Even though plenty of Star Trek episodes have featured Wild West-style shootouts, gung-ho action probably isn't what comes to mind when you think of the long-running sci-fi series. But Star Trek: Voyager Elite Force managed to justify setting a first-person shooter in the Star Trek universe, and it featured enough story to vary the game's pacing. The upcoming sequel, Star Trek Elite Force II, has come along way since we saw it last fall, and it's looking like Activision's plan to make the sequel bigger and more varied is likely to pay off. The game's release is only a couple of months away now, and it's set to hit beta in just two weeks' time.
No matter what you think of Star Trek, it's clear that the property has given the game's designers at Ritual plenty of material to draw from. Elite Force II seems to incorporate content more directly inspired by the recent movies (including recognizable voice acting from Patrick Stewart and others and levels based on many of the Enterprise E's decks), and it draws on ubiquitous tricorder for many new gameplay elements, but there's also a lot of new stuff created for the game that went through the Paramount approval process. In addition to a bunch of new weapons, many of which aren't simple beam weapons, there are two new humanoid races and a race of engineered creatures that play an essential role in the story.
The original game had you assume the role of a top operative on the Hazard Team, an elite security force formed on the Voyager to deal with some of the extreme threats that ship faced while isolated in the Delta quadrant. But at the end of the Voyager series, the ship did make it back to Federation space, and that's where you'll spend most of your time in Elite Force II. However, the first mission does correspond with the series finale of Voyager, and the Hazard Team must go on board the Borg sphere and neutralize it. After their return to Earth, the Voyager's crew gets reassigned to various posts throughout Starfleet, but an incident brings the Hazard Team to Picard's attention, and it's reassembled in time to deal with some dramatic new threats.
One of the missions we saw featured the team's first encounter with the exomorphs, or at least the little ones. The Enterprise locates the USS Dallas, which recently left an Attrexian space station but apparently ran into some kind of trouble. By the time you get to it, it's a dead ship, with holes in the hull and no gravity. At this point, you have to explore the ship, which has more than a few bodies floating around, and to get the power back on you'll solve some basic tricorder puzzles that involve navigating some narrow Jeffries tubes to the right locations, pulling out the tricorder, and manipulating a simple representation of energy conduits until the power gets from point A to point B. Restoring the power involves a series of such puzzles, but this is only one of many examples of how the tricorder will be used in the game. It also features a minimap of the area with the relative positions of your squadmates, and it can be used to scan walls for weak spots that can be blown open to find either mission-critical passages or secret areas. But you don't need to worry about long stretches between action sequences, and these initial levels were recently modified somewhat to add more action early on.
Save the Enterprise
According to Activision producer Doug Pearson, Elite Force II is 150 percent as long as the first game. There's a total of 11 environments, and in addition to the indoor ship and space station missions you'd expect, there are a number of outdoor missions set on the distant worlds the Enterprise will visit. But certainly the most recognizable locations will be those on the Enterprise itself--the bridge, engineering, sick bay, the library, and the holodeck are all represented.
There'll be plenty of occasion to get a close-up look at the Enterprise, but it won't be a peaceful sight-seeing tour. Fairly early on, the Enterprise is boarded by a hostile force. After you fight your way to engineering, things start getting interesting, and there are actually two ways to diffuse the situation you'll find there. This is one example of the multiple options built into some levels, and the optimal method will definitely make for easier going later in the mission. Eventually, you'll make it out onto the ship's hull, as you try to disable some shielded sabotage devices that are hacking into the ship. The low gravity isn't a problem for you once you don an EVA suit, but it does look pretty cool to see fallen enemies float up into space. Finally, near the end of the mission, the gameplay takes an unexpected turn--since the ship's main systems are down, it's up to you to manually control a pulse phaser battery and take down incoming fighters and an attacking capital ship. There are some other minigames to find by collecting secrets, which give you points that add up to unlock specific areas.
The majority of the game is focused on straight story-based action, and many of the weapons at your disposal are entirely new. There are 11 weapons in addition to the standard hand phaser and compressor rifle, the phaser rifle commonly seen in the recent Star Trek movies. Many of the weapons--from the Klingon batleth blade to the minigun-like tetreon and the shotgun-like assault rifle--have conventional uses. However, the heavy weapons do stand out. One of the most menacing is the quantum burst gun, which looks like a shoulder-mounted quantum torpedo launcher and allows you to partially guide its damaging projectiles with the mouse after they launch. The Romulan RAD gun also packs a big punch, as its rocket-like projectiles not only contaminate an area with radiation, but they also contaminate nearby creatures and objects to the extent that they can in turn contaminate others. Finally, there's the arc gun, which sends out an electrical pulse as its main attack and fills an area up with gas that can be ignited as its secondary attack.
Taking a look around the first Borg environment is a good way to notice how detailed Elite Force II is, even though it uses the aging Quake III engine. There are several more character variants than in the first game, so you'll notice several varieties of species, even Klingons, among the robotic legions. The environmental detail and the size of the locations have also been bumped up a couple of notches. Most importantly, while the game's visuals aren't exactly raising the bar, the art looks good, particularly for the many varieties of exomorphs we've seen.
Under Activision's close guidance, Ritual has taken the Elite Force series in several new directions with Elite Force II. Without getting hands-on time with the game, it's hard to tell how much the minigames and puzzle elements will add to what's mainly a story-based shooter, but it seems that there's more than enough action to keep any fan of run-and-gun shooters happy. Star Trek Elite Force II is due out in June.