and the team members that accompany you on your missions aren't very helpful. Having said that, the teammate AI is well done -- never did a team mate get stuck in a level or prevent the level from carrying on when their aiming or logic skills were insufficient to overcome an obstacle. All the characters' personalities are developed by interaction with them, so it is a shame that the somewhat simplistic AI spoils it a little.
As hoped, the graphics are of the standard that you would expect from a game created on the Quake III Arena engine. Seeing all the intricacies capable with this engine never becomes tiring, especially the lighting effects, reflective capabilities and great performance. Textures are highly detailed with vividness and animation, and the maps are equally stunning. The first few maps are a treat to explore, bringing Star Trek home to any fan that lives for the chance to walk down the hallways of Voyager. The liberal use of the Quake III Arena engine's high textural quality and unsurpassed architectural technology makes for especially good organic alien environments and very realistic models.
The short nature of the game is however disappointing. Although it boasts over 40 levels, this in fact refers to sublevels, and unlike Half-Life where many of the puzzles require significant thought or trial and error, increasing the length of the game, most of the puzzles in Elite Force are quickly solved -- cutting the game short by a considerable amount.
The weapons in Elite Force are good, but the selection lacks variety. The guns are almost all energy beam weapons, and vary in little more than rate of fire and eye candy. As expected, you have your generic ammoless gun -- the Federation Phaser. By no means a weak gun, packing a feeble primary fire but a nasty secondary fire capable of vaporising enemies, the Phaser uses an internal battery which recharges after each shot. From there on you have the Federation Phaser Compression Rifle, Seven of Nine's experimental anti-Borg Infinity Modulator, the Scavenger Rifle, the Etherian's Stasis Weapon, the Federation Compound Grenade Launcher, the Hunter's Tetryon Disruptor, the Federation Photon Burst "personal photon torpedo launcher" and last (but certainly not least) the Arc Welder. The latter few guns are somewhat unoriginal, as they translate approximately from the traditional grenade launcher, rocket launcher and lightning gun from the Quake series. Each weapon is introduced one by one as the game progresses in single player.
The developers obviously couldn't hold back from creating authentic medieval and western scenes with the Q3A engine. You might wonder how such things could ever be part of a Star Trek game, but the ingenious holodeck is the link which makes it all feasible. The holodeck is your excuse to test out new weapon prototypes for the Hazard Team's weapons guru, quartermaster Oviedo, in simulated environments.
People with a greater appreciation for the Star Trek universe will enjoy Elite Force's music. A traditional musical score has been crafted especially for the game, employing some of the well-known Star Trek themes to make some top-notch ambience. Despite being seamlessly integrated to allow dynamic changes to suit the action, the music itself is actually rarely noticed. Elite Force's sound effects, though, are truly striking. Every environment has sounds which respond to interactions, including the terminals, doors, food machines and intercoms.
Multiplayer, or "Holomatch", is strikingly similar to Quake III Arena. The fast paced action and style of play has been ported directly into Elite Force with the Star Trek mould on top. Multiplayer will not be what gets the crowds flocking to purchase this game, however. It is an attempt to keep up with the multiplayer madness which most games offer these days, providing a battleground for anyone keen for some Star Trek-style multiplayer, but in terms of gameplay Holomatch differs from Q3A in little more than models, maps and weapons. With FPS kings like Half-Life, Unreal Tournament and Quake III Arena still reining supreme in the multiplayer world, it is hard to imagine a strong online presence for Elite Force, but it still makes great fun. The game types include your basic Deathmatch and a Star Trek version of Capture the Flag with a few added gimmicks to make it interesting. Playing with the familiar Star Trek characters like Tuvok, Janeway, the Borg and Klingons can be more appealing than Q3A and UT's mix of undeveloped characters, for some.
Elite Force is an excellent game. It brings new hope to the Star Trek gaming genre, introducing well-executed teamplay, character interaction and a great story. Trekkies should buy it for being a great Star Trek game, and FPS fans should buy it to get the single player story they missed out on with Quake III Arena. Anyone with an appreciation for Star Trek, or even just a passion for the Voyager television series will love this game to no end.