No introduction is necessary here, right? Star Trek: Bridge Crew has been teased and shown off and talked about for over a year now, and the dividing line between people who can't wait to work with friends to crew the USS Aegis, and the people who would rather not, already exists. And for good reason, because this game is exactly one thing — a multiplayer Star Trek simulator where you either communicate well and work together or your warp core turns your body into stardust as it explodes.
If that's not your idea of a good time, stop reading right now. Everyone else? Suit up, we've got a lot to talk about.
About this review
I've been playing the PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive versions of Star Trek: Bridge Crew, provided by Ubisoft, over the last 72 hours. At the time of this writing, I've logged 30 hours of gameplay across Single Player, Two Player, Three Player, and full Four Player experiences in both the USS Aegis and USS Enterprise.
Yep, even the lens flares are here
Star Trek: Bridge Crew The Basics
Welcome aboard the USS Aegis, a Federation Starship in the J.J. Abrams-led alternate Star Trek Universe commonly referred to as NuTrek or the Kelvin Timeline. Aegis is similar to Enterprise in a lot of ways, and since this is NuTrek everything is shiny and holographic and shiny. Just so, so shiny. Most of the panels you interact with are touch panels, but you interact with them by pulling triggers on your controllers so it gets a little lost in translation. Just don't accidentally activate Red Alert and you'll be fine.
Your Avatar in Bridge Crew by default is a Human woman, but if you like you can jump into the small Avatar Creator in the game and adjust this however you want. This Avatar Creator is a little odd, giving you basic toggle switches for gender and hair color and race (you can only choose between Human and Vulcan) but the facial features are this convoluted four-slider system where each slider impacts the other three sliders in some way. It takes a lot of fiddling around before you figure out exactly what is happening when you adjust each slider, but once you have a face you like you can pick a job you like. That part is way less confusing.
As Captain, you receive intel and mission briefings to pass on to the rest of the crew. It's also vital that you make important information visible to the rest of the crew on the Viewscreen, and direct your crew when faced with multiple objectives in a mission.
Helm, as you might suggest, drives the boat. You're responsible for keeping the nose of the ship pointed toward the enemy during combat so phasers can be fired, and you handle navigation both in-system and during Warp travel. In some situations, you can also be responsible for operating the Transporter and engaging in enemy system intrusion when in combat.
Tactical officers make all the weapons work. You're responsible for choosing the right time to use your weapons and shields, as well as scanning your environment and making split-second targeting decisions to either attack or rescue. In some situations, you can also be responsible for operating the Transporter and engaging in enemy system intrusion when in combat.
While solo gameplay in Star Trek: Bridge Crew is possible, it's incredibly challenging and often deeply frustrating.
Engineering gets to decide how effective Helm and Tactical are, by controlling how much power is available to engines, weapons, and shields. You're also responsible for keeping systems repaired, and deciding which repair crews need to be dispatched where. In some situations, you can also be responsible for operating the Transporter and engaging in enemy system intrusion when in combat.
Assuming you have three other people to play with, either through random matchmaking in the game or by inviting three of your closest Ubisoft Club (or PlayStation Network) friends to a private room, you each pick a station and stay there for the duration of the mission. Everyone can hear each other, everyone can see the arms and head movements of the other crew members, and everyone is vital to the success of every mission.
If you decide to play solo, or with less than three other people, the remaining positions are replaced by AI players. These AI players can be given orders by the Captain through a set of basic commands unique to each station, or you can choose to temporarily take over that station if you want something more precise. The only person who can take over any station in this situation is the Captain. If you choose one of the other three positions you can take over anything but the Captain's chair. Every mission must have someone take the position of Captain, or the mission will not start.
While solo gameplay in Star Trek: Bridge Crew is possible, it's incredibly challenging and often deeply frustrating. This game is designed for coordinated efforts across all four positions, and the AI commands you have access to simply aren't enough for every situation. You can get through the first couple of missions by yourself if you're not concerned with completing every objective, but you really want at least one other actual human to coordinate with to really enjoy this game.
Not exactly identical experiences
Star Trek: Bridge Crew PSVR vs Rift vs Vive
Ubisoft has done an amazing job releasing VR games on all three of these platforms that actually cross-platform play well, and Star Trek: Bridge Crew is no exception. Looking across the bridge, there's no way to know you're playing with people on other systems and the connection with each of them from my testing was superb.
That having been said, when playing between all of these systems there are some important differences to note. For starters, these games have very different install sizes. The PlayStation VR version of this game is half the size of Rift and Vive, with noticeable visual quality differences. Unlike other space games on PlayStation VR, like Eve: Valkyrie, jagged lines across Bridge hardware and a generally less crisp Viewscreen are constantly obvious. Even with a PlayStation 4 Pro powering the game, it's clear which headset is in third place.
Tracking with PlayStation Move controllers is also a challenge at times. Star Trek: Bridge Crew requires precision when moving between controls in combat, and unless conditions are perfect for the PlayStation Camera you don't really get that experience. Move Controllers also have the least comfortable trigger, so holding it down for extended periods of time quickly becomes uncomfortable. After a few hours, I found myself preferring the regular Dual Shock 4 controller over the Move Controllers when operating the Helm in particular.
When comparing the Rift and Vive experiences, even in a mutually seated game like this one, the room-scale experience provided by Vive shines. I found myself adjusting the position of the Rift Constellation Cameras several times before being truly happy with the experience. The potential for tracking loss because I was outside of the camera's viewing area due to either the edge of my desk or because I had leaned too far forward was a challenge I don't normally experience with Rift games because I'm usually standing in the middle of my room. Once I finally had things calibrated correctly there were no problems, but compared to the relative ease with which I jumped into the Vive it felt unnecessary.
I want more, and I'm not even finished yet
Star Trek: Bridge Crew Gameplay
I'm a big Star Trek Nerd, captial N and everything, so I went into this game ready to love it. And I do, though not really because it's a Star Trek game. In fact, it's actually a little hard for me to love because it's a Star Trek game, now that I've played it after hyping myself up for so long.
What really makes this game special is the communication and cooperation dynamic. You really need to work with your crewmates. It's not about flanking the enemy in separate ships or giving everyone separate guns to hold a position, you're all operating complex parts of the same big thing and if everyone is doing the job they were assigned and talking out how to approach the next challenge while it is happening this game is a blast. An entirely unique, challenging, hilarious blast.
As Captain, you must share information with your team and help coordinate a strategy. Engineering must choose the right times to put full power to weapons, or choose the right way to redirect power to get that slight edge when systems are damaged. Helm must act quickly and decisively to engage or evade or plot a course to the next objective. Tactical must give everyone as much information as possible quickly, and make the best decisions for offense and defense. Each of these positions are fairly slow going, with very little immediate gratification for your actions. It's the combined effort, the balanced solution you all reach together, that makes the game worth playing.
This balance is tested remarkably well in each of the campaign missions. Some lean towards more aggressive action, others on the ability to keep your ship signature low and navigate around anomalies in space. The campaign requires a lot of cooperation, and it just plain feels good when you get to the end of a mission. It's not a hunt for that constant adrenaline cycle, but a persistent cooperative push to the next collective goal.
Star Trek: Bridge Crew is also breathtakingly beautiful. I can't count how many times the whole crew stopped to look out of the special view camera mounted on the top of the ship, just to enjoy the vibrant colors all around us. Even with slightly less detail outside compared to Elite: Dangerous, just wandering around for a look at the universe is a lot of fun.
As I got into the whole Star Trek vibe, I became torn on just how much I enjoyed this game. There are odd gameplay limitations that don't line up with Star Trek, which can be a little frustrating. For example, there's functionally no difference between Impulse and Warp travel in this game. Both require Helm to plot a course, line the ship up on the correct vector, and punch the throttle on the side of the console. Once you've done so, Helm has no control until you reach the objective.
It doesn't really feel like the Star Trek games of the past, even though part of me feels like it should. I think that helps elevate the experience quite a bit.
You can't hazardously decide to Warp behind an enemy from the other side of a planet or use Impulse to slingshot around a planet using its gravity or any of the other crazy pseudo-science things you see in this universe. Some of that is to be expected, but it feels like a lot more could be done with Impulse in particular. The same goes for System Intrustion, where you can disable engines or isolate a shield frequency or interrupt weapons targeting but there's little to show for when you actually do these things. You get a progress bar, and that's it. No confirmation from one of the other AI on the bridge, or any call to take advantage of that successful breach. It just sort of happens, and you quickly move on.
But in a weird way, that's what makes Star Trek: Bridge Crew so compelling. This isn't a great Star Trek game, by which I mean it's not a nonstop trip through the shows and movies you already know and love. Commander Sisko or Captain Picard are not going to randomly show up. There are no grand speeches about Vulcan superiority or Klingon tradition. Everyone on this ship is new, and the Kelvin Timeline is also relatively new. It doesn't really feel like the Star Trek games of the past, even though part of me feels like it should. I think that helps elevate the experience quite a bit.
If you want a hardcore nostalgia trip, the original USS Enterprise has been recreated in painstaking detail to offer that experience. And the difference between playing on these two ships while accomplishing largely the same goals couldn't be more extreme. The original Enterprise show was before complex displays and didn't include things like elaborate controls for steering the ship. You operate a bunch of physical buttons and switches which lack any obvious formatting from a modern perspective. It's fascinating, and a unique kind of challenging compared to the Aegis, but be sure to check it out after you've had some time to familiarize yourself with how the game works inside and out.
I wish everyone had VR right now
Star Trek: Bridge Crew Final Thoughts
Overall, I love this game. Star Trek: Bridge Crew is unlike any game I have ever played, and it keeps me coming back for more. This game should be in every VR demo station on the planet, because this is the kind of VR game that sells headsets. It's the kind of experience you go to a VR arcade for, just so your friends can all be in the same room while playing this game.
But at the same time, I want more from Star Trek: Bridge Crew. I need Shuttle missions where everyone is cramped and resources are limited because there are no repair crews. I want more missions in the Aegis, but I also want more of the classic Trek timeline as well.
I want to crew the USS Defiant, complete with power problems which could tear the ship apart and cloaking tech that isn't 100% stable while fighting half a dozen Jem'Hadar fighters. I want to make a daring escape from a Borg Sphere, or be faced with figuring out what thing we found in the last mission could have caused a transporter malfunction which fused my Science and Morale officers into a single being. What about ships from other races, Ubisoft? I need a Klingon Warbird in my life yesterday. The Star Trek Nerd in me isn't nearly satisfied, and all I can do is hope the game is popular enough to justify DLC for even one of these things.
But if you like space games, if multiplayer puzzles are your thing, or if you just really want to be on a Federation Starship and have another reason to talk like the people in the shows you grew up with, this is your game. If you're more into the constant action of FPS or typical Flight Sim games, try this anyway. It's a unique kind of challenging, and you'll probably love it.
- Fantastic multiplayer gameplay
- Beautiful environments to explore
- Plenty of challenging content
- Single player gameplay is kind of tedious
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