|Developer:||Spectrum HoloByte|||||Release Date:||1995|||||Systems:||DOS, Mac|
This week on Super Adventures I've been celebrating Star Trek's 50th anniversary by playing games that basically have nothing to do with the franchise, but that ends here with something a whole lot more relevant.
Sure it would've made more sense for me to play the Star Trek: 25th Anniversary adventure game, but I already have so that's put a wrench into that great idea. There is an entirely different 25th Anniversary on the NES, but I've played that too. So it comes down to this, and that's probably for the best as I've had this game sitting in my attic for so long that I've forgotten what it is or where it even came from. Have I even played it? Probably, once, but who knows?
All I know is that Spectrum HoloByte is a great name for a game developer, and it's a shame that this is one of the last games released with it on the box. They'd bought up MicroProse a couple of years before and by '96 all their games were released under that brand instead (including Trek games Birth of the Federation, Generations and Klingon Honor Guard). Then a few years later Hasbro bought Spectrum HoloByte (at this point known as MicroProse) and closed the studio, but they were in turn bought by Infogrames Entertainment, who acquired their assets and the Atari brand in the deal and renamed the company to Atari Interactive, before renaming themselves to Atari, SA. This shouldn't be confused with Atari, Inc. which is the name they gave to developer Infogrames, Inc. (formerly GT Interactive). There was also arcade game producer Atari Games, which formed when Atari, Inc. (the original one) split into two after the video game crash, but Infogrames never got its hands on that. It eventually ended up as Midway Games West until it was dissolved, with its IPs acquired by Warner Bros.
Game companies, man. It's starting to make sense to me why this never made it to Steam or GOG.
A Final Unity came out in 1995, a full year after 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' ended and about six months after the movie 'Star Trek: Generations', so it wasn't the most timely TV tie-in. Still it's nice that they waited until the game was finished, as quality's always better than synergy (for the player anyway).
The game isn't supported by ScummVM so I'm going to install it to a directory called "STFU" in DOSBox and cross my fingers. I'm sure it'll be fine though. In fact DOSBox is probably more likely to run the game than your average DOS PC, and with far less messing around with memory managers.
"Captain's log, stardate 47111.1. A Federation listening post along the Romulan Neutral Zone has detected an unidentified vessel headed for Federation space. The Enterprise is moving to intercept."Sure you've got enough 1s in that stardate? There was a rule for stardates by the way, with the second number along being the season of 'The Next Generation' the episode was made for, so this is taking place near the beginning of season 7. That's a true fact I just looked up.
It's hard to find a 'Next Gen' game without voice work by Patrick Stewart, but it's rare to see the rest of the crew show up too. The dithering's due to it being a GIF file by the way, it doesn't actually look this bad in game.
They identify the vessel as a Garidian scout ship and discover that it's driving its engine so hard that it's going to explode! Puppet Riker looks a bit concerned, Jonathan Frakes on the other hand sounds like this is the 10th potential warp core breach he's had to report on this morning.
The occupants of the scout ship hail them and ask for help, as they're fleeing from political persecution.
Sorry I mean Garidian Warbird. The two races apparently buy their spaceships from the same shop, but they're otherwise entirely different.
So these folks are flying around space in their Romulan ships, with their Romulans hair cuts and their Romulan faces but they’re not actually Romulans? Well, uh... okay then.
The Garidian captain's not interested in chatting though, so it seems we've got a problem here. The teaser ends with Picard ordering 'red alert' and then it cuts to the opening titles from the TV series!
Actually the panning shot at the end is new, so there is a change. I didn't notice until I compared it to the TV intro on YouTube, it looks so good I assumed it'd always been there.
Okay I've got a Not-Romulan Warbird outside towing a scout ship full of fugitives that's about to explode and I need do something about that. The only obvious button is the one that says 'viewscreen' but scanning the mouse cursor across the screen has revealed to me that I can click on the crew to get their input and on their consoles to do stuff.
It's brought up a set of dialogue choices for me, so I'll choose to lock weapons and see if that makes them more willing to talk this out.
I guess it’s time I had a chat with Troi to see what she… haha, no I’m talking with Data to see what he thinks.
His suggestion's pretty ridiculous: deactivate our shields, move the Enterprise to block the tractor beam, and then use the transporter to rescue the crew. But risk is our business, and all 1000 crewmembers and children on board knew what they were signing up for when they joined my ship.
Uh... I mean, I knew that'd work! There's no way they'd be dumb enough to open fire on a Federation starship in Federation space, especially now that we're carrying their fugitives.
Uh... what do I press? Holy shit could this screen have any more buttons? And those buttons down the sides are actually tabs that reveal more buttons! I can adjust phasers, change torpedo spread, check my damage, and mess around with escape, break and corkscrew manoeuvres! I can also hit the self destruct button accidentally when I'm trying to hit weapons lock because some idiot put them right next to each other.
Okay I've figured that I can steer the polygon Enterprise with the arrow keys on my keyboard so I'm trying to get it facing the
Wait, why am I doing this myself when there’s a 'Delegate to Worf' button right there?
Oh crap I just blew up a Warbird! Uh... can we rescue their lifeboats maybe? No? Well I hope someone on board eventually makes it home alive to tell their leaders that it was totally their own fault. I'd hate for my perfectly reasonable act of self-defence to trigger an interstellar war.
Alright now I've earned myself a moment to chat to the people I saved from that scout ship and see what was important enough to make them run for Federation space.
So you just want to speak to a guy called Shanok? Fine, give me the coordinates and I'll drop you off.
Seems like the Prime Directive would have words to say about us dramatically altering your culture. But it doesn’t say we can’t drop you off somewhere. I'll just head down to Engineering in the turbolift and tell them to switch the warp drive on.
But I'm glad I came down here as now I can be sure I didn't break anything important in that fight earlier. Everything seems fine, you just keep doing what you're doing Geordi.
After a few more minutes of getting nowhere with the computers I gave up and tried chatting with the rescued Garidians again. This time I saw an option to say I'd help and Picard set the course automatically! Then he had a whole automatic conversation with the bridge crew, with my only involvement being to close the message boxes after I was done reading.
Another automatic conversation happened and the crew decided that they're going to assemble an away team to beam in through the weakest part of the shields. Then once they're over there they'll be able to jettison the power core and get the shields down entirely so they can evacuate the wounded. Sounds simple enough, I should get on with that before something explodes.
I know what this reminds me of! It's like when they occasionally use photos of a famous person's face from different angles for a character on 'South Park'. Except instead of giving them construction paper bodies they've used pillows instead.
Medium difficulty means I get to choose my own away team, so I could actually send Picard, Troi, Data and a redshirt (uh, mustardshirt) to the broken station full of wounded people and unknown threats instead. But I think I'll stick with the engineer, the doctor, and the guy who's good with a gun.
A nice touch is that I have to drag the mouse cursor up the sliders on the right to activate the transporter. Though it's probably less nice for players who haven't seen the series much, because good luck stumbling upon how to do that yourself.
MERTENS ORBITAL STATION.
There's a lot of buttons down there but the interface isn't as complicated as it looks, they've just put the scroll buttons in the middle of the inventory for no good reason. I can switch character by clicking Riker's face and those buttons next to him are my verbs: look, handshake, talk to and stomp. Or something, I'll figure them out.
There's no context sensitivity going on so I have to select 'walk to' or 'look at' manually each time, but I can cycle through commands with the right mouse button so it's not a huge issue. There's nothing to do in this transporter room anyway, so I'll send Riker outside and hope the others follow him.
I saw a wounded crewmember on the right so I switched to Dr. Crusher, selected the tricorder and clicked on them to send her off to do an examination. And now I guess I wait. Maybe I didn't click enough times?
Oh, I should be clear that I used the medical tricorder here, not the regular one, because there's apparently a difference. I guess it makes sense that there has to be a separate tricorder for medical use if they can only record three things each.
Crusher eventually finished her long trek across to the other side of the screen, where she discovered that her patient is unconscious, she got multiple fractures in both legs, she’s in shock and there’s internal bleeding. Plus she’s also got a big cable pinning her to the deck preventing the doctor from treating the injuries, but that's why I brought Worf!
Out of curiosity I reloaded to see if the others can cut the cable too and they all can. They even have a slightly different line of dialogue afterwards. Though I choose what power level the phasers are set to and I have them set to minimum, so they should've really only stunned the cable.
Alright let’s keep going.
The items might be visible enough but I still have to sweep the screen with the mouse cursor to find out which parts of the background I'm allowed to look at with. Then I can move onto trying them all to see which I can interact with. It seems like it's basically just the panel up on the top left in this room.
I chose to talk to Geordi for advice and he suggested that we beam the cable off the wounded crewmember using the transporter. I used the tricorder on it earlier so we already have the coordinates for that. But I want to get rid of the power draining drone first!
First though I need to figure out how to use this console. Trouble is that the only writing is beige on beige and it's written in an alien language. Aha, the big rectangle says "Initiate temporary shutdown" when I mouse-over it, so all I need to do is press that and the offending article should fly away.
Fortunately the away team's actually fine, they're only sleeping. Okay fine let's do what Geordi wants and beam the cable off the crewmember.
It seems that Dr. Crusher's the only one who can heal the woman, but any of them can be the one to talk to her afterwards. She told me to go to Station Administration and use the security code 334L42 to access the emergency systems and fix the life support, so I'm writing that down in case I need to type it in.
But before switching the oxygen back on I figured I'd take another look at that power shutdown console. This time I pressed everything on it that looked even remotely like a button, and that got rid of the intruder! Now I can safely walk past where it was to the door on the other side of the room and jettison the power core.
Geordi's got the engineering skills to fix the problem and save the core, but unfortunately the scientist's instructions are a little vague, and I'm not just talking about the technobabble. I have to install it in the damaged area? Everywhere I've been on this station has been a damaged area! Oh fuck it, I’m just going to jettison the core and go home, that’ll teach him for being a dick.
But back on the Enterprise I had a change of heart and decided to load a save and see what happens if I fix the station instead of unplugging it. The damaged area turned out to be the hole the machine was syphoning power out of, so I sorted that out, fixed the life support, then phoned up my weirdly photorealistic boss when I got back and got a glowing review for my work!
25th Anniversary, in that I can solve missions in different ways which then determine the rating I get from the admiral afterwards.
Alright now that catastrophe has been averted I've got a Vulcan to ask about a scroll. His planet's in the list of destinations at the bottom of the screen now, so set a course for Horst III, warp 5.
I suppose I could click the viewscreen button and watch the starfield screensaver instead.
I was expecting this to be the part where I get a new piece of information or a cutscene that points me to the next destination, but it's actually the part where I learn absolutely nothing. I even reloaded my save and tried different conversation options, but nope.
So I told the crew to press whatever buttons put us back on patrol, and waited until I was interrupted by another crisis. It wasn't long before I got a call telling me that someone somewhere's gone missing and it's up to me to search a planet to find her! If I want to that is, I can always say no. This is some really urgent patrolling I'm doing after all.
SOME WARP TRAVEL LATER, IN ORBIT OF MORASSIA.
I think it's the total lack of clothes that's throwing me off here. If they'd given her a Wookie bandolier or a pair of Ray-Bans I wouldn't have thought twice about her bestial appearance. Probably.
Alright I'm sending an away team down to the planet to find this missing researcher.
Alright I sent her up here by clicking on something labelled 'fruit' with the look command, so lets see what she says about it.
Actually to be fair I asked the other three characters to look at it too and they all had a lot more to say, with Data saying that the fruit is considered a delicacy, Troi saying that it stains fabric and Worf saying it could be poisonous. So I threw it over to that red-eyed monkey perching on a branch and kept going.
There's five other paths to check out up here so I'm going be keeping that run button held down for a while.
To be fair it's a shared inventory so technically everyone in the away team has dead animals in their pants simultaneously right now.
I asked Data what I need to do and he said check the logs. So I did that and discovered that the researcher had cancelled her sessions with someone called Tracker Melas. I asked Data what to do again and this time he suggested we go find Tracker Melas. So I guess we're doing that now.
Alright I guess I have to, uh... something... Tracker Melas... something. Oh bollocks to it, I'm bored out of my mind here so I'm looking at a guide.
A FEW MOMENTS ON GAMEFAQS LATER.
Dark Seed screens and then send drones out into the different environments, but it never would've occurred to me that I had to do it like ten times over. Drone goes off into tunnel 1, drone flies back. drone goes off into tunnel 2, drone flies back...
And once that was all done, the game crashed and I had to do it all over again from the start. Then I had to check a YouTube video to work out how to get all these samples I'd collected out of the drones (you need to click a hand-held device called a bioprobe on them a whole bunch of times). Then I had to run each sample through the scanner...
Basically, I did a lot of mindless tedious work and then Deanna Troi went and solved the mystery of the missing scientist by herself during a conversation.
Also when did Troi steal Data's brain energy? She's got this whole plan worked out on her own and is telling the experts what to do. Probably because she was the character I had selected when I clicked the talk button.
Okay, there's a button over by the screen so I'll press that and... I've just solved the puzzle. Well that was a total waste of a unique background and a shuttle animation! We took the shuttle back up, and the rest of the mission was resolved by pressing the buttons I was told to. Creature caught, scientist found, culprit... still on the run. Hmm, I should probably go catch that guy before I turn the game off.
SOME WARP TRAVEL LATER.
I actually kept playing a bit longer than this just to be absolutely sure I wasn't giving up just before the game got good, but collecting the Fifth Scroll was about as much fun as I'd expected, so I really am done with this now.
The trouble with A Final Unity is that it's got me questioning if I even like 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' any more, because it comes closer than any other game I've played to capturing what the crew actually did in the TV series. I've dealt with fugitives requesting political asylum, I've rushed off to a distress call at an experimental research station, and I've beamed down to solve a mystery on a planet governed by unfriendly matriarchal civilization with secrets. Plus I've also been baffled by technobabble, confused by computer panels, and I found I couldn't give a damn about anyone outside of the main cast.
But one thing the series got right was the cast, and the actors are all here doing what they can with the material (even if Marina Sirtis seems to have dropped Troi's accent), though they're not given much to work with. The crew have been reduced to their basic traits and their manner of speech, and they barely get to interact as actual people. In fact the story feels a bit like a run of season one episodes, when the emphasis was more on plot than characters and everything was extra cheesy.
The games presentation is one thing that always seems to get a lot of praise, but I'm not impressed. It's definitely nice to see a game stick so close to its source with the look of the crew and the bridge, and the CGI Enterprise looks great in those tiny 320x200 res cutscenes, but then you beam somewhere else and things start feeling a lot less 'Star Trek'. A lot of the graphics would've been alright for the time if they'd picked a style and stuck with it, but the art's all over the place. Sometimes are things are pre-rendered, sometimes they're painted, sometimes they seem to be captured from video, and there's a little real-time 3D in there too. The problem's not the mix of techniques, the series itself did the same thing, the problem is that it's so obvious and off-putting.
Plus you get a good long time to gaze at those backgrounds because this game is astoundingly slow paced. I've never seen a point and click adventure that's so keen on pulling the camera way back and making you hike from one side of an empty screen to the other. And it's not like the developers weren't aware this was a problem, as they likely implemented the run button for their own sanity during testing.
What makes it worse is that the puzzles make sure you'll be crossing those screens a few times before you're done, especially if you're stuck. Sorry I meant 'puzzles'. What I've had to do so far is: use the transporter on a piece of cable, press unlabelled buttons on a console, use the tools I was told to in the place I was told to, put three animals through two scanners each, send a three drones out ten times, put the ten samples through a scanner, press a button, press the three buttons I was told to. This is just... not good! This is not a good adventure game! The main challenge is finding what you're supposed to interact inside the levels full of sci-fi hardware, once you've done that you just ask your crew what the next move is. I thought Simon the Sorcerer was a bit rubbish when I played that a couple of months back but at least it was pretty!
Speaking of bafflingly complex hardware, the combat seems way too complicated for such a minor part of the game. Save that crap for Bridge Commander in my opinion. What this needed was a more streamlined dogfighting system like Star Trek: 25th Anniversary. Or better yet, no dogfighting at all, because they're simulating an aspect of the series that never really happened! They were on the right track with the 'let Worf handle it' button.
Though I started a new game out of curiosity and I do have to give the game points for letting me wait for the scout ship to explode without rescuing anyone and then go off on my patrol, ignoring all distress calls along the way. You can even set your own course and fly off to do whatever you want, as long as what you want to do is absolutely nothing. The game gives you the option to mess around, fuck things up, and keep on playing, and I appreciate that. Especially because the mission reports make it clear when you have fucked up instead of leaving you to wonder. Also the way you can apparently bring any crew member to any mission and have them do the talking and the puzzle solving is pretty amazing, even if there's a good chance you'll ruin everything if you pick the wrong away team.
But the puzzles aren't great, the story isn't interesting, the dialogue is dull; this is a 'Star Trek' game for robots. If you have the patience of a machine and no interest in humour or natural human interaction then this is the game for you. But it was nice to revisit the game and solve the mystery of why I quit playing it the first time around, and hopefully I've described it well enough so I can look back at this article a decade from now and understand why I quit this time around as well. So no I wouldn't personally recommend A Final Unity. Though it is critically acclaimed!
Remember to shower me with feedback!