I don’t know what heaven and earth had to be moved to collect all five original Star Trek captains to do the voice work for Star Trek: Legacy, but I’m certain it was substantial. Sure, Scott Bakula is probably just hanging around between cancelled TV series waiting for his phone to ring for so much as a dog food commercial voiceover while he tries to dodge angry Trekkies who egg his car where ever he goes as the ‘guy who killed Star Trek,’ and Avery Brooks hasn’t done anything since DS9 ended, but Shatner has probably never been busier in his life, and Mulgrew and Stewart are both very active in TV and theater (not to mention the whole X-men thing for Stewart). So it’s surprising then that after succeeding in that momentous task that they would almost literally phone in the entire rest of game. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the sound is just about the only part of this game that they got right, which is otherwise plagued by a choppy narrative, sluggish controls, frustrating gameplay and an awful user interface.
Where did they go wrong? Where didn’t they go wrong! STL suffers from so many gameplay issues that it makes the first Wing Commander look modern and polished by comparison. I’ve got so much crap to write about I don’t even know where to begin. You command a fleet of up to four ships. Individual ships are controlled using W, A, S, and D for direction and +/- (or the mouse wheel) for speed. I’m going to simply call the controls mushy and unresponsive, though some people are probably going to misunderstand that description to mean that they fly like a large starship should when I really mean to say that they wallow like a whale in shallow water. The game, at least in theory, is three dimensional, though ships can fly neither straight up nor straight down, and I’m unconvinced that being higher or lower than your opponent changes anything other than range to target. There are no in-mission saves, so flubbing a mission in the last 90 seconds will force you to replay the entire hour leading up to that point. At the end of a mission you are awarded command points which can be used to buy new ships to replace those lost in combat or trade in ships and upgrade. You would like to know something about the upcoming mission to perhaps customize your fleet with speedy, light scouts or beefy destroyers accordingly, but alas you don’t have that information until after you leave the ships purchase screen and you can’t go back and so you are probably best off just buying the most firepower you can afford.
Combat is made about 1000 times harder than it has to be by a confusing target reticle, crap interface, and a chase camera that truly hates you. Different weapons on a ship have different fields of fire – that seems only natural – except that the individual firing arcs are kept like some great secret. Honestly a simple picture in the manual of each ship type and where their weapons fire would have helped this a great deal, with possibly even a listing of optimum weapons distance. Instead I have to sort of, in real time in combat, interpret this targeting reticle that changes depending on what weapon can fire where and how much damage it can do. Every time you fly a new ship model, you’ve got to figure out the firing arcs and damage ranges again so the first run through many missions is just sort of a ship test drive. The computer does a vastly better job of firing weapons than I ever could, and so frequently what I would do is stay in tactical mode, which is sort of a 2-D overview of the whole combat area, and I would direct ships to a certain region and let the computer fight it out. It’s not fun, but it was less frustrating than running in circles with an enemy ship trying to get my weapons to fire. You target the nearest enemy ship with the space bar, but if you want to pick a ship other than the nearest one you have to hold down the space bar which brings up a list of enemies and you use a mouse wheel to select one of them. This is kind of similar to the repair menu which requires you to hold down the R key and click on individual damaged systems to start repairs, or the special functions menu (beam down, hail, scan, etc) for which you have to hold down F (not G as stated in both the manual and the tutorial level) and click on the desired function, or the energy balance menu which has you hold down E (which the manual and tutorial erroneously report as the shift key) and drag a weighting icon between shields/weapons/engines. While you’re doing all that wheeling and clicking you obviously can’t be firing weapons, which makes repairing stuff or scanning the enemy in combat a hoot, nor can you do any of that stuff from tactical mode at all. On top of all of this the camera is also controlled by the mouse, so I’m trying to look around, target enemies, balance ship energy, fire weapons, and activate ship systems all through the same mouse. To describe this interface as poorly thought out is like calling Louisiana post Katrina a little messy. And while the manual seems to indicate that you can give orders to other ships of your fleet (Shift+A to attack nearest enemy, for instance), my commands seemed to go completely ignored.
The literally dozens and dozens of ship models included all look great as do the weapons effects. Ships sometimes clip through one another instead of flying past, and two ships that actually meet in a collision instead sort of bump a little offset and slide by each other like two fat people passing in a narrow hallway – so much for ramming strategies. When your ship, or any ship, is damaged huge smoking divots appear in the hull with soot streaking and plasma and electrical discharges dancing around the hole. The problem is that this appears at even the slightest damage, and repairing the damage doesn’t seem to repair the holes. That means that I can’t make any assessment as to how damaged a ship is just by looking at it. If I target a ship, I do get information as to its shield strength and hull integrity, but that’s it, and given the problems with targeting it would be nice to know if I should bother to go through the menu system to try and target a ship because it is almost finished off. No such luck.
The fact that the plot was written by D.C. Fontana and Derek Chester, two people who really should know what they’re doing, makes the incomprehensible hash that is the plotline all the more confusing. It certainly appears that they were working on some kind of concept to link all the various Star Trek eras together wrapped around the core of a story involving a renegade Vulcan scientist and time travel (what else), but you jump from era to era without warning or preamble, the plot linking various missions together tenuously at best. There are, interestingly, a series of almost sketch art movies that you can reach through the EXTRAS button on the main menu. These seem like cutscenes they were thinking of making but never got around to doing, and they just smell like giant strips of duct tape included with the DVD to let you try and sort out and tape together the untold story in your own mind. Without any facts whatsoever to back me up, I’m going to guess that this wasn’t the story that Fontana and Chester wanted to tell, or at least wasn’t in the way they wanted to tell it, and lay all the blame on the game producers.
As mentioned, the voice work, at least of all the captains, is very good. Shatner is a little rusty and actually under-delivers most of his lines from the larger-than-life Kirk that we all grew to know and love, and Bakula sounds maybe a little angry, though perhaps that was just his delivery. I would say Patrick Stewart was the best, and Janeway was as shrill as ever. Avery Brooks will always be Hawk from the Spenser series to me – he never made the transition well to starship captain in my mind. The entire supporting cast is unknowns, but they do OK. Weapons and other sound effects are right out of the various series as is the music.
Multiplayer has only two variants. One has you playing cooperatively with up to four other players battling wave after wave of enemies. They call this co-op mode. That’s wholly pointless. The other is a skirmish mode which runs just fine though everyone still has to deal with the crummy interface. They call that deathmatch. It’s also as near as I can tell impossible to re-enact specific classic battles, so if you want to set up to fight the heavy cruiser Enterprise against the Reliant from Wrath of Kahn, you’re out of luck.
So what, at least among Trekkies, had generated some excitement and buzz turns out to be an awful disappointment. Having played, just to give you a short list: Wing Commander I, II, III, IV and Prophesy, Descent Freespace I & II, I-War I & II, Freelancer, Privateer I &II, X-Wing, Tie Fighter and others, STL is a mess by almost any comparison. These aren’t tears of rapturous joy running down my cheeks – they are instead the expression of my realization that the Star Trek gaming curse has yet again resulted in a horrific shambling zombie monster of a Star Trek game. Wow, I hope they decide to use that quote on their box.