Creating a truly great adventure game based on Star Trek is no easy task. First, there's the issue of paying God-knows-what for the license. Then there's the problem of trying to please the fans, many of whom have strong, and disparate, convictions about what an interactive Star Trek experience should be like. Finally, you've got to pull off a tricky balancing act: You must provide enough gameplay to satisfy serious gamers (who'll be first in line to buy the game) but not so much as to alienate the rest of the millions of Star Trek fans - many of whom are presumably gaming novices. It's a tough job all right - and if you need proof, just look at all the failed attempts over the last four or five years. And so, it comes as no huge shock that Hidden Evil is yet another in the long line of Star Trek games that fail to deliver on the potential of their license.
However, this isn't a case of a developer failing to achieve lofty goals; instead, many gamers will walk away from Star Trek: Hidden Evil with the uneasy feeling that developer Presto Studios didn't even give it a good college try. Not only does Hidden Evil include just a handful of gameplay features, but it also manages to botch what little there is to actually see and do.
Hidden Evil doesn't seem so bad at first. You play as Ensign Sovok, a human raised by a Vulcan caretaker, who joined Starfleet Academy when he failed to qualify as a student in the Vulcan Science Academy. After being assigned to a base created by Starfleet to monitor the creation of a Son'a colony on the planet of Ba'ku, Sovok is ordered to assist Captain Picard in his investigation of some mysterious relics discovered on the planet. Once there, you're faced not only with uncovering the mysteries of an ancient civilization, but suppressing a rebellion by the newly arrived Son'a - only to find that those nasty Romulans have also shown up.
As you guide Sovok around the planet and through the underground excavation areas from a constantly changing third-person perspective, you'll probably be impressed by the rendered background scenery and crisp character graphics. While the lack of an auto-aim feature makes combat an awkward affair, it's not a big problem, because there's only a moderate amount of gunplay during your time on Ba'ku. You'll also have to solve a couple of interesting puzzles in order to free Picard from a sticky situation and put an end to the Romulans' plans for galactic hegemony.
But that's not to say you'll think Hidden Evil is gaming nirvana during your stint on the planet. The character animation during dialogue sequences is singularly unimpressive, the rapidly changing perspective can be disorientating at first, and even the most forgiving Trekker will wonder why Data and Picard are supposedly featured in the game when in fact you see them for only about 90 seconds. Even so, the mix of problem-solving sequences, action sequences, and lush background graphics is good enough during this first segment to give you hope for the many hours of gameplay you might assume will follow.In fact, Hidden Evil plummets like a rock the moment Sovok departs Ba'ku. The rest of the game takes place on a Romulan space station and on the Enterprise itself. At this stage, gameplay consists almost entirely of navigating mazelike ship interiors, incapacitating guards with phaser/disruptor fire or Vulcan nerve pinches, collecting pass cards, and shooting critters. Maybe that wouldn't be so bad, if it were fun and it lasted more than a few hours. But the bitter truth is that it's rarely fun or engaging - which means you probably won't mind when it all abruptly screeches to a halt with one of the weakest endings ever slapped onto the tail end of an adventure game.
Maybe it's a good thing Hidden Evil is so short - at least that means a few tolerant souls will get to see the whole paper-thin story. But combat against the aliens roaming the space station and the Enterprise is essentially an exercise in desk-pounding frustration. Sovok turns so sluggishly you'd think he'd been drinking defective synthahol, and you'll curse as you watch him take unrelenting punishment as he slowly wheels to face an enemy and squeezes off a feeble, and often errant, blast of phaser fire. Letting you use the Vulcan nerve pinch seems like a great idea, until you find yourself constantly bumping into your intended victims because of the clumsy (and nonconfigurable!) control system. And furthermore, the only real puzzle left at this point is at the end of the game, and solving it is more a matter of trial and error than a test of your deductive skills, because there's no hint given to the solution.
Perhaps the biggest reason Hidden Evil fails so utterly is because it never fully takes advantage of all the characters and devices that make it a Star Trek game in the first place. There's only one instance where you actually interact with Data and Picard; the rest of the time they're merely voices you hear over your communications badge. You use the tricorder just a few times and almost exclusively in the first few hours of play. Combat is uniformly uninteresting - it feels more like a cheap way to camouflage just how shallow the gameplay really is, rather than a vital and enjoyable part of the experience.
As the wholly unexciting events in Hidden Evil draw to a close, and you behold the game's weary and uninspired finale, you'll think it was either shoved onto retail shelves before it was finished or that it would never have been a good game anyway. In any case, although Activision and Presto Studios might have intended to satisfy both hard-core gamers and Trekkers who are just casual gamers, the end result will leave both kinds of fans with a bad taste in their mouths that's likely to linger for a long time.