Review: Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force

Available on GOG.com

You wouldn’t really expect first-person shooters to be some of the most notable Star Trek gaming ventures, and yet here we are. Lost to the sands of time until recently returning to the ranks of GOG, the Elite Force games were surprisingly solid shooters amidst the vastness of late-90s and early-00s FPSes. That’s surely one reason they never received the fanfare I believe they deserved; in just 2000 alone, this one released alongside Deus Ex, Soldier of Fortune, Perfect Dark, TimeSplitters, No One Lives Forever, and Counter-Strike, to name a few. That’s more than enough to bury a gem, and that’s just what the first Elite Force game is, a gem of old-school FPS action and decent Trek writing, two things most people would never associate with each other.

For those of you who weren’t watching sexy sci-fi and wrestling on UPN in the 90s, the USS Voyager is a Federation ship that was flung to the opposite end of the galaxy. The journey home was a long and perilous one, and for the purposes of this game, Captain Janeway and her security specialist Lieutenant Commander Tuvok have conceived of a special Hazard Team to combat threats that a normal away team of named characters might be ill-equipped to handle. They’ve got good timing with this initiative, too, because right after the opening mission, Voyager is spirited away to a pocket dimension filled with castaways from all walks of Star Trek. If the ship is ever to get back on its long haul home, the Hazard Team is going to have to brave the dangers of derelicts and devious foes to uncover the secrets of their enigmatic captors.

It’s a premise that could have come from any episode of Voyager, really, and much to the game’s credit, it plays like a multi-part storyline straight from your TV. Missions are bookended by sequences where you roam Voyager, talk to the crew, discuss the situation, and prep for your next outing. The missions themselves feature plenty of variety in environments and story, even with no planets to beam down to. From the very first level, you’re pitted against the Borg in some delightfully moody corridor crawls. In the pocket dimension, there’s a refreshing spread of vessels to explore, from techno-organic ships to kit-bashed amalgamations. Trek fans will find some very deep cuts here, referencing parts of the lore I’d wager you were not expecting.

The Trekkiness of the experience certainly won’t disappoint, and I’m happy to report that the FPS elements won’t either, at least for the most part. For one thing, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but a Star Trek game has one of the most gratifying arsenals I’ve ever used in a shooter. The workhorse weapons like the compression rifle and IMOD look and feel right out of the TV series, but with an added kick to really make you feel every shot. Later weapons add some much-needed variety and punch, including a photon torpedo launcher that might be my all-time favorite explosive weapon. The sound effects, visual design, and devastating effect are all absolutely sublime, and my only regret was not being able to use it all the time without blowing myself up.

Your arsenal goes a long way towards ingratiating an FPS, but the action has to be up to par as well. This is maybe the one part of the game that didn’t impress me so much, because most of your encounters are going to come down to scripted waves of enemies appearing. It’s a fair approach for a Trek game, with teleporting being such a core feature of the setting, but it does lead levels to feeling more like strings of arenas than natural environments. The creativity and flow of the maps balance this out, but I would say the fights themselves are the weakest part of the game. A few other aspects failed to impress, such as the reliance on healing and ammo stations scattered around instead of pickups, and the utter lack of interesting secrets to reward exploring the levels. If you’re more of a straight-shot gamer, you’ll appreciate the streamlined design, but I wanted more to find.

I would consider these minor gripes in the final analysis, compared to the accomplishments racked up by a Star Trek FPS. It really can’t be overstated how impressive it is that Raven Software was able to make a game that’s both an engaging, creative FPS and a worthy Star Trek experience. Shooter fans will have plenty of cool levels, fantastic guns, and decent action to enjoy, and Trekkies will have a fully-voiced episode of Voyager to play through, along with a few neat holodeck missions that really make great use of the lore. It’s a real shame this one didn’t sell well in its time, clearly overshadowed by many of the big names released in the same year. But unlike many gaming gems lost to history, this one’s been returned to us. You certainly don’t have to be a superfan to enjoy Elite Force, but if you are, you’re in for one of the best Star Trek games ever.

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