Last year's Star Trek: Voyager Elite Force was a surprise success--who would have guessed that one of the best first-person shooters of 2000 would also be a Star Trek game? Elite Force, along with a couple of other high-quality Star Trek games released during the same relative time period, helped Star Trek games recover from an old stigma--since, over the years, most games based on the TV shows fared poorly. But Elite Force was a great game on any terms--it looked and sounded excellent and offered a lot of variety in its interesting single-player storyline. However, a major criticism of the game was that it ended too quickly. In light of this, the decision by Activision and developer Raven Software to create an expansion pack to Elite Force seems like an obvious one. Ideally, it would give fans of Elite Force more of the same sorts of tightly scripted, highly varied single-player scenarios that they enjoyed in the original game. It would also expand upon the game's multiplayer mode, which was fairly simple. In reality, the anonymous Elite Force Expansion Pack does only the second half of this: It introduces a number of new multiplayer options. On the other hand, its single-player features are the antithesis of the original single-player levels. The open-ended "Virtual Voyager" option offered in the expansion simply lets you go on a scavenger hunt within a 3D re-creation of the TV show's flagship. Some aspects of this may be enjoyable to fans of the TV series. However, it's not likely to be of much fun or of much use to those who enjoyed Elite Force for any reason beyond its source material.
As noted, the Elite Force Expansion Pack divides its supplemental content between additions to the single-player and multiplayer modes of Elite Force. The five new multiplayer options offer some interesting variations to the standard deathmatch (or rather, holomatch), team holomatch, and capture-the-flag multiplayer modes available in the original Elite Force. Some of these are more successful, and a lot of the new features are similar to those found in other multiplayer shooters. The new options include the action-hero mode, in which one player packs more weapons, health, and overall power than other players in the free-for-all match. An opposing player who successfully eliminates the action hero earns five frags instead of just one and also gains the action hero's enhanced abilities. The basic problem with this mode lies in the fact that a relatively good player will most likely remain action hero indefinitely--the extra advantages given to this player include the ability to regenerate health, so unless other players successfully gang up against him, he'll reign supreme.
Assimilation is a team-based game mode in which one side plays as the Borg and must try to assimilate the opposing side. Assimilated players respawn as Borg, but the underdogs can still win the day if they manage to bring down the Borg queen--whose role is randomly assigned to one of the Borg players. The Borg play differently from regular characters--they move more slowly, have a teleport ability, and are limited to a couple of basic attacks. This mode lends itself to pitched battles, so it can be quite fun.
The new disintegration option and specialties option can be applied to any of the three types of multiplayer matches. In disintegration, all players are armed with a souped-up Federation compression rifle, whose shots will kill any other player instantly. You'll die quickly and frequently in this mode--whether that's fun is questionable, but there's no denying you need to choose your shots carefully if you're playing in a disintegration match. The specialties option lets you choose a specialization for your character, as in multiplayer shooter mods like Team Fortress Classic for Half-Life. The six available specialties range from sniper to medic and essentially lock down the types of weapons you'll be able to use, as well as grant a few specific abilities. Enabling specialties can help make capture-the-flag matches more interesting--for instance, the fast but weak infiltrator class makes a great flag carrier, but it tends to require backup from players with more firepower. However, the specialties mode isn't so great for free-for-alls or standard team holomatches, as most players will simply opt for either the sniper or the heavy weapons classes.
The Elite Force Expansion Pack also adds an option called elimination, in which defeated players sit out for the rest of the round. A similar dynamic creates very intense team battles in the extremely popular mod Half-Life: Counter-Strike, but not being able to respawn just doesn't seem to fit in an Elite Force holomatch.
As a holdover from Elite Force (and Quake III Arena, whose 3D engine was used in the making of the game), you can play any of the multiplayer modes with and against computer-controlled bots. However, the bots are ill equipped to handle capture-the-flag and especially the new assimilation and specialties options. Still, it can be fun to hone your reflexes against computer opponents. Unfortunately, another holdover from Elite Force is that you must run a separate executable file to play the Elite Force Expansion Pack in multiplayer mode, which is inconvenient.
Though they aren't outstanding, the multiplayer additions in the Elite Force Expansion Pack are basically enjoyable. You'll be able to play these on more than 20 new maps, many of which are designed specifically for capture-the-flag. Like the holomatch maps from the original Elite Force, these are noticeably Star Trek-themed, which gives them a fairly distinct look, compared with maps found in many other shooters. Elite Force's impressive arsenal of energy weapons (which doesn't change in the expansion) also makes these matches seem very quick.
Unlike the multiplayer additions in the expansion, the new single-player Virtual Voyager mode is more difficult to justify. It just lets you run around the various decks of the Voyager, carrying an ugly tricorder device that simply identifies the names of characters and objects. It's easy to get lost in the uniformly gray corridors of the Voyager--truth be told, the design of the vessel doesn't seem particularly aesthetic or intuitive. Though this virtual tour lets you interact with the crew of Voyager, which can usually be found in its respective stations, at best it seems like all you're doing is pestering these poor characters--who seem to either be busy or simply standing around, minding their own business. You do get to access some intelligence files regarding the crew and other aspects of the Star Trek universe, but these encyclopedic reference materials are suitable only for die-hard fans of the show, much like the entire Virtual Voyager mode. Then again, it's these fans who'll be most disappointed by the inability to have meaningful interactions with the crew or with any of Voyager's stations or equipment. In all fairness, Elite Force is a shooter, not a simulation or a role-playing game--but the Virtual Voyager option is none of these things.
Actually, it does attempt to be a shooter when you get to the holodeck and try out the four new single-player missions. Unfortunately, all of these are poor. One of them at least has a good concept: In it, you play as Voyager lieutenant Tom Paris' holodeck alter ego, Captain Proton, a '50s-era pulp science-fiction superhero. He must traverse an entirely black-and-white level to save the lovely Constance Goodheart from the evil Dr. Chaotica. As charming as the idea may sound, in practice, the Captain Proton level is even blander than its color palette--you just kill one basic type of enemy grunt over and over while navigating a simple environment, until you reach the disappointing showdown with Chaotica and his evil pet robot. At least you can finish the whole level in less than half an hour, and better yet, you can use this mode's black-and-white character models in multiplayer. If the Captain Proton mission is bad, then the other three are terrible. One is a mission inside a Klingon base. The confusing level design and the predictable firefights are much less satisfying than anything in the original Elite Force. The holodeck also sports a boring old shooting gallery, where you blast little moving targets for no reason. Finally, there's a "holodeck goes wrong" mission in which you get to kill stupid aliens in a garden until they stop respawning.
For the most part, the Elite Force Expansion Pack has the same high-quality production values as in the original game. The blandness of some of the single-player areas does detract from this to some extent, and some of the new dialogue in the game sounds muffled, though at least all the characters from the show are voiced by the actors who portray their real-life counterparts. Even actress Jeri Ryan, who didn't provide the voice for her character, Seven of Nine, in the original Elite Force, recorded the speech in the expansion. She even rerecorded all of Seven's dialogue from Elite Force, which is obtainable in a free, downloadable patch.
The Elite Force Expansion Pack ultimately lacks the focus of the original game. The single-player Virtual Voyager mode is more interesting in principal than it is in practice, while the new multiplayer options are mostly worthwhile, though not out of the ordinary nor out of the realm of free downloadable mods. Elite Force was a great game in itself--the fact that it was based on a TV show had little bearing on its actual quality and merely gave it a more-specific appeal. However, your enjoyment of half of the expansion pack's content depends upon how much you enjoy Voyager the show, as the expansion lacks many of its predecessor's great qualities but does leave the Star Trek context intact. Otherwise, the Elite Force Expansion Pack is suitable for those who couldn't get enough of the original game's multiplayer holomatch. These players in particular will find that the expansion's $20 retail price can be suitably justified by some of its new features.