IGN Review of Star Trek: Legacy
A short while ago, we finally got the chance to check out Mad Doc and Bethesda's Star Trek: Legacy for the PC. Though we had been looking forward to the title since seeing it at E3 last year, the PC version left us feeling disappointed. The controls were clumsy and the overall mission design left a lot to be desired. Fortunately, the control scheme is much improved in the 360 version but the game still suffers from some design problems. (Those of you who have read the PC review can go ahead and jump to the second page where we begin talking about the ways this version is different.)
One of the main attractions of the game is that it ties together all five TV series in one experience. It's tough to find a single story that ties together the original series, Next Generation and Enterprise (and throws in some references to Deep Space Nine and Voyager) but the game's writers have managed to pull it off quite well. You'll definitely have to draw some of your own connections between the eras if you want to follow the thread from Archer's first encounter to Picard's final showdown but it holds up well enough to provide reasonable continuity and framework for the game.
Without giving too much away, the story starts with Captain Archer's attempts to help a female Vulcan scientist named T'Uerell. In trying to help her, he uncovers an elusive mystery that flows through to the eras of Kirk and Picard. Each captain only gets a handful of missions but they're held together by the mystery of this Vulcan scientist. We won't say more than that, but there's a definite showdown where things are (mostly) resolved.
Along the way, you'll find yourself battling against Klingons, Romulans and eventually Borg ships. While the endless space battles are kind of the point of the game, they do tend to get a bit repetitive early on. It seems like each new mission involves going to a new sector and blowing the holy hell out of everything you find. You'll have the occasional desire to use your scanners now and then or maybe transport an away team onto an enemy installation, but these are rare exceptions to the fighting that you'll usually be doing.
Once you move to The Next Generation things get a bit better. The missions here step away from the aggressive combat missions of the first two chapters to get at the heart of what Star Trek ought to be about -- exploration, diplomatic negotiation, scientific research and supply runs. As Picard you'll have to protect a system from dangerous asteroids, seek out a Federation ship hidden in Romulan territory, and oversee planetary evacuations. After the constant shoot-em-ups of the Enterprise and Original Series missions, it's a nice change of pace.
You'll get the chance to captain each of the three Enterprises from the series as well as a variety of other Federation ships. Successful completion of mission objectives and lots of extra killing on the side will earn you command points that can be spent to add up to three other ships to your fleet. Unfortunately, the upgrade system that would allow these points to be spent to tweak each your ships' performance was scrapped.
While the system lets you tailor your forces to your liking, there are a couple of problems with it. First, you'll have to buy ships before you find out what types of mission you're going on. Knowing whether you're going on a scouting run or a starbase assault is definitely going to impact whether or not you load up with scouts or battleships. The economy is also a bit unbalanced. Early on, you'll be able to afford the best of the best but as you progress towards the Next Generation era, the command point rewards don't keep pace, leaving you unable to recover from losses as quickly.
The AI puts up a good challenge in terms of maneuvering but most of the time you'll be challenged more by their greater numbers or superior energy management. Most ship battles are turn and burn affairs with you and your opponent circling through each other's phaser arcs trying to get a good lock with your erratic torpedoes. (For whatever reason we're having even more trouble getting locks on the 360 than on the PC.) The Federation ships are pretty tough so if you keep your fleet of four together and make sure to pull back when your ships get damaged, you can usually manage to take on just about any group that comes your way.
Unfortunately, some of the missions can be rather long. Since there are no checkpoints to speak of within each mission and no option to save the game during a mission, you may occasionally find yourself replaying an entire thirty-minute mission just because something went wrong towards the end.
The Xbox 360 controls are quite a bit more convenient than those on the PC. For one thing, the controls are actually all accurately documented in the manual and the game dialogues. The left stick controls the pitch and yaw of your ship (no roll, sorry) and the right stick controls the camera. After just a few minutes of play, you'll find the whole arrangement very easy to manage.
It's a bit of a pain that your ships stop just short of crossing over the vertical axis (or in fact, pointing straight up or down), especially when you're trying to track an object passing directly above or below you, but it doesn't come up enough to be more than an occasional annoyance.
Controls are laid out very smartly, which is a real trick given how many different commands there are. Weapons fire, energy management, repair orders and helm commands are all readily accessible. The only real snag in the controls is that you have to use the B button and the D-pad together to increment your ship's speed. It's not a huge hassle but it does mean you'll momentarily relinquish the steering and camera controls if you want to speed up or slow down.
There are no collisions at all in the game. Whether you're steering into the pint-sized planets or enemy space stations, there's an invisible barrier that prevents you from crashing into each other. Where the PC version sometimes teleported you off into new headings, the 360 version handles things a bit more gracefully. Here when you steer into an object, the game simply shifts your heading away from it.
With one glaring exception, the tactical screen is much more useful this time around. This top-down view of the entire map area gives you a chance to take in the overall tactical situation and issue orders to your fleet. The swimmy mouse issues on the PC version aren't a problem here thankfully, but it's aggravating that the 360 version won't let you view the map or issue orders to your ships while the game is paused. This is one feature that the PC version got right at least. Given some of the difficulties in managing your fleet and the vague mission objectives, it's a real shame that the game doesn't allow you to stop and get your bearings. It's particularly problematic in missions where you have to manage a lot of actions in a short amount of time. Picard's mission to stop the asteroids is about a million times more frustrating on the 360 than on the PC.
The AI isn't much better on the 360 than it is on the PC. You'll be happy to see you're your ships show a bit of initiative but you'll need to make sure they don't get drawn into dangerous situations. As with the PC version, it's better just to order your other ships to support the ship you're controlling. That way you can make sure they stay focused on the right targets and are close enough to help out the whole fleet. As with the PC version, ships in the 360 version of the game don't seem to care too much about repairing themselves so you'll have to issue all your repair orders to each ship by hand. It's unnecessarily time-consuming and should be automated by the AI.
In addition to the campaign missions, you can also try out the game's skirmish mode and multiplayer offerings. Supporting four fleets in team-based or free for all matches, the skirmish and online modes finally let players try their hand at leading the Klingon, Romulan and Borg ships that serve as enemies in the campaign. Fleets are purchased according to the same command point system used in the campaign game. Sadly, there's no option to handpick the ships used by the AI players so, if you're hoping to set up specific encounters (Wrath of Khan, anyone?), you'll just have to trust to luck that your opponent picks the right opposing force.
One of the most aggravating features of the multiplayer experience is that the entire session ends at the end of each battle, forcing players to reconnect with each other on their own. It's a remarkably inconvenient setup but, unlike the PC version, at least you can find people willing to play with you.
Where the PC version suffered from some poor default settings and some inconveniently located options, the Xbox 360 version looks fine right from the start. Fans of the series will be happy to see many of their favorite ships rendered here. The ship models are detailed and, without having subjected them to a side-by-side comparison with the ships from the shows, very accurate. The numbers on the saucers, the small lights and windows along the hull, and the glowing engine nacelles are all present and accounted for. Happily, many of the lesser-known ships are presented with just as much attention to detail. Casual fans might not notice it as much, but hardcore types will really appreciate the work that's gone into it all.
The small effects from the show are all here as well. Phaser fire, glowing torpedoes, warp stretch, and transport shimmer are all wholly authentic and really help to put you in the heart of the action. The damage textures are generally good as well, but they seem a bit overdone in places. Some of the explosions resulting from combat are quite impressive but most are a bit on the generic side.
Moving outside of the ships, the rest of the systems you'll fight in are full of planets, suns, asteroids, dust clouds, nebulae and such. While it may be a little too much at times (we thought space was supposed to be, like, black), the objects and planets in each level really help to keep you oriented during the mission. The stars glow with a very believable light that shadows everything in the level but the planets seem a bit on the small side. Unfortunately the 360 version doesn't seem to have as much space dust floating around, making it a little tougher to see how fast you're going.
One of the worse aspects of the graphics are the destruction animations for large ships and stations. They just come apart in these huge chunks that look like they were sliced off with a piece of wire. They drift and turn nicely, but they also happen to totally clip right through each other, which sort of spoils the effect.
Not surprisingly, the voice acting is spot on. All five captains from the various series reprise their roles here and it adds a level of authenticity to the game that it simply couldn't do without. Whatever your opinions are of their quality of their acting in the show aren't likely to change based on their performance here. Sure, some of the lines are a bit laughable -- at one point Archer exclaims, "A nuclear blast? It's so simple it might actually work!" -- but the dialogue supports the drama overall.
The game's atmosphere and Trek-cred is further enhanced by the addition of recreations of the sound effects from the shows and a suitably moody musical score. As with the other element's of the license's presentation, the game's creators have done a great job of making it feel authentic.
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