"Space… the final frontier. These are the voyages…"
If you got a little shiver just reading those words, then you're not only a gamer, but a Treker as well. As such, you can officially consider yourself to be the target demographic for developer Mad Doc and publisher Bethesda Softworks – their latest game, designed specially for you, is titled Star Trek Legacy.
We saw Legacy at 2006's E3 game show and were fairly impressed, particularly in light of the franchise's history of hit-or-miss (mainly miss) titles. Even then, the game looked fabulous and promised a sprawling single-player story that would span all generations of the show, from the early voyages of Captain Archer, through the swashbuckling years of Kirk and all the way through the era of Picard and the Borg. The demo we saw also promised the player the ability to control not only individual ships of the line but to also issue commands to an entire fleet. Mutiplayer skirmish matches were also on the table.
We've spent the last few weeks playing the retail version of Legacy on the PC and have some good News and some bad News… The good News – everything that was promised seems to have survived implementation into the final version. The bad News – well, how to put this? The final implementation of the game code is… a bit awkward, particularly if you're tying to play the game on the PC as opposed to the Xbox 360.
Starbases and starships and planets, oh my!
Unfortunately, players on the PC will feel very short-changed with the controller setup. When launching the game, one of the first things the player will doubtless notice is that the control tutorial data was ported from the 360… not converted into PC controls, mind you, but rather carried over whole-cloth, with all of the terminology that applies to the 360 controller left in the text.
Since the in-game tutorial info was wrong for the PC, and, worse, the printed manual was incorrect on some key input commands, and all this was further complicated by the fact that the game lacks any way to re-map your controls to a custom configuration (shy of manually text-editing core configuration files, anyway – shame on you, Mad Doc!), I was literally driven to cursing at my PC as I flailed about while trying to play some of the early missions. Honestly, if I hadn't been reviewing the game, I would have returned it to the place of purchase for a refund – Legacy is quite literally "broken" right out of the box since the player cannot fly their ship with the documented (and non-editable) control scheme. This is, in a word, completely inexcusable in a game released from the same publisher that gave us Oblivion, and should have been fixed prior to release
Now you, too, can be a Commodore, in charge of an entire star fleet…
However, I was reviewing the game, so I decided to keep at it. I cursed all the way, but I persevered, and did what any hard-core geek does when faced with a broken game: I got on the web.
I found a few Legacy forums, and wasn't surprised to find that I was not alone in my frustration with the game's wonky PC control layout. With their help, I figured out how to translate terms like "LS" (left stick) into PC-usable commands like "Shift+T". Of course! It's so obvious! No wonder the developer didn't bother to re-script the demo text or proof read the game documentation! The fault was obviously mine! After getting past this (admittedly huge) frustration, I found myself issuing commands to my fledgling fleet like… well, not like Cap'n Kirk, but at least I could actually make my ships attack on demand and warp around. Most of the time.
Combat is accomplished by a fairly intuitive combination of click-to-issue commands and good, old-fashioned WASD/mouse maneuvering. Players can perform complex tasks such as issuing individual attack commands to each of the four ships in their personal fleet, warping to a location half way across the map, assigning your repair crews to focus their attentions on your buckling hull plating and dynamically allocating ship's power away from the engines and the weapons and into the shields easily and with impressive speed. At any time, the player can jump right into any of their fleet's ships and assume manual control.
There are few opportunities in the Single-player campaign to fly non-Federation ships, unfortunately…
Be advised: you'll often need to assume direct command of your fleet's ships over the course of the single-player missions, due to the uneven AI employed by your virtual Captains. Often, when assigning move orders to your fleet, the PC-controlled ships will fly straight into planets or other obstacles, or will simply refuse to move at all, instead sitting where you last left them. Sometimes they'll go off on their own and attack other ships all on their own initiative. Other times, they'll just sit there, despite repeated "Attack my target" calls. Obviously, Starfleet training ain't what is used to be.
Luckily, when you do manage to get your fleet into position and into the thick of combat, the AI ships do a fairly good job of fighting. True, the Captains of your fleet seem to have the same sense of self-preservation as a common lemming (AI-controlled ships never, in my experience, retreat and must be manually commanded to pull back and repair, something that's all too easy to forget in the heat of battle), but overall they can move around and shoot their phasers and photon torpedoes with admirable skill. Sometimes you have to tell your fleet to attack half a dozen times before they clue in, but they usually do eventually. Just don't fail a mission part-way through, because, with no in-game save feature, failure equals a mission restart.
The game's single player storyline is fairly engaging, and features top-notch voice acting from many of the primary actors that brought the television series to life, and the game's visuals and sound effects are spot-on. Honestly, if Mad Doc had just resisted the temptation to rush Legacy out the door in time to cash in on Christmas and had taken the time to fix things like the completely sub-par control setup and the lack of an in-game save, Legacy would have been an A-list game, one that had the chance to break the curse that seems to follow the Star Trek franchise. As it is, it's still a solid "B" game with the potential to be a contender if and when the MOD community tightens it up.
The Single-player campaign tells the story of an insane Vulcan scientist and spans all of Trek's many generations…
This reviewer hopes that some of these issues will be fixed via patches, but if other licensed games are any indicator, I doubt we will. Either way, if you're a fan of the Trek universe, you'll probably have a good time flying your fleet into battle against Romulan War Birds and Klingon cruisers. Serious gamers, however, will need to deal with substantial frustrations to uncover the game's value.
Gameplay – 5 Control-wise, the PC version of Legacy is, unfortunately, completely broken right out of the box. The developers literally ported over the control tutorial text from the Xbox 360 without bothering to convert it to keyboard/mouse. Further, the player cannot create a custom control layout or even view a list of command options in a menu screen. This translates into a game that's literally unplayable unless you get on the web and find out the actual control scheme. There is also no in-game save (see the "Value" score for an exception to this), which is, honestly, a terrible thing for any PC game title. Last, even the printed documentation is incorrect. On the bright side, players that resist the urge to throw up their hands and return the game for a refund (like this reviewer would have done if I'd shelled out my hard-earned cash) will eventually be treated to a big, sprawling single-player campaign. Multiplayer is also available. While only Federation ships are available in the single-player campaign (I smell a sequel in the works), players can control Romulan, Klingon and even Borg ships in multiplayer.
Graphics – 8 The ships of Legacy are certainly fun to look at, as are the host of planets, nebulae, asteroids and other eye candy. Just be sure to crank down the Brightness slider to about 20% (seriously), as the default setting is eye-wateringly bright for some strange reason. Also, Legacy suffers from some of the same suspension-of-disbelief-breaking scaling gaffs that I've seen in other space sims, notably planets and suns that, instead of feeling, well, planet-sized, instead are only a scale mile or two across.
Sound – 8 The game's voice acting is particularly good, and of course all of the sound FX are dead-on, from the classic thrum of your phasers to the sickening crunch of your hull buckling as a photon torpedo slams home.
Value – 7 The single-player campaign, as good as it is, did not leave me wanting to replay it. Being a Trek game (and one plagued with user dissatisfaction over the aforementioned PC control wonkiness) leaves me wondering if the MOD community will wholeheartedly embrace this game. On an amusing note: the game's first MOD, an unlocking of the in-game save mode, is already out on the web. That's right kids – the devs actually disabled the ability to save in-game by default but left the code in place for people to find and reactivate… It's sort of like Hot Coffee, but without the sex and (hopefully) the Senate scrutiny! Unfortunately, actually using the MOD to save corrupted my save files, forcing me to restart the entire campaign (sigh).
Curve – 7 As nice as it was to return to the space-combat genre, particularly seeing as how this was a Trek game, I was, in the end, left a bit flat by Legacy's final presentation. If and when some of these issues are dealt with via patches or, even better, user-made modifications, then Legacy will be a sweet game, indeed. Until then, I'll keep the game installed and my fingers crossed. Modders, please, "…make it so"!