Developer: Mad Doc
Release Date: December 14, 2006
Between 10 feature films, hundreds of television episodes and dozens of characters, alien species and plotlines, a developer faces a galaxy-sized task any time it decides to put out a 'Trek title. Much like the famed Enterprise herself, the license has voyaged boldly into different genres, albeit with mixed results. Following first-person shooters, adventure titles, real-time strategy efforts, and space-combat sims; you might think that there's little space left to explore after the dozens of space-based games published over the years.
But with Bethesda, a company that understands how to handle games with immense scale, captaining its publishing, many Trekkies were confident that Star Trek: Legacy could carry the franchise to new territory. Indeed, when the folks from Maryland gave me a look at the game at E3, I was nearly sold on the premise alone: the opportunity to command dozens of Federation vessels from every era of Trek, along with those of the Klingons, Borg, and Romulans. It was the first Trek game to sport next-gen graphics. Add in four-player multiplayer over Xbox Live, and voice acting from Archer, Picard, Janeway, Sisko, and Kirk to add credibility, and everything seemed locked-on for a bona fide Trek game that fans could rally around.
Maybe Star Trek's other legacy, that of sub-par game releases, caught up to it. Maybe it caught a case of rush-to-retailitis for the holidays. Either way, when it's said and done, Legacy is one of the more disappointing Trek titles we've seen, not because it's bad — far from it. Simply stated, Legacy had real potential to break the mold for the mediocre Trek games of old, but fell out of warp somewhere short of its destination. It's still good, but with another month or two, it could've been great.
Whether you're a fan of slow-paced tactical affairs or not, the main qualm players will make against Legacy is its less-than-straightforward control template. In Star Trek, starships are sometimes manned by hundreds of personnel, with crew assigned to manage the engines, weapons, navigation, and other vital controls. In Legacy, you're expected to handle a fleet of four ships simultaneously — balancing each ship's orientation and current target, speed, power distribution, and allocating repairs on primary systems between your two hands. Oh, and you've got to fly the darn things, too.
The juggling act takes some considerable getting used to, and while your friendly AI is usually adept enough to survive most combat situations when you're helming another ship, the most frustrating component of micromanaging easily comes from having to assign repairs to each of your ships as they absorb hits. Each direction of the d-pad corresponds to one of your vessels, and a quick tap will bring them into view. From here, holding the left bumper will bring up the damage menu, where a handful of bars displays the operability of your basic systems. Manually having to tap the A button to order repairs on each individual system is a pain, and the feature feels as if it were simply added to give players more work. A repair interface where you could grant priority to different systems, like weapons or shields, would've made a lot more sense.
It's a shame that the primitive repair system actually inhibits your focus on battles as a whole, because they're otherwise very, very fun. Piloting million-ton battleships like the Enterprise-D takes a bit of patience (it's not like flying an agile X-Wing, believe me), but once you learn your aft from your starboard, you'll be firing photon torpedoes with ease. Space station raids comprise many of the missions, with other types ranging from escort, to ship retrieval, to attack-and-defend. Legacy deserves praise for not doing the same thing again and again, but along with the mission variety comes some substantial difficulty, significantly due to the aforementioned control template. Even if most ships can be dispatched by firing phasers while performing a loop to bring yourself about, and then unleashing a few photons on 'em, it's a inconsistently satisfying process with the right amount of tension that would've been made better with more intuitive interfacing.
With the other ships on your side, you'll find yourself doing more babysitting than piloting in some situations, especially during missions that call for you to divide your fleet. Simply put, a human touch is a great deal more capable at getting on a Romulan ship's flank than the friendly AI, which tends to be slow to react to even obviously volatile situations. The vastness of space doesn't lend itself toward having to bounce from one sector to another, micromanaging your Excelsior-class vessel's target and assigning repairs, then bounding back to your Constitution-class ship and picking up where you left off. What does help these instances of juggling is a handy overhead map that digests tactical info into a neatly gridded display that grants a real-time overview of the level. In many cases, you'll find yourself making use of the map to track and assign movement orders over the 3D interface.
Uncharacteristically, as a less conflict-based television series than one more frequently about relationships, ethics, and diplomacy, Star Trek: Legacy doesn't deliver a stellar storyline to make up for its floundering gameplay. Though each captain provides his or her voice, the lines are hampered by impassionate delivery that, with the exception of Kirk and Picard, sadly feel like a few actors simply collecting a paycheck. The plot itself involves a rogue Romulan in cahoots with the Borg, and as each era of the Trek universe continues forth, the rogue pops up once again in generally more dangerous and complicated situations. While it's relatively original and fits well within the premise of creating a "legacy" with your ships, fans of the shows and films might've liked to have seen recreations of some of the actual Trek battles we've come to love. Where's Khan? Where's Gul Dukat? The Borg Queen would've made sense, even. Khan's battle was even shown during a demonstration at last year's E3, so there's little excuse for including even a handful of retro missions as stand-alones.
Legacy's online modes also fall well short. Apart from functionality over Xbox Live being essentially broken when it originally released, there's a mere two modes, deathmatch and a cooperative setup where you battle waves of AI enemies — a replacement that hardly compensates for the lack of story co-op play, which would've made for a hell of a good time on Legacy's complex missions. We doubt it would've been too difficult to build in, either.
Ultimately, Star Trek: Legacy is remindful of the story of the Enterprise herself — a pristine, well-manned, well-intentioned vessel that sets out to break new ground for gaming but ultimately encounters strange nebulae and forces that disable her systems from time to time. Visually, Star Trek: Legacy impresses, with impressive ship models making near-perfect representations of the vessels, which very nearly serve as the characters of the game itself. At the same time, the lack of ship customization is a major omission. Online play provides a good diversion, but without any campaign co-op to speak of, it feels relatively empty. For every redeeming quality Legacy serves up, a mediocre one seems alongside it, but none more than a tiring, complicated control template that will scare away anyone who isn't a die-hard fan of the show.
More articles about Star Trek: Legacy