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Star Trek: Elite Force 2 Review
developer: Ritual Entertainment
PIII 600, 128MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 1.5GB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Jun 25, 03 (released)
|» All About Star Trek: Elite Force 2 on ActionTrip|
(It's a hard life, being both a gamer and a Trekkie. Because, for as long as I could remember, every Star Trek game has been horrible. I mean bad upon bad. It was almost a curse - if you planned on making a game based on Star Trek, it was almost a given that the game would reek of horrible gameplay and wasted potential. Then, I picked up Star Trek: Elite Force, and in one fell swoop, the mold was broken. Finally, a good Star Trek game. And now, The Sequel! Does it fall into the Star Trek Sequel Rule? - Six)
Star Trek games have had an unlikely renaissance in the last several years. With titles like Elite Force and Bridge Commander paving the way, it's clear that the license has proved to be very successful both in giving inspiration for designers and drawing millions of Trek fans around the world. For some, mixing FPS games and the Star Trek universe might've seemed a bit awkward at first, but Raven Software proved the combination could work. The original game received critical acclaim and was accepted by both shooter and Trek fans alike.
Several phrases come to mind... none of which I intend to use.
After business hours you usually run into hotties like this one.
A sequel was on the cards, and sure enough, several years later we get Elite Force 2. The much-anticipated sequel was developed by the folks at Ritual Entertainment. Well, actually, one of the teams at Ritual. They were laid off immediately after finishing the project. Does that mean that the executives at Ritual didn't like Elite Force 2? I don't think so. The entire incident obviously has to do with the financial aspects of game development. Ritual still has two teams working on AAA projects (Condition Zero being one of them) and they obviously thought that a third team was too costly to have around. But what does this means for the people who will buy Elite Force 2? All paranoia aside, it doesn't mean that the game is in any way lacking; it's more of an indication of the kind of future support we might expect for it. But, let us not jump to any conclusions quite yet.
In Elite Force 2 players are once again cast in the role of Hazard Team Commander, Lieutenant Alexander Munro. Hazard Team is the Star Trek version of Delta Force if you will - a team of highly trained individuals set to tackle the most difficult and dangerous missions that present a clear and present danger to the Federation. The story takes us from the Voyager back to the Class E Federation vessel Enterprise - after successfully accomplishing a mission against the Borg (not a simulated one like in the original game) Lt. Munro and the rest of the team go back to the Starfleet Academy only to find out that their services will no longer be needed and that the team will be dismissed and its members assigned to serve in the more peaceful regions of the Federation space.
Lt. Munro spends the next two years of his life training young cadets and "playing war" while trouble continues to brew in the rest of the known and unknown universe. Luckily, our hero gets an unexpected break when the legendary Captain Picard reunites the Hazard Team and puts them all under his command aboard the USS Enterprise, giving Lt. Munro and his team a chance to literally make the history of the Next-Generation universe.
Naturally, plenty of (bad) things have happened while the Hazard team was out of service and things begin to unravel for the Hazard team as they investigate a very strange alien attack on the Federation ship "Dallas."
One of the characteristics of the original game that attracted me so much to it was the fact that this was in many ways a big budget project. The same can be said about Elite Force 2. For the most part the designers have kept the Star Trek universe fairly authentic and it's apparent that a lot of money went into finding the right actors, and making sure some of the intricate details of the Star Trek culture are preserved in the game.
On the other hand, Elite Force 2 is unique in a sense that it's not particularly unique, and that it, in many ways, breaks away from the classic Star Trek mould. There are a lot of elements in the game that have been borrowed from various other famous sci-fi universes. Lt. Munro will visit strange alien bars that just scream "Star Wars" from the minute he steps in, and the idea to introduce branching paths in the plotline depending on your actions, as well as to have two or more girls overtly flirt with you while you are being very reluctant to decide, have clearly been taken from the Wing Commander; Wing Commander IV in particular - the last Wing Commander game made by Chris Roberts. There are even some elements from Ridley Scott's Alien, with the Tricorder showing life signs represented as red dots on a miniature 3D map, and the design and behavior of the alien creatures being similar to those in the movie.
In regards to the story, it is engaging enough and its pace is very good (with some nice twists and turns), but you must question its originality. Without giving too much away I'm just going to say that it basically revolves around everyday, contemporary political and military subjects like warring factions, separatists, weapons of mass destruction and peace keeping forces, all wrapped up in a neat little Star Trek universe and seasoned with some Trek-talk. I remember stating that the plot in the original game was worthy of a Star Trek TV episode; this one is, too, in a way; the direction of the scenes is superb and worthy of a decent Hollywood movie, the voice acting is phenomenal and so is the character development. Some of the chatter of the Enterprise crew is hilarious and it's quite fun to eavesdrop from time to time. The cinematic experience in Elite Force 2 is possibly the game's greatest asset and it surpasses the one in the original. That does not, however, justify the fact that once you take away all of its fancy cinematic qualities and sci-fi terminology what you're left with is a lengthy CNN report with all of its earthly protagonists and familiar developments.
But, even so, the story and its colorful characters (the Klingons, Ferengi, Vulcans, etc.); great directing, entertaining and sometimes witty dialogue, expressive voice acting and masterfully paced plot will be one of the main reasons why you'll want to finish Elite Force 2. That feeling I got when I was playing the original; of being a part of a Trek episode; was even stronger in the sequel. The designers had a decent budget and it shows. Even though you might question the game's originality you cannot question the skilful fusion of cinematic and gameplay elements that present the strongest quality of Elite Force 2.
Unfortunately, not all elements of Elite Force 2 are as good as its cinematic appeal. In terms of gameplay mechanics the game is clearly a mixed bag of blessings.
An exotic four-eyed dancer. Is there anything more beautiful?
And so, he finally got around to asking her out.
For all intents and purposes, the in-game arsenal is very standard for a FPS game. Sure, the weapons all have fancy new names, but they are basically your standard issue shotguns, grenade launchers, rocket-launchers, chainguns, SMGs and railguns. Heck, if I didn't know any better I would think the arsenal came out of some Quake III Star Trek mod. Again, not particularly original but it gets the job done.
The level design is fairly inconsistent. Some levels are dynamic and very interesting (Ferengi chase) and other levels (like the factory map) can get really tedious and repetitive both in terms of visual appearance and their layout. The outdoor settings provide a nice change in pace, but they are very claustrophobic and restrict the player's movement to clearly marked paths. Aside from some rather minor examples of plot branching, the game struck me as fairly linear with some awkwardly placed hidden walls that just had no reason to be there. For example, in the Starfleet Academy courtyard, you will run into a wall when trying to jump over a small bush and take a shortcut to get to the other side of the courtyard. There is no particular reason for that invisible wall to be there, and removing it wouldn't in any way ruin the gameplay pace, and yet, it's there. The same can be said for a few other levels in the game. I understand that the designer's prerogative to keep the player moving forward and not wandering around too much, but for me exploration is very much a part of a good shooter. It makes me feel like I'm actually a part of the game world, and not just a Tetris block being streamlined to the next level. And speaking of levels, one thing that might annoy some of the more impatient gamers out there are the frequent loading times between small segments of the levels. Seeing that load screen pop-up after every new corridor can get a bit tedious after a while.
But the real turn off for me was the team AI, and the very quirky enemy AI. Seeing how this is a game about the Hazard team and not Lt. Munro - the lone hero, the designers had to make room for more characters onscreen than just Munro and the bad guys. They did not, however, find it fitting to try and teach our teammates to climb ladders, go down shafts or even jump on elevated surfaces. In the game this translates to you constantly going off on solo sub-mission while your teammates wait for you behind a closed door or at the bottom of the ladders. The funny thing is, even the characters in the game make fun of the fact that Lt. Munro is constantly breaking away to do stuff on his own. Kinda defeats the purpose of a Hazard Team, doesn't it? Your teammates are not the brightest bunch ever, and having this rather dated team AI behavior in a modern game is very much in discord with the general purpose of the game, which is to make you feel a part of a living sci-fi universe.
The enemy AI can exhibit certain believable routines, like trying to dodge a phaser beam or run away and hide when they're hurt, but the prevailing feeling I got from observing the AI is that the humanoid species act like bots that move in very simplistic and predictable patterns.
Finally, one of the things that the gameplay has working for it are the rather entertaining, though not particularly challenging logical puzzles. The good thing about them is that the programmers will make you use your brain in pressure situations. The idea is so good and such an obvious asset that I fail to see why it hasn't been used more often in games. The designers will generally put you in a tight spot (gas leakage, warp core overheat, etc.) and make you solve a logical puzzle under pressure. The great thing about it is that the time continues to pass in real time as you're solving the puzzle, so you'll not only be required to solve it, but solve it fast! Kudos to the ex-Ritual team members for including this novelty in the game.
Just like its predecessor Elite Force 2 uses a heavily modified version of the Quake III engine, only this time, the engine is even more heavily modified than the heavily modified version of the original game (That's a lot of modifiers! - Six). The animation system has been rewritten, there's obviously a lot more polys onscreen in any given scene and the faces of the characters have gotten a major facelift. Though their bodies are still rather low poly (the hands are very simplistic and quite manly, even on the female models), the faces are very complex, with intricate details like pixel shaders being used for hair, plenty of facial animation and so on. Overall, the visual design of Elite Force 2 shows that there is still life left in the venerable Quake III engine. The outdoor environments show their age and the appearance of lighting and shadows is very old by today's standards, but at least you can play the game at high-res and with all the effects maxed out, and still get decent frame rates. I played the game on a Radeon 9800 PRO/AMD Barton 2700+/1GB RAM rig and didn't notice any slowdowns even with FSAA and Antistrophic Filtering turned on.
The sound effects and music are awesome and they do wonders for the in-game atmosphere, which is sometimes quite creepy, especially when you have headphones on.
In closing, I would just like to add that this game will let you enjoy a different kind of eye-candy as well by throwing voluptuous blondes (alien scientists) and a host of other cool looking babes your way. Much to my approval they did have all the right polys at all the right places! I personally liked the alien strippers in the Klingon bar. Hell, you can't go wrong with a game that has four-eyed alien strippers in thongs wrapping their sleek blue bodies around a greasy pole! That's quality entertainment, baby!
Seriously, even though some weird level design decision and venerable AI code may present a fairly serious drawback, the aforementioned qualities of EF2 outweigh the bads. Shooter fans that appreciate the Star Trek universe should go out and buy this game. The single-player is longer than in the original (I can't say exactly now many hours it took me to finish it, but it's certainly more than it took me to beat the original). There are also a lot of secret areas, and if you collect enough golden ships, you can unlock bonus maps. The multiplayer is standard and not exactly the game's main selling point, but at least it's present.
I think I'm fresh out of words. This has turned out to be quite a long review, but I hope it helps you to decide whether or not this game is right for you. Live long and prosper... and don't forget about the alien strippers. They might add some more, err, replay value to the game.
8.0 Very Good
Engaging plot with a few nice twists and a good pace; great cinematic value and atmosphere. Colorful characters, excellent voice acting. Some neat puzzles to solve under pressure. Alien strippers;
Some weird level design decisions (invisible walls), inconsistent design of the maps. Lackluster enemy and team AI. Annoying loading screens.
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