Heading to PAX West 2016 I knew I’d be playing a lot of VR games. Many of them were must plays, like Rick and Morty VR, but one was at the top of my to-play list. That game was Star Trek VR, which was announced at E3 and I had unfortunately missed during my time there. Being a huge fan of the series, and scifi stuff in general, Star Trek VR offered a chance to live out my many fantasies of being a member of a starship crew. Finally, at PAX West 2016 I got to try it out, and it was everything that I ever wanted from a Star Trek game.
OK, maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic, but playing the game, that is what I felt. In the demo, which was stationed inside of NVIDIA’s VR-filled PAX West booth, there were three stations for us to try out. Helm, Weapons, and Engineering, with one of the developers taking the iconic captain’s chair. It was unclear exactly what the captain did in the game, as he had a full Oculus setup, but mostly directed us as to what to do.
It was everything that I ever wanted from a Star Trek game
I took Weapons, with a friend of mine taking Engineering. You see, we’re both big fans of Artemis, a non-VR game that plays quite similarly to Star Trek VR. If you’ve never heard of it before, please check out this article where I break down why it’s one of the best multiplayer experiences out there. Whenever we play Artemis, my friend is always the engineer, it just speaks to him. So, going into Star Trek Bridge Crew we sort of had an idea of how a spaceship bridge simulator like this can and should play out.
Star Trek Bridge Crew is a much simpler experience than the hardcore simulator that is Artemis, but that makes sense with the much wider audience the game is aiming for. On my weapons station I was tasked with spotting other ships, both friendly and hostile, scanning them, firing weapons, and raising or lowering the shields. To do all of this I moved the Oculus Touch controller through the air, manipulating a virtual touch screen. Pulling the trigger made my character’s finger tap on the screen, allowing for a very natural and immersive feel to the controls.
It’s a bit of an odd choice to put players into an entirely virtual environment, and then stick them with an artificial touchscreen, something we could easily produce in the real world. However, the controls work well and make sense in the universe. And the real goal of the VR is in immersing you into the world of Star Trek.
This game takes place in the rebooted J.J. Abrams universe, though with some fiddling I’m sure the community will get some classic and TNG skins out there pretty quickly. All of the players are put into the same virtual environment, on the bridge of the USS Aegis, a new creation that will have its own story within the wider universe. We could speak with each other via our microphones, but we could also see how other players were moving, including where they moved their hands.
After the formalities of setting up and giving us instructions on our stations were concluded we set out on our mission. A space station was in trouble from a nearby star acting up and we had to go rescue the survivors. Warping in this game is one of the coolest things I’ve experience in a video game before. It’s just so authentic to the movies, with helm lining us up on our course and punching the throttle, one of the few non-touch screen objects players had to manipulate. What makes everything so great is the mixture of visuals and sound that put you right into the Star Trek universe. There were beeps and buzzes going off all the time, and even some very bright lights that might just create a few lens flares.
Star Trek Bridge Crew Trailer
Once we arrived at the station we sprung into action. The vista was gorgeous, but disturbing, with a damaged space station next to a very violent looking star. On my scanner I saw three escape pods, with my Artemis skills kicking in, I began scanning them immediately, with the captain telling me to start a few moments later. As we found life signs on the pods I lowered the shields with the slider on my bottom right, and engineering put more power into the teleporter and began the lock on procedure. Just as we got the first pod’s survivors on board the Klingons showed up.
Raising shield, phaser beams began pelting our hull. At the order of the captain I tapped the Klingon ships on my scanner and began firing the two torpedoes that I had loaded into the tubes. Two more began loading automatically, as I switched to phaser fire. While the torpedoes lock on from any angle, Helm had to keep the Klingons in front of the ship for my phasers to continue hitting. After about ten shots they were depleted, and I gave them a rest while they recharged.
With my second scan complete Engineering shifted energy away from shields and weapons and into the teleporter again. Lowering the shields to allow the transport to go through, we watched phaser fire strike us over and over again while we impatiently waited for the transporter to complete its task. Once the transport was complete I raised shields again and began scanning the final escape pod, firing weapons as they became available at the two enemy ships.
This process repeated for the final pod, lowering the shields, firing weapons, and beaming survivors aboard. We took a lot of damage, even watching as some of our NPC bridge crew were injured by exploding stations. We got them all out though, and quickly set a course for anywhere but where we were. Helm lined us up and we blasted away, Star Trek music playing in the background…or was that part in my head?
The experience of Star Trek VR was a bit simpler than I’d like, but I’m hoping that the final game will add some functionality to each of the available stations. Still, that simplicity works well in keeping players immersed in the experience of the game. With more intricate missions the game should take on new life, as you explore strange new worlds and figure out how to handle the situations that you’ll find yourself in. Star Trek Bridge Crew was already on my most anticipated list, but getting to try it has pushed it a bit higher up.
Star Trek Bridge Crew hits Oculus Rift, HTC, Vive, and PlayStation VR on November 29th.