Thursday, 14 March 2013

Star Trek: Bridge Commander (PC)

Today I'm playing Bridge Commander, a Star Trek space sim by Totally Games, the makers of the legendary X-Wing and TIE Fighter series, unarguably the best space dogfighting games EVER MADE. Well okay maybe that's debatable, but it's undeniable that people seem to like them and if this turns out to be even 50% as good then it'll be 1000% better than 99% of the Trek games I've played so far.

I like how it boldly proclaims 'YOU are the Captain. You have the Conn.' on the cover and has an empty captain-shaped hole to show that yes it's actually YOU commanding this ship! Plus you've suddenly become a bald man with a strong resemblance to Patrick Stewart and the crew are concerned that if you lean any further you'll fall off your chair.

The game starts with a Starfleet starship captain passing the time during his pre-rendered shuttle trip cutscene by recording a log entry about how capable and awesome his new first officer is, which I suppose is going to turn out to be me seeing as he's going out of his way not to mention their name.

You know I'm sure there's something off about this model. I'm hardly an expert on the Starship Enterprise, but didn't it have engine exhausts sticking out the back edge of the top section in the TV series?

Yep, I knew it. It looks like the grey texture ends at the right place on the game model, but they didn't cut out the notch. Whatever, I just like to nitpick things, I'm sure proper Trek fans wouldn't notice or care about details like these.

Meanwhile, his crew monitor the shuttle as it approaches... wait, his shuttle's called the Icarus Two? Oh you idiots. You fucking idiots. Naming a ship after a mythological figure famous for how he crashed and burned by flying too close to the sun is bad enough. That's basically tempting fate. But taking that ship and then flying too close to a fucking sun with it is basically smacking fate in the face and calling it a pussy.

Wow, what a shocking turn of events. The star they were investigating suddenly explodes, cooking the planet and any prophetically named space vehicles currently in orbit.

Fortunately it's one of those weird space explosions that managed to travel across hundreds of millions of kilometres to reach the planet almost instantly, but can't seem to catch up to the hero ship as it struggles to get out of the planet's orbit with a broken FTL drive.

Well now the Captain's dead, it's time for the First Officer (that's me!) to take control, save the ship, and get to the bottom of this mysterious disaster.

Or we could just cut to the ship getting fixed up, while credits flash on screen and the camera pans slowly around the dock. Oh look, they've taken the engine pods off, that's... fascinating.

Why is this cutscene even in the game? They could have replaced it entirely with two seconds of dialogue saying "Captain, engineering reports that the warp engines are back online".

Uh guys, we can't take the ship out now, you haven't fastened the engines pods on properly yet. Or at all! Seriously, I can see the dock lights shining through the gap. How the hell did the animators miss that?

Maybe this flyby could've been the player character's introduction to the story, as he's shown his new ship by someone from the bridge crew. They could've chatted a bit as they went around, introducing the characters and explaining what the player's expected to do now he's a captain. Sure that'd be cliché, but as it is this is just pointless and boring.

Wow, isn't 2002 a little late to have animated face textures instead of moving 3D lips? Poor Captain Picard's only got like 5 frames of animation for his mouth, so he looks like he's just wandered out of the first season of South Park. Plus the texture on that uniform is just nasty.

To be fair though, this bridge full of officers does have to share system resources with the space action soon to be going on outside, so I can forgive them for cutting back on detail. This is all just an elaborate cockpit really.

Star Trek: Elite Force II
Here he is in Elite Force II a year later, for comparison. Less of a resemblance to the actor perhaps, but he can actually open his mouth and there's teeth in there and everything!

I have to give them full marks for getting Patrick Stewart in to perform the voice though. I'm sure he probably appears in every Next Generation game with voices, but I definitely don't take him for granted. The guy just adds class to anything he's in.

OI! What the hell, Picard? This is my first time in the captain's chair, and you're already undermining my authority by ordering my crew around. This is so embarrassing.

Fortunately he soon switches to tutorial mode, running through the basics of how to use each of the bridge stations to command the starship. I'm sure the crew's confidence in my abilities must be running sky high at this point. They might even let me take the training wheels off later.

Oh crap, I've been so distracted by this tutorial that I've totally forgotten what I was actually sent out to do. Fortunately my first officer is way better at remembering mission briefings than I am, and was professional enough not to facepalm when I asked her to remind me.

I spin around to the helm station, select my target from the list, and then click warp. And that's the entire navigation process. The game can throw a lot of buttons up on screen, but the UI is actually pretty straight-forward and well designed.

Alright it's time for some sensible beige adventures aboard the Starship Comfortable. Mister Sulu, engage!

After a few seconds stuck watching the stars go by, I finally found myself in the Vesuvi system, chatting to a hippy scientist who's a little annoyed that the exploding star from the intro has sent huge chunks of stellar debris hurtling towards his planet. Fortunately it just so happens that I have a very big ship, with very big guns, so I offer to help out.

Well actually I don't say a word. The player character has absolutely no dialogue, spoken or otherwise. I don't even get to make the occasional dialogue choice. I'm just a bald empty silhouette where a person should be.

Alright, let's sort these space rocks out then. Right, I've selected the target and clicked 'destroy' so... now what? Why isn't it working?

OH, of course! I need to switch to Red Alert to activate weapons and shields. Damn, this is all very familiar. I made the same mistake while trying to shoot down space rocks in Star Trek: Starfleet Academy - Starship Bridge Simulator (damn that's a long name), only that time I managed to get the crew cooked by radiation as well because the shields weren't on.

Well the tactical officer seems happy enough to pick targets and destroy them automatically and the helmsman is able to steer the ship around just fine by herself, so there's really nothing much for me to do here except play around with the cinematic view options and take screenshots.


My space rock shooting mission was a total success! Starfleet was very impressed with my ability to tell other people where to go and what to shoot and then leave them alone to do their jobs, so they've given me a new assignment. I've been ordered to take over as the escort for another Starfleet ship.

And of course the second I turn up the Romulans arrive and shit immediately starts kicking off.

Whoa, can you hold on just a minute there Pointy, I've just come out of a cutscene and I'm still a little... wonky. This must be why Captain Silhouette is leaning on the cover.

The Romulan captain is a bit suspicious of all these top of the line Federation ships flying around so close to a star that just happened to explode and she'd like to know what's going on. My first officer tries to calm her down, but the previous escort vessels are still hanging around and unfortunately they're crewed by trigger-happy Klingons, so this soon escalates into a fight.

So now what the fuck do I do? I feel like I should back up the Klingons, but that might just make things worse.

Eventually the Romulans took a shot at the Starfleet ship that I was ordered to look after, which made the choice a lot easier. We traded coloured beams of light for a while until they ran off to bother us another day.

I'd like to talk a bit here about the way the combat works, but I can't, because I'm still not sure. I spent the entire fight in cinematic view just taking screenshots and left the crew to fend for themselves.


I was expecting a 'Mission 1 Complete' message to come up at some point, (and maybe an option to save), but the game just keeps going. Every time I finish one thing I'm immediately sent off to the next area, often taking a pit-stop at the Starbase to get the engines screwed back on first. As far as I can tell the only way to save the game is to reach an autosave point at the start of the next mission.

Okay, what am I supposed to be doing this time then? Oh, I'm apparently supposed to be switching shields and weapons offline and then taking the ship behind a moon to spy on some other ships. First officer, set green alert. Navigator, orbit the moon. Well that was simple enough.


Shit, the ships spotted me and started opening fire on each other. I honestly don't know what to do here. I tried hailing them and that didn't work and now this 'Krayvis' ship is about to get destroyed! I hope I'm doing the right thing by defending them, because I have no idea what my responsibilities are in this region of space. For all I know I just declared war on an interstellar empire.

Well that ain't good. I couldn't save the Krayvis, and this was apparently enough of a fuck up to get me kicked right out of my comfy captain's chair. GAME OVER.

Right, I'll reload my the last autosave, and give it another shot.

This time I tried switching to map view to make absolutely certain I was well out of their sensor range, turned off the weapons and shields again, then flew the ship directly behind the moon manually. It didn't work. GAME OVER.


FINALLY, I've managed to get to the second stage of this mission. It turns out that switching weapons and shields off isn't good enough, I had to open the engineering menu and reallocate power from those systems. Only then was I stealthy enough to sneak up on the meeting behind my moon and surreptitiously spy on them until it was over without raising suspicions. Well it was certainly a lot of fun continually failing and repeating the same section over and over again until I figured that out.

But now all I have to do is stop this bastard getting away and find out what he was trading. First I'll shut down his engines with a few pinpoint precise phaser blasts so he can't outrun me.

Right, I'm just going to headbutt my desk for a bit.

I guess I was supposed to blow up the OTHER engines. The faster than light engines. So he couldn't just disappear off into the stars and leave me coughing in his space dust. Okay, let's try that again then, from the top.

First, I deactivate weapons and shields and head for the moon...


The human characters have been fine so far, but the alien dialogue has been a little, I dunno... campy. Perhaps I sat on my universal translator and accidentally knocked it onto 'cliché mode'.  

For this mission I've been sent over to a space station to stand in-between two aggressive alien fleets and stop a fight from breaking out. Of course when I got there I found that one of the fleets was actually my trigger-happy Klingon buddies from that escort mission a while back. This time they've been busy trying to antagonise some Cardassians (mostly the bloke on screen right now.)

Okay, so which button do I press to avert a diplomatic incident?

Like before, I had no idea what to do at first when the shooting inevitably started. But when the Cardassians started targeting the space station I decided to get my ship involved. Or at least tell my crew to get my ship involved for me.

It's funny how I've basically been playing the game from this view. And by 'playing the game' I mean 'trying to get cool screenshots'. It's like a space battle cameraman simulator so far.

Only three enemy ships left now, and the Klingons are keeping two of them busy. This's going to be over with soon enough. Though not as soon as I'd like; damn space battles drag on forever.

Oh come on, just make it easy on yourself and hit the self destruct or something. Get into the escape pods and quit being a stubborn asshole. It's over, you've lost, you're coming apart at the seams and this is just wasting both of our time. Plus I'd like to walk away from this fight with a couple of systems still working if possible; I'm sure those Starbase engineers are sick of hamming the dints out of my hull by now.

Well my ship display is covered in blinky 'this is broken' icons, but we won. A trip to the Starbase will sort that out, then I can boldly go back into space to sort out the next group of aliens my Klingon bros have pissed off.


Shit, there was a second wave of enemies! And then a third one!

I'm trying to get hands on now, fine tuning my power distribution and actually steering the ship myself. I need to get my currently charged weapons facing the enemy, while keeping my weakest shields away from them. Meaning a lot of slow motion spinning around in space.

Unfortunately I have barely any power left and he's breaking all my guns. So all I can really do here is try to hold on long enough for the Klingons to come and rescue me. This is second time they've started a fight and gotten me caught in the middle of it , so those bastards owe me.

GAME OVER. Again. You know, I think this might be another black mark on my record.

Anyone going to run for the escape pods? Look at them all, little beige squares dotted all over the hull, more than enough for everyone. Surely someone wants to escape this exploding ship. No? Fair enough then.

Well there's no way I can be bothered playing through that mission again from the start. Maybe if I had any idea of what I could do differently I'd give it a shot, but I'm totally clueless and replaying that stealth mission over and over earlier has burned away all my patience.

I'm finding it hard to judge Star Trek: Bridge Commander, because I'm not sure I've even played it yet. I mean I get the feeling I was supposed to be taking direct control of the ship far more often than I did, but I'm not sure what I could have done that the computer wasn't doing already. But what I've seen of the gameplay so far definitely hasn't inspired me to continue any further with it and what I've seen of the story makes me wish I hadn't even started.

Sadly the bridge crew add very little to the game as it seems that Starfleet forgot to issue them with personalities. Despite having names they're more like talking bridge stations than characters in their own right, which is a bit disappointing really. If these guys had piped up more during missions, sharing their opinions and suggestions, getting in arguments, and actually laying out my choices and what the consequences of them might be, then I think I would have gotten a lot more out of the game. Plus not a single one of them laughed when the Cardassians used that 'muzzle your Klingon dogs' line. My crew just ain't human man, I can't relate to these people at all.

If you have any opinions about Star Trek: Bridge Commander, or things relating to the game (like all those words I just typed for instance) then please feel free to stick a few of your thoughts in the box below.


  1. It's a shame they don't make games like this anymore. Was Infinite Space on the DS the last one of its kind?

    1. I'm not that familiar with Infinite Space (or space combat strategy games in general), though I do know that Star Trek Online is still running and I remember it having a slow-motion ship-rotating ballet of death for its space combat similar to Bridge Commander. It's a bit more entertaining in my opinion as well.

  2. The modder community for this game kept it alive a decade beyond publication. It is the best Trek game of recent times, which I know isn't saying much...

  3. By the way, I absolutely love your blog. Since becoming a new daddy, I've pretty much been living games vicariously through it.

    1. That's awesome to hear. Makes me feel like I'm on the right track.

  4. The modding community is in the process of doing an HD remake of the campaign with new ships.

    Quick Battle is where the fun of BC is and with the 100s of mods (including Kobayashi Maru) adds a ton to the game.

  5. you barely got into the game at all... later on, the crew does get into the usual discussion we're used to see in Voyager or Enterprise regarding the missions, and you get to choose the next pivotal action.
    and, might I add, one of them makes you feel kinda shitty :P

    but hey, you also get a new starship, more coloured points of light to shoot with, and you even get to choose your own fighting squad to go on some cardie ass kicking!
    even the Enterprise shows up and helps you around.

    still, it can't accout for the major mistakes the makers made on this game (such as the blocky out-of-scale models and the lousy animation), but I guess that's compensated by the fact that they let the modders add to the game, and even one of the original programmers (that Erik Novales guy) worked along with the modders... and he still is!

    not to mention, that if it wasn't for BC, several people wouldn't have improved their art and design skills as they've done by creating content for it.

    1. Yeah I've browsed through some of the mods and I think it's awesome what people have done with the game. It's practically the Elder Scrolls of space it seems when it comes to user made content, which I suppose is partly due to nothing really coming along to replace it in the last decade.

      Well I suppose there's the Star Trek MMO, but that's an MMO. Plus there's Star Trek: Legacy, but that was a total wreck of a game last I checked. It's enough to inspire any talented Trek fan gamer with some free time and an interest to take the best of what they've got and make it better.

  6. It gets better a couple of missions later when you get a better ship


Semi-Random Game Box