capsule review

Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force

I'm sorry to be the one to break it to you, but Star Trek isn't real. That's right -- Galaxy Quest not withstanding, there is no Starship Enterprise of any generation, no strange new worlds or new civilizations, and no one is boldly going where no man (or no one) has gone before.

But what if there were? How cool would that be?

That's the premise of most Star Trek games -- to simulate for the player what it would be like to live, love, and have adventures in a universe as envisioned in the various Star Trek TV series and movies. Unfortunately, in the rush to capitalize on the franchise, most games bearing the Star Trek name have been bad. And I mean really bad, as in unplayable wastes of time that failed to capture the specifics, the scale, or the spirit of Gene Roddenberry's creation. It seems ironic that in the twilight of the genre, finally, a truly great Star Trek game makes its debut. Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force isn't just a great game, it's a great Star Trek game, with enough enigmatic aliens, pseudo-science that doesn't bear close examination, inside jokes, and pure we-come-in-peace/shoot-to-kill! thrills to satisfy even the most jaded Star Trek aficionado.

It's Life, Jim, but Not as We Know It

The game is based on the Quake III engine, and as such offers no breakthroughs in 3-D shooter graphics or performance. But that's OK because, if it weren't for Oni, Quake III would single-handedly define the state of the art on the Mac. And let's face it, if all this game offered was slightly improved rendering, it still wouldn't satisfy the Trekkie audience it's trying to appeal to.

The game features entirely new worlds to explore, adversaries to overcome, and death-dealing weapons to brandish. Westlake Interactive has gone to some lengths to emulate a truly Trek environment, from the decks of the Starship Voyager to a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek tour of the anti-Enterprise featured in the original series episode, "Mirror, Mirror." (You know, the one with Spock in a goatee?)

You play the Voyager's equivalent of a black ops trooper, a Special Forces operative whom Captain Janeway and Tuvok can deploy in situations requiring that special James-Kirk-School-of-Diplomacy touch. Or, as it says on the box, "Set Phasers to Frag."

Elite Force is definitely more violent (read: fun) than other Star Trek games. In this way, it's perhaps more true to the spirit of the series, which always spoke softly but wasn't afraid to let loose with a volley of photon torpedoes just to make its point. Still, it's considerably less genocidal than most 3-D shooters. There are plenty of puzzles to solve and tests of physical prowess. And in many situations, if you plunge in with your Phaser Compression rifle set to Annihilate, firing madly, you won't see the next level.

In this game, as in the series, both men and women assume positions of power, and your player's character can be either sex.

Elite Force also features the voice talents of the actors from the Voyager series, from the computer to Neelix. The only notable exception is the voice of Seven of Nine, which is played by an understudy. Of course, for most of the game the characters' authenticity doesn't really matter as many of the members of your Elite Force team are new to this game. And, while those team members do add a dimension of teamwork, they also add the sense that much of the action is scripted. Basically, they help move the plot along but also limit your options so you can't stray from the story line too much. This is the only major limitation in an otherwise beautifully designed and executed game.

I'm a Gamer, Not a Doctor!

Thanks to its Quake III foundation, Elite Force has good physics -- explosions, shadows, and player movement are highly realistic -- and the game extends that foundation with graphics that are uniquely Trek, such as the particular diffusion of a phaser. Like Quake III, Elite Force offers multiplayer options and relatively simple controls. PowerBook owners be warned: you won't want to use a TrackPad to play this game and you won't be happy with the graphics when they're driven by the PowerBook's anemic ATI 128 Rage Mobility chip set. If ever there were a game to demand a G4 desktop, this is it.

As for game challenge, Elite Force has four settings, from Easy to Difficult. At the Easy setting, enemies didn't exactly lie down and wait to be shot, but the challenge came primarily from solving puzzles. The Difficult setting should be renamed Impossible or Abandon Hope, it's that hard. And, whatever difficulty level you choose, the final adversary is practically invincible. (Luckily, Elite Force supports all of Quake III's cheat codes.)

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