Star Trek: Voyager Elite Force is an outstanding first-person shooter based on the most recent Star Trek TV series. Star Trek fans shouldn't be alone in experiencing the game's exciting story-driven single-player campaign that pits the Voyager crew against Klingon scavengers, the Borg menace, and other sinister forces - as well as its solid multiplayer mode.
Elite Force is consistently action-packed, but nevertheless, it features a variety of settings that will challenge and impress even some of the most experienced first-person shooter enthusiasts. Best of all, these encounters are linked together seamlessly - in fact, there hasn't been a shooter with such a well-designed, albeit short, single-player mode since Opposing Force, Gearbox's great expansion to Valve Software's groundbreaking 1998 game, Half-Life. Comparing Half-Life and Opposing Force to Elite Force is an obvious gesture, mostly because the older games' influence is so evident in Elite Force's level design. Elite Force borrows Half-Life's convention of placing health and energy stations throughout the course of the game; and more significantly, the main character in Elite Force wears a special hazard suit much like the one that Half-Life protagonist Gordon Freeman wears. Just as in Valve's game, this hazard suit - standard issue for each member of Lieutenant Tuvok's special forces team in Elite Force - helps you suspend disbelief as it absorbs damage and reports health and ammunition ratings. It's the reason your enemies can't just kill you in one hit; meanwhile, your powerful energy weapons can literally disintegrate most of your foes on contact.
The arsenal in Elite Force consists of nine different good-looking, powerful weapons, each of which has two distinct modes of fire. The weapons range from the standard-issue Federation phaser and compression rifle to the devastating photon burst, whose explosive photon-torpedo-like attack can reduce your enemies to dust. All the weapons in Elite Force are high tech, and each produce bright, impressive effects, though the weapon models themselves don't look especially interesting. But the weapons sound good, and their alternate modes of fire either give them additional functionality (as with the grenade launcher, which can alternatively launch a sticky proximity mine) or more deadly attack modes that cost proportionally more energy or ammunition. Some veterans of first-person shooters - particularly fans of Raven Software's own Soldier of Fortune - might initially believe that the arsenal in Elite Force lacks weapons that have the same sort of satisfying impact as the shotguns and chainguns of classic shooters like Doom and Quake. Meanwhile, die-hard Star Trek fans may be reluctant to accept some of Elite Force's heavy-duty weapons as definitive Star Trek technology. In any case, on closer inspection, you'll certainly agree that the game's weapon designs are well designed - they each seem strong and useful, and yet all the guns are sufficiently elegant or alien that they do seem as if they're suitable to the Star Trek universe.
Some of the battles in Elite Force are particularly intense, because you're not the only one shooting the bad guys. Oftentimes you'll have one or more crewmates in tow, who will help you out in battle. In the interest of gameplay, they don't do too much of the real work, just as your enemies will be much more inclined to fire on you than at your squad. But these characters are surprisingly responsive, and they really give you the sense that you're not doing all the fighting by yourself. This is especially true when their special skills come into play in the game's many scripted sequences - you may have to provide cover for an engineer as he hacks into a heavily defended security system or complete a multitiered objective simultaneously with several crewmembers as you keep in contact via your communicators.
The crewmembers are a welcome asset in some of the game's large-scale battles. In one early sequence, you burst through a doorway to take part in a pitched gunfight that involves several of your crew and a host of Klingon foes who fire at each other from behind barricades. This is a memorable but not uncommon type of sequence in Elite Force - the game seems to use an ideal combination of scene scripting and artificial intelligence routines to create unique fights that play out differently on multiple trials. Elite Force even has several scenes in between the main combat missions in which you're aboard the Voyager to recuperate, rearm yourself, and discuss the situation with your crew. These parts of the game not only do a great job of modeling the deck of the Voyager, but also help make the game seem consistent and realistic, rather than merely like a series of shooter levels. Being able to chat with the Voyager's crew in between missions, either before a briefing or in the locker room, lends the game a personal touch.
Unfortunately, these sequences do point to a few shortcomings that are particularly problematic in light of how good the game is in general. Specifically, the enemy artificial intelligence in Elite Force is sometimes lacking. Some of your foes might stand idle as you fire on them, while others might move in nonsensical patterns as soon as they notice you. In addition, over the course of Elite Force you'll face several encounters in which your enemies will instantly beam into the area, a device that the designers sometimes seem to use a little too frequently. Although teleportation is certainly plausible in the context of Star Trek, it can get frustrating to have to constantly contend with enemies that materialize out of thin air.
Any such frustration won't last long, because most of the missions in Elite Force are paced very briskly. You'll face new foes, find new weapons, encounter new challenges, and uncover new elements of the plot frequently yet unpredictably enough. The game pits you against some of the most popular Star Trek villains, including the Klingons and the Borg - along with several interesting new additions to the Star Trek mythos. Unfortunately, the campaign is fairly short and won't be very difficult for shooter veterans; and all the action takes place in rather close quarters. It's disappointing that the campaign is so short because it's generally so well done. Clearly, the designers' time went into creating high-quality action sequences, rather than just a lot of them - but you'll still wish there were more.
Throughout the game, the highly detailed 3D characters, including all the regular cast of the show, are easily distinguishable and also have fairly articulate facial expressions as they speak their lines convincingly. Elite Force even gives you the option to play as either a male or a female character - Alexander or Alexandria Munro, both "Alex" for short. Both the male and female alter egos are confident and charismatic characters, and the game's dialogue changes slightly depending on which of the characters you choose. Elite Force also features a great interactive tutorial that takes place in the Voyager's holodeck, whose realistic holographic projections create a makeshift obstacle course that you're instructed on how to traverse.
The holodeck is also prominent in Elite Force's multiplayer mode, which is in many ways just as impressive, and as clever, as the game's single-player mode. Dubbed the holomatch, this mode is presented as a combat-training simulation aboard the Voyager's holodeck. As such, the designers have been able to take some liberties in creating themed levels that you might not expect from a Star Trek game - among these are a medieval castle and an Old West ghost town, in addition to the more typical settings like Borg and Klingon ships. You can square off in the multiplayer levels against computer-controlled bots of variable skill levels, or against human opponents in deathmatch, capture-the-flag, or other standard multiplayer action modes.
Since the game uses id Software's state-of-the-art Quake III: Arena engine, the multiplayer combat in Elite Force is predictably smooth and fast - and it's also a lot of fun because of the good graphics and diverse levels and character models, as well as the game's fairly distinct emphasis on focused energy weapons, which require precise accuracy. The holomatch does have some problems - it's somewhat cumbersome to have to load a separate executable file to play the multiplayer game, but apparently this is because some of the game's 3D architecture is streamlined in multiplayer. Likewise, the game's multiplayer weapon balance seems skewed in favor of the rapid-firing guns like the tetryon pulse distruper, since players can move and dodge about so quickly; and some of the maps are noticeably more interesting and more complex than others.
But such criticisms are presented largely to convey the sense that, in a perfect world, Elite Force would have been better. However, given that most Star Trek games - and, in fact, most first-person shooters - aren't actually very good, then it's easy to see all of what makes Elite Force so special. It's undoubtedly one of the best Star Trek games to date, and its only rival in its genre so far this year is, unsurprisingly, Raven's own shooter, Soldier of Fortune.