Star Trek: Bridge Commander
NATHAN LAWRENCE boldly goes...
There’s been a lot of chatter about the accessibility of virtual reality, given the requisite entry-level price point. After all, on PC at least, you’re not just forking out for an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headset; you also need the requisite high-end PC to run the newfangled tech. PlayStation VR is a little more forgiving in this respect, even if you still need to purchase a PlayStation 4 Camera and Move controllers atop the VR headset (and, obviously, the console).
But if you want to play Star Trek Bridge Crew, you’ll want four lots of VR to get the most out of it. Sure, there’s the option for solo play in this multiplatform VR experience, but the real fun is found in four-player cooperative multiplayer. There’s no word on cross-platform play, either, which suggests that you’ll need to know three other players that have the same VR allegiance to play the full co-op experience. If you do, though, it’s a hell of a VR treat.
And that’s coming from the perspective of a casual Star Trek fan who really only got into the series after the J.J. Abrams 2009 soft reboot. Bridge Crew is actually set in the post-Abrams Kelvin Timeline, as players are placed in command of the U.S.S. Aegis, a new Starfleet vessel tasked with finding a new home world for the endangered Vulcan populace in a region of space called The Trench. This part of space is also one in which the Klingon Empire is active.
This was the backdrop for my 15-minute hands-on demo with the Rift version of Bridge Crew, complete with the new Touch controllers. Like a Wiimote, the Touch controllers have handy wrist straps, which means you can loop them around your hands before donning the headset, so you don’t have to blindly grope for them once the VR headset is on. It also helps that the lightweight Touch remotes are designed in such a way that left- and right-hand controllers are obvious (unlike the identically designed Move controllers). and Vive
After a short role-specific training video, the demo started appropriately in a shuttle on its way to the Aegis. On the right was Earth. To the left was the beautifully rendered Aegis ship we were about to pilot. Above was the vastness of space, and looking down at my avatar, I could see that developer Red Storm Entertainment has remained faithful to the revealing short-dress uniform issued by Starfleet Academy to female crew members.
After a proper tour of the external view of Aegis, the view shifted to where our four-person team would spend the rest of the demo: on the bridge of the starship. True to the ingame fantasy, our developer Captain sat behind us, while we remaining three sat in a straight line, reflective of our in-game positions.
To the left of me was the Engineer, whose job it was to route power and work the transporter. To my right was the Helm position, and he was in charge of flying the ship, as well as occasional moments of phaser fire. My role was in the Tactical position, and it was up to me to highlight objects of interest on a targeting panel, operate the shields and, of course, launch torpedoes and fire phasers. As anyone who’s familiar with a Star Trek bridge will know, the Captain is in charge of maintaining the synergy of roles by issuing appropriate orders.
As the chief tactical officer, there wasn’t a whole lot to do at home base. I was able to tap my targeting panel to highlight asteroids for weapons testing. Phasers have to be enabled and operate on a cooldown system, while two torpedo bays must be first activated and take time to load. Once loaded, though, I made short work of a couple of asteroids before the Captain ordered the Helm to line up our HUD course trajectory then slide the appropriate handle forward for warp speed.
We were on a rescue mission, responding to a call from a derelict space station orbiting above a star on the brink of a spectacular supanova. The viewscreen of the Aegis has a limited field of view, which means the crew is somewhat reliant on the Helm officer to keep what’s important out in space front and centre. The other option is to hold down a button to enter space view.
Given that VR works best in first-person, this switch to what’s essentially a third-person perspective of the ship is initially jarring, but it also provides a fantastic view of the top of the Aegis and the immediate surroundings. It’s easier to envisage it as the space equivalent of a jet airliner's tail camera to maintain the first-person illusion. Out in space, the dying star provided a vibrant backdrop to the damaged space station and the wreckage that floated around it.
Among this wreckage were escape pods, and as the Tactical officer, it was my job to select escape pods on my targeting panel for the chief engineering officer to scan for signs of life. As our Engineer scanned, Helm piloted us closer to the pod, before the Captain gave a simple order, “Energise!” to cue our Engineer to beam the survivors aboard. That’s when the Klingon warbird appeared.
“Fire some torpedoes so he backs off a little bit,” said Captain Reckless. While a sound and authoritative theory, the problem is that locking on to a target and firing at it doesn’t exactly unleash a warning shot across the bow. As ordered, I launched the torpedoes and, as expected, they both hit. Understandably, the Klingon ship returned fire.
“Whoa! Shields up!” I yelled, taking matters into my own hands. It was the wrong move.
“Tactical, this is going to sound crazy, but let’s put shields down because we need to transport these survivors aboard, and we can only transport if the shields are down,” explained the ever-patient Captain.
I lowered the shields, which meant the next salvo of missiles from the Klingon warbird tore through our hull like a bullet through balistics jelly. Snapping to space view, I marvelled at the burning holes before returning to the bridge to continue the battle. Up close, I was able to unleash both phasers and torpedoes at the Klingon ship, but when it pulled away, I lost the option for phasers.
With all survivors aboard, the Captain gave the simplest of orders. “Fire everything!” Torpedoes were launched, but phasers were out of range for Tactical and Helm roles. “Engineering, can we have more power to phasers, please?” This order was missed by our Engineer, but it didn’t matter for too long because Helm had us on the tail of the Klingon warbird, which spun to fire another salvo.
“Phasers are up!” I yelled.
“Fire phasers!” shouted the Captain.
Helm and I obliged him and the Klingon warbird was soon another piece of space wreckage in the area. Our celebration was short-lived as the star erupted and we failed our mission, just as Helm had plotted a course for home and our Engineer had charged warp coils. So close.
Helmsman’s log. Stardate 43125.8. Initially, I blamed our Engineer and Helm players for our destruction, but it appears my early, and unordered, raising of the shield delayed our safe departure. It’s clear that tight teamwork under a Captain’s strict orders is required for success in Star Trek Bridge Crew, but our failure wasn’t enough to dampen the experience. I’m keen to get back out into space when Bridge Crew launches, and regardless of where you rank on the Trekkie fandom scale, you should be, too.
I LOWERED THE SHIELDS, WHICH MEANT THE NEXT SALVO OF MISSILES FROM THE KLINGON WARBIRD TORE THROUGH OUR HULL LIKE A BULLET THROUGH BALISTICS JELLY
"I'm just saying the dress could be a bit longer, is all. You wouldn't like it if Command made men wear stubbies." Supanova imminent – better go in for a closer look