Though it was 15 years ago that Simon & Schuster Interactive published the first computer game that carried the official Star Trek license, the bulk of the company's software based on the various Star Trek shows and movies has focused mainly on delivering in-depth information - technical manuals, encyclopedias, episode guides, and so on. In fact, throughout the '90s, the company produced only two Star Trek games - both of which were tedious interactive movies that had lots of QuickTime video clips but not much actual gameplay. Thankfully, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Fallen is very different from its predecessors. It could have used more polish in some areas, and it sometimes relies too heavily on very straightforward play elements. But its outstanding production values, good story, engaging environments, and dozens of hours of gameplay prove that its shortcomings can be easily overlooked.
Your very first session with The Fallen will reveal one of its most interesting features: You can play as either Worf, Captain Sisko, or Major Kira. Each character has different standard-issue weapons, which is a subtle method for setting the game's difficulty level. Sisko and Kira both carry phasers that never run out of power (though they do have to recharge when they fire repeatedly or for prolonged periods), while Worf is stuck with a Bat'leth. It's a nice-looking blade, but it forces you to get up close and personal when you run out of ammo for other ranged weapons such as various high-tech rifles (phaser, disruptor, and pulse), plasma throwers, and grenade launchers. Another advantage that the handheld phasers provide is that they can be modulated, thus letting you fire through force fields as well as take down certain enemies without using up the ammo of more-powerful weapons. The Worf missions are structured so that there's no need to fire through force fields, but the absence of a rechargeable weapon demands that you put a premium on conserving ammo and contriving alternate methods of killing your foes.
Choosing your character also determines mission objectives and how the story is revealed. If you play as Sisko or Worf, your first mission revolves around the discovery of a damaged Bajoran ship and the arrival of a biomechanical race of space pirates called the Grigari. Worf fights off the Grigari's assault while Sisko beams to the Bajoran ship to rescue survivors. As Kira, the game begins with a trip to Bajor to visit Obanak Keelen, who was an operative in the Bajoran resistance during the Cardassian occupation. A Bajoran monk, Keelen worships the Pah-wraiths - the "True Prophets" - and believes the legendary red orbs of the Pah-wraiths can somehow bring the deities back to Bajor to usher in a new era of peace. As the game progresses, you soon learn that Keelen isn't the only person interested in these orbs: Everyone from the Federation to the Cardassians to the fearsome Jem'Haddar has a reason to track down the orbs.
It's only during the first mission that the three characters are in unique locations. After that, each character's mission takes place in the same general area, with the only differences being the objectives and the actual path you must take to reach them. This isn't a drawback, because the eight environments in the game offer enough visual variety to keep things interesting, and several of them are extremely large. And since the game ships with an editor that lets players create all-new adventures, The Fallen has a good deal of replay value - which is fortunate, since there's no multiplayer mode available in the game.
The Fallen also does a good job of creating a believable Star Trek ambience. Though Colm Meany (Chief O'Brien) and Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko) don't provide voice-acting performances for their characters, just about everybody else from Deep Space Nine is in the game - Bashir, Odo, Garak, Dax - and you can talk to them during missions to get hints on what you should do next. When you're at Deep Space Nine, you can get progress reports from all the major characters before dropping into Quark's bar for a little Ferengi insight on the situation. The characters you're interacting with even keep their eyes on you as they speak to you.
The Fallen uses an enhanced version of the Unreal Tournament engine, and the graphics are generally top-notch throughout the game. Graphical effects such as footprints in snow and phaser burns on corridor walls lend some realism to the action, and the character animations are extremely convincing throughout. But there's one big difference between the graphics in The Fallen and those in Unreal Tournament: The Fallen is played entirely from a third-person camera view, as the camera floats behind your character's back. Though there's nothing inherently wrong with this viewpoint, there are a couple of problems with its implementation in The Fallen. The first is that the perspective moves in relation to where you point the aiming cursor with your mouse, which means it's all too easy to find yourself staring up at the ceiling or down at the floor as you dash around corners or try to aim at far-away targets. You can decrease this effect by setting the mouse sensitivity to a lower point, but then it becomes far too cumbersome to turn around and fight enemies who approach from behind. Unfortunately, there's no option to turn around quickly with a single keystroke.
There's also a problem with target acquisition in The Fallen. An auto-aim function such as the one in The Fallen is pretty standard in third-person action games, but toggling it on takes away from the challenge, and robs you of the ability to kill several enemies at once by shooting explosive barrels of deuterium. If your foes are standing close enough to the barrel to be killed by the explosion, your auto-aim will target the enemies rather than the barrel. But if you turn off or tone down the auto-aim, you'll struggle to land shots even when enemies are relatively close because you'll be frantically trying to aim as you dodge their attacks - something that's much easier to do from a first-person perspective.
The controls can be especially difficult to use when you're engaged in hand-to-hand combat. It's true that The Fallen is billed as an action-adventure rather than as a pure shooter. But when you consider the game's heavy emphasis on combat, together with its garden-variety adventure elements - pushing the correct button sequence, locating access cards, and some tough jumps - you might find that the only thing the third-person perspective brings to The Fallen is the ability to see the backs of Star Trek characters. And since they're wearing life-support suits on several missions, you sometimes can't even tell which one you're looking at!
The Fallen has a couple of other minor flaws. Calling up your inventory and selecting the appropriate access card seems like a complicated process compared with other games that automatically recognize it when you have the correct item. Also, the fact that you can't name saved games or even see a snapshot of the location where you saved your game can be confusing. But these aren't serious problems, and once you get used to the controls, you'll find that the game's well-crafted story drives the action along rather well. So if you're looking to immerse yourself in a finely honed Star Trek gameworld - or if you just like plenty of action - then The Fallen is definitely worth checking out.