Review: Star Trek: Elite Force II
If you somehow made one good Star Trek FPS, you’d have to make another one, right? Elite Force’s publisher Activision clearly agreed, but perhaps due in part to poor sales of the first, they decided to hand the job of a sequel off to Ritual Entertainment instead of going back to Raven. The folks behind SiN and Heavy Metal F.A.K.K. 2 certainly had an uphill battle, between the challenge of marrying Star Trek and first-person action and also outperforming the first. To their credit, they crafted a game that’s just as satisfying a Trek experience as the first, and even improves on the formula in some ways. Sadly, this one fared even worse in sales than its predecessor, again likely due to circumstance rather than quality. And fortunately, you have the chance to experience that quality in the here and now.
Elite Force II picks up in the middle of the two-part series finale of Voyager, and while I’m not going to spoil the mission itself, I am going to spoil the end of a 20-year-old TV series. Voyager returns to Earth, and the Hazard Team is disbanded, as there is clearly no threat to Starfleet in a post-Voyager world. Fortunately, our old friend Jean-Luc Picard disagrees and brings Alex Munro (no option for lady Munro, more on this later) aboard the Enterprise-E to reassemble the Hazard Team for hazards that are sure to emerge. And emerge they do, as the Enterprise immediately happens upon a Federation vessel mysteriously depleted of its crew. What follows is a clash of cultures, a nefarious plot, double-crosses, ancient tech, and a vicious struggle that could determine the fate of the Federation.
The first question here is obviously going to be, does the writing hold up as well as it did in the first Elite Force? And the answer is yes, surprisingly, and in some cases even better than in the original. The plot of Elite Force II is more complex than the first, bringing several alien races into the mix for some genuinely interesting politicking and cultural commentary. There’s a lot going on in the plot but never so much that you can’t keep track, and the twists are pretty entertaining even if some of them are a bit obvious. Part of this might be because there’s not as much legacy Trek star power at work here; besides Patrick Stewart and Tim Russ as Picard and Tuvok, none of the Next Generation or Voyager regulars make a single appearance. There are some real good deep cuts with characters and voice actors, though, which should make serious Trek fans very happy.
In lieu of palling around with Riker or Data, the returned Hazard Team is given some new members and fleshed out with a bit more characterization. The key players in the plot also get a lot of face time, and there’s even a little love triangle subplot between Munro, one of the Hazard Team, and an alien lady who is costumed about as embarrassingly as first-season Next Generation extras. This is a notable aspect that really impressed me, certainly not because lady Munro was clearly cut so that this love plot could be as hetero as possible, but because sexy alien lady is set up for some incredibly awkward scenes, and instead gets a healthy mix of clever and genuinely heartwarming lines. The writing is sharp and entertaining the whole way through, and ultimately turns this into a better episode of Trek than even the first Elite Force managed.
As far as the gameplay goes, I feel confident calling Elite Force II as good as the original, but in different ways. The previous Elite Force had creative, if straight-forward levels, mostly wave-based encounters, and incredibly fun weapons for those repetitive fights. Battles in Elite Force II are far more varied, with plenty of different aliens to face off with and some rather fun bosses to overcome as well. The weapons aren’t quite as impactful as those that came before but they definitely get the job done. Levels have a ton of variety as well, and some do an incredible job of creating ominous or panicked atmospheres. There’s also a ton of secrets to find this time, primarily in the form of golden ships that unlock bonus levels. However, the main path through the levels, as creative as it may be, is often confusing and poorly-telegraphed. Ritual clearly had some talented designers in their ranks, but weren’t the best at communicating what the player needed to do in a lot of places.
Don’t let any of these gripes turn you away from this one, though. As much fun as I had with the first Elite Force, I definitely had more fun playing through Elite Force II. The variety and creativity here puts it ahead, and the sharp writing and entertaining characters are just more icing on the cake. I may have felt lost more often here, but as soon as I got back on track, it was a party again. I’m so glad these two games are back on sale so a new generation of Trekkies and FPS fans can experience them, because they were so clearly overlooked in their time. Don’t miss out on either Elite Force, but definitely not this one, if you want to enjoy one of the premier Trek game experiences.