Original Release: 1992, Platform: PC, Developer/Publisher: Interplay, Image Source: GOG
Star Trek is something of a recent fandom for me. I’ve always known of its existence, of course, but up until the past few years I hadn’t ever paid it much attention. Then along came the J.J. Abrams movie and, after enjoying that, I decided it’d be worth checking out the original show. One Netflix binge later I counted myself a budding fan of the franchise, especially the adventures of James T. Kirk.
So when the classic Star Trek: 25th Anniversary point-and-click adventure game came to GOG, I was interested to see how I would respond to it. Excepting Telltale’s modern take on the genre, I generally don’t like most adventure titles. In fact, I actually tend to avoid reviewing them because I know I’m not the target audience and I usually don’t feel like I have the mindset to give them a fair shake. That being the case, I’m happy to report that I actually really liked 25th Anniversary. It’s an old school adventure game, to be sure, but it does things that made that style of play work for me in ways that other titles didn’t.
Putting you in the role of the man himself, Captain Kirk, the game follows the Enterprise and its crew through a series of episodic adventures that could have come straight from the original TV series. The game’s greatest strength, in turn, is how well it emulates and recreates the trappings of the show. The visuals, the dialogue, the voice acting (performed by the original cast), the storylines; the game goes to lengths to craft an experience that looks and feels like something Roddenberry and company might have filmed themselves back in the 1960s. The game’s first mission, for instance, involves a human colony that needs the help of Enterprise to investigate mysterious attacks by Biblical demons. Strange things happen, true to Star Trek form, and there’s a sci-fi twist that’s perhaps a bit predictable but still a lot of fun.
The actual process of investigation and problem solving were also, much to my surprise, rather enjoyable. Some of this, of course, has to do with the fact that it’s just fun to order around the characters of the show. The game’s dialogue is quite extensive, and the principal cast will often chime in with amusing commentary when you do something nonsensical or stupid (“Damn it Jim! That’s a phaser not a flashlight!”). More than that though is that the game tends to limit its problem solving to puzzles requiring little more than a bit of logic. Many of the adventure games I’ve played in the past could be maddeningly obtuse with their puzzles. “Door A needs a key. To find key you need to find B, run it through machine C, combine it random object D and then give it person E. Person E will give you the key.”
In 25th Anniversary you have a set number of tools that will usually guide you to the solution you need with minimal trouble. In the game’s second episode, for instance, you need to find a way to shut down the shields on a hijacked Federation starship. For a few minutes I was honestly at a loss as to how to proceed. Then I remembered that the Enterprise has a computer. I hit the key to bring it up, typed in the ship’s name and was immediately gifted with the codes needed to drop its shields. The solution was abstract enough that it required some thought, but not so far outside of the realm of common sense that you’d basically be forced to scrape the bottom of logic’s barrel to figure it out. I’m not saying there aren’t any moments where the game crosses into the annoyance quadrant. These moments were far rarer and more manageable thanks to the branching options for success (or failure) that the game provides.
Surprisingly, my biggest gripe with Star Trek was its execution of space travel and combat. In terms of travel, you basically just open up a star map, pick a star system and warp out. The problem is that the star map isn’t labeled. Selecting a specific system requires you to look at the manual which, unless you have another screen handy or a paper copy lying around, means minimizing the game and opening up a PDF. This obviously isn’t the biggest problem in the world, but having to go through that process every single time Starfleet phoned in with my next mission was still a real momentum killer.
Far worse, however, is the ship-to-ship combat which just isn’t that much fun. Don’t get me wrong, there are good things about it. I liked managing the Enterprise’s damage control teams and, overall, I felt like the flight simulator controls struck a good balance between being thorough enough to feel authentic while also being simple enough to learn and master inside of a few minutes. The problem I had was that the battles just seemed to go on for too long without any progress. Whether I was fighting Elaski pirates or Romulans, the ship duels were almost always defined by brief moments of excitement punctuated by long stretches where nothing really happens.
I can’t count the number of times I was in battle with an enemy ship, struggling just to find them so I could shoot them. Then after five minutes of fruitless searching I’d catch sight of them, get off a few shots with my phasers and photon torpedoes and have them slip out of might sights to disappear again. It felt like all the worst moments of a Wing Commander game, without any of the fun parts to balance it out. It made piloting the starship Enterprise in battle -something that should be amazing from concept alone- feel like a chore.
Luckily, the meat of the game doesn’t lie in space. Much like the TV series it’s based off of, the heart and soul of Star Trek: 25th Anniversary is with its stories and characters; two things that it gets phenomenally right. I’m not going to say that it’s made me an adventure game convert. That said, if you’re like me and you’ve been turned off to the genre by some less than stellar experiences, I’d give this one a try. Is it perfect? No. Is it bad? Even bigger no. I’m not even the world’s biggest Star Trek fan and I had a ton of fun with this game. I’m willing to bet that for only $5.99 at GOG that you’ll have fun too.
Next week I’ll be leaving the final frontier for a visit to medieval Europe. Come back for my review of Castles 2 and, in the mean time, feel free to PM me with an comments and suggestions you might have for future columns!