Smith: A Trekkie’s Dream Vacation

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Another vacation has come and gone, and as usual, I spent the majority of it playing video games.

Of course, that wasn’t all I did. My wife and I quietly celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary, and we blazed through the new Netflix show “G.L.O.W” — a dramatization about the real life “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” TV show that aired in the mid 1980s.

As a pro wrestling aficionado, the show was everything I could have wanted. It’s hard to make outsiders understand the surreal and often ridiculed world of pro wrestling, but “G.L.O.W.” does a fine job of acknowledging the absurdity of staged fighting while hooking in mainstream viewers with witty dialogue and compelling characters.

But when my wife was away at work (and often when she wasn’t), I was behind a controller.

I dedicated the first couple of days to finishing off some of my gaming backlog such as “Gravity Rush 2” (released for the PlayStation 4 in January), and made some significant progress on the “Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 Remix”. A collection of games centered mostly around the long defunct PlayStation 2 console, the “Kingdom Hearts” franchise is an action role-playing series that combines the worlds of “Final Fantasy” and beloved Disney characters.

I’ve become so enamored with the series that my wife and I have been watching one Disney movie a week. The only Disney film I grew up on was “Dumbo,” though I do have vague memories of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Bambi.” Thanks to my wife’s Disney expertise, I have now seen “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Fantasia” — just to name a few.

I also had time to dig into a couple of new games that tickled my nostalgia bone — including the PlayStation 4 VR and PC title “Star Trek: Bridge Crew.”

Star Trek: Bridge Crew 

I’ve had a lot of love-hate relationships with gaming technology over the years — relationships that have often ended in disappointment.

I was afraid that’s how my relationship with the $400 PlayStation VR headset would end up as well. As much as I love the technology, I’ve never been able to overcome the motion sickness that comes from the sensation of my body moving while it’s actually sitting still.

In fact, the only game I’ve enjoyed and been able to play without motion sickness was “Until Dawn: Rush of Blood” — a horror themed carnival ride game released alongside the headset last October.

Now I’m thanking the virtual reality gods for “Star Trek: Bridge Crew” — a game that puts the player in a stationary, seated position in a ship from the classic era (i.e. 1960s) version of “Star Trek.” When you get good enough, you can even pilot and captain the U.S.S. Enterprise herself.

This isn’t a typical game, though, and it took me quite a while to wrap my head around it. Just as the title suggests, you take various positions on the actual bridge of the ship, which means fiddling with endless display screens and issuing voice commands (if you’re playing as the captain) at a pretty hectic rate.

If you’re not a Trekkie, it’s likely pretty boring. But as someone who grew up on various iterations of the televised sci-fi shows, it’s a dream come true. What Trekkie hasn’t fantasized about ordering a bridge crew into warp and yelling for a red alert?

Just make sure you have the right tools before diving in. While you can play the game with a traditional controller, pushing two virtual hands around with analog sticks is cumbersome, imprecise and boring. Take my advice, and round up two PlayStation Move controllers. Each of the wand shaped controllers act as your hands, giving you easy to access the displays in front of you.

Starting out as captain gives you a good idea of how the ship runs, and in one player mode, is the only feasible way to play. Once you figure out the cycle of marking objectives and warping between star systems from your captain’s chair, it’s just a matter of memorizing commands that target, scan and engage other ships in combat. Going into warp and raising the shields requires power redistribution, which the computer handles automatically.

Playing the online multiplayer requires a lot more learning and dedication, and is a real treat if you have Trekkie friends who want to play with you. Four players become either the captain, tactical officer, engineer or helm officer, but it’s up to the captain to provide detailed direction. Each station has a multitude of controls that I haven’t begun to master, but I’m doing my best. If the captain ordered me to transport people from another ship, all I could do right now is fiddle uselessly with the controls.

The graphics are surprisingly crisp for a virtual reality title, and the atmosphere and sound effects — including that eternal pinging from the 1960s version of the Enterprise — are superb. There’s nothing quite like the sensory deprivation of virtual reality, and the view from the bridge’s view screen is breathtaking. You can get an even better view of your surroundings from a stationary camera above the ship, and watching planets fly by mere inches from your face is surreal.

If you’re looking for a virtual reality tech demo to show off to a friend, this is the game to own. The only other game that comes close is “Batman: Arkham VR,” but that lasts less than an hour.

“Star Trek: Bridge Crew” is quite a bit longer, but still suffers from a dearth of content. There are only five main story line missions for the single-player mode, though you can endlessly play through randomly generated missions that focus on stagnant objectives such as protecting other space craft.

That’s a pretty clinical way to describe a very visceral experience. The game is at its best when you’re panicking and struggling to issue commands in a timely manner. I spent more than half-an-hour sneaking around Klingon outposts and shutting down security systems, only to be recognized on the final leg of the mission.

The alert sounded just as I started transporting survivors from another ship, and as all Trekkies know, you can’t transport people with the shields up. As I waited for the transport to complete, Klingon ships starting hitting me with laser blasts. I held steady as the bridge of my ship caught fire, knowing there wouldn’t be enough time to raise my shields. As soon as the survivors were on board, I ordered my crew to ready the warp.

A few seconds later, I yell “Warp!” But since I was so stressed, the game didn’t recognize what I was saying. I tried again, yelling even louder this time. The panic had overtaken me, and the game still didn’t recognize the command.

I finally reached down and flipped through a few console screens with my virtual hands until I found the warp button and pushed it myself. We escaped the star system just in time, my ship limping along at a mere 27 percent hull integrity.

I was sweaty, smiling and ready to turn my rental of “Star Trek: Bridge crew into a purchase.

Three-and-a-half out of Four Stars

Will Smith is a reporter for The Hawk Eye, a GateHouse Media Company in Burlington, Iowa. His column is printed each week in the Sunday edition of The Hawk Eye.