Reviewed: March 22, 2004
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
Released: January 14, 2004
One of the games that captivated my interested at the TDK booth at last year’s E3 show was the demo for Star Trek: Shattered Universe. At the time they only had the PS2 version on display, but it was looking really good, and while the premise was certainly a unique tangent on the Star Trek universe, I do have to give the designers credit for basing the game on one of my favorite episodes.
Fans of the original Trek, the one with Kirk, will likely remember the episode, Mirror, Mirror where a few select individuals were caught in a transporter beam and switched into a parallel reality where the Federation was an evil force in the galaxy that ruled with violence. Of course the vision that sticks in everyone’s’ mind is Spock’s satanic goatee. The premise of parallel worlds, specifically this evil universe, was explored even further in a TNG novel, Dark Mirror and now we visit this dark realm once more in a new video game from TDK and Starsphere Interactive.
Shattered Universe starts off with a fairly exciting story that takes place somewhere after the events in The Undiscovered Country movie. You are a crewman on the USS Excelsior under the command of Sulu and are called to assist the Enterprise now under the command of Chekov. The Enterprise is caught in a weird vortex and while assisting the Excelsior is inadvertently sucked in and transported to the evil universe where the evil Enterprise under the command of an evil Chekov is waiting to do battle.
After a lengthy battle you defeat the Enterprise but the vortex has vanished trapping you in this evil dimension. It’s up to you to make your way through this hostile universe and find a way back home, and thus beings your 19 missions in the Shattered Universe.
For the first time ever in a Star Trek game you are now piloting smaller fighter craft. This gives the game a more traditional space fighter style like Wing Commander, Battlestar Galactica, etc. which isn’t entirely bad but it certainly doesn’t “feel” like a Star Trek game. You’ll be flying some very cool ships, but nothing that you have ever seen in a Star Trek movie or TV episode. There are six new fighters of Klingon, Romulan, Federation, and even alien design.
Missions are varied and you are given briefings before each that outline your main objectives with plenty of other new objectives becoming available during the course of the primary mission. These range from simple scout missions where you fly to various waypoints and extract minerals to the more frequent “defend the mother ship” style missions. Regardless of what your primary goals are you will always be engaging in heavily outnumber battles where it seems like you are the only one fighting off the entire forces of evil.
Missions are surprisingly long often lasting up to 30 minutes each, which only makes the lack of a checkpoint system that much more frustrating. Making it all the way to the final objective and taking a rocket in the tailpipe will certainly tax your patience and dedication to what is admittedly a mediocre game at best thanks to the uninspired combat.
No matter which type of ship you find yourself flying you have three basic weapons, a phaser beam, phaser blast, and photon torpedo. Thanks to the clumsy and often inaccurate targeting system your torpedoes are best saved for attacking larger ships and your phaser blast is virtually worthless. This means you fly around in circles emitting a beam from the nose of your ship and try to “paint” your target with it.
Enemy AI is more annoying the good. Various enemies all share a similar library of attack moves so it’s only a matter of time before you figure out how to avoid their incoming fire and swoop in behind them for a quick kill. Going up against the larger ships is a bit more challenging only because their weapons are more powerful, but you should be able to find a place where you can hit them and they can’t hit you and then it’s only a matter of holding down the fire buttons for a few minutes.
What impressed me last year on the PS2 was rather disappointing a year later on the Xbox. So much has come and gone and graphics have improved so much that the visuals in Shattered Universe simply don’t stack up to the competition.
The ships are all realistic in design and recognizable, but their models aren’t overly complex and the textures have just enough detail to get the job done. The designers had the chance to explore some pretty creative designs for the “never seen before” fighters but even these looked simple and even a bit familiar, perhaps a subconscious throwback to Wing Commander.
Special effects such as phaser blasts, glowing shields, and explosions are merely adequate, and all the space environments like star fields planets, nebulae, asteroids, and space stations make their expected appearance but never really impressed me.
In addition to the opening movie there are plenty of between-mission cutscenes that are pretty bad. While you can recognize the faces of Sulu and Chekov they look more like caricatures than 3D models. It’s obvious that low-res facial scans were tacked onto rudimentary character models, but they all move unnaturally slow, and none of the movies look terribly sophisticated. Even more surprising is that even with the 480p support on the Xbox; the game didn’t look any better than the PS2 version.
The soundtrack has the expected signature theme or at least a variation of the music then it quickly devolves into your typical space combat theme music. The sound effects are right on par with the music and while you will certainly recognize the sounds of phasers and photons, they don’t really impact the gameplay. Even the Dolby Digital support fails to enhance the expansiveness of space.
Perhaps George Takei and Walter Koenig have been out of the loop for too long but whatever the reason, they turned in some pretty dismal performances as their respective characters. Granted, they were never the “big stars” of the show, but their reading of the lines sounds just like that, reading. They sounded as bored with the recording studio session as I was playing the game.
It probably would have been easy to tack on a multiplayer dogfighting simulator, but the designers opted for a solo experience only. The 19 missions could conceivably be finished in 10-12 hours assuming you never died and never had to repeat any of the missions. But chances are you will get 15-20 minutes into several and die then have to start over.
Star Trek: Shattered Universe is just another nail in the Star Trek coffin and proof that the curse is still alive. Even borrowing on the great story concept and tossing in some small fighters in favor of starship battles isn’t enough to save this title from its uninspired gameplay and average presentation.
Diehard Trekies will probably find the game insulting, after all, there weren’t any officially sanctioned fighters in the Star Trek universe, but if you are compelled to see for yourself then by all means, give this one a rental, but I would avoid purchasing until this title hits the rock bottom of the bargain bins.