Space … The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission, to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before.
Growing up in the 90s, there seemed to be two worlds of science fiction that mattered. While fuzzy Ewoks and Darth Vader played out the family-friendly story arch of Good vs. Evil, the members of the Starship Enterprise navigated the complicated realms of Federation space and human ethics. As I became older I began to appreciate what the world of Star Trek had to offer, and I still consider Lt. Cmdr. Data’s plight as an android seeking human assimilation to be an ingenious character premise. So it was with curiosity that I popped in Star Trek: The Next Generation: Future’s Past. Was I in for an experience melding suspension of disbelief with humanitarian themes, or perhaps a shaky action platformer in the vein of the Super Star Wars series?
A month after a Romulan research team was reported missing, Romulan high command sent an investigation team, with the Enterprise right behind to monitor them. A log entry of Captain Picard’s explains the position of the USS Enterprise in Federation space near the Romulan border. Immediately, Picard’s crew receives a hail from a Vulcan archaeologist who is studying the mythical integrated field derandomizer (IFD). With a Romulan ship approaching, she asks for help. Setting a warp course, the Enterprise arrives at Codus MU VI and is ready to send an away team to check on the archaeologist.
Most “missions” in Future’s Past follow this pattern. At the Conn viewscreen, the Enterprise will receive a hail from someone in distress or from Starfleet high command. By scrolling horizontally to the right and entering the command room, Picard will digest the information and give directions, which generally result in setting a course for another planet. Warping is necessary to reach other planets, but can also be treacherous as the Enterprise is privy to attack by an enemy or even robot ships and are forced to engage in a dogfight. Once arrived, an away team must be assembled carefully to take on the task at hand. Once the mission is completed there will be another hail, or else Picard will know what to do, and thus the cycle continues.
The USS Enterprise
Along with serving as home base where flight courses are set, the first game mode, the bridge, is host to a bevy of information. Some is helpful, while some can only be used to glutton the appetite of the most diehard Trekky. “Sensors” will tell you the vitals of a near planet. “Computers” is the database of countless factoids of the Next Generation universe. “Engineering” is where starship energy resources can be used to heal battle damage. And last, “Transporter Room” can only be accessed when it’s time to assemble an away team.
For the awesome act of warping, Future’s Past makes sure it’s a bit more involved than just clicking a button. You’ll have to first find the planet categorized by system, star cluster and the like. It’s wise to raise the warpspeed from default 7.00 to at least 9.00, although I take it to the max despite warnings that this speed will “damage the engines” (it doesn’t). Higher warp means less time to wait, plus decreases the chance you will be attacked mid-warp (what?!) by an enemy ship. Of course, this wouldn’t be so bad, but the battle mode Next Generation chose to simulate space battle leaves much to be desired.
To Boldly Go
When the siren goes off to signify attack, it really gets the blood pumping. For the first few times at least. Sadly, it doesn’t take long for mode two of this game to reveal its epic failure. The screen is a third-person battle grid with the Enterprise at the center, and a diagram of shields and weapon charges to the right. The Enterprise navigates like a hunk of metal as it attempts to strafe its opponent whilst avoiding getting strafed. Pressing A fires lasers, but only at close-range, and B will launch a max of four torpedos before they must be recharged. What could have been a gloriously fun mini-game is actually a brutally irritating experience to be avoided at all costs.
In addition to its missed opportunity as a fun pace-mixer, this “battle mode” sinks like a rock in its unnecessary and conflicting nature. There are only two fights you must engage in to complete the game: the first occurs when a Romulan ship attacks the Enterpirse after completing the game’s first mission, and another takes place much later when you must wrestle a crystal shard from a robot ship. Surrender is always an option to end a battle early, but it’s difficult to judge whether the ship will let you go (pressing X+Y)—if they don’t, it’s game over! Even if they do, sometimes there is another ship that attacks immediately after the last. And really, I may not be an expert when it comes to science fiction, but having starships battle like two WWII planes without summersault or u-turn capabilities doesn’t seem like an accurate portrayal of the Next Generation universe.
To Explore New Worlds
The third and last mode, sending away teams, is the heart of the game. Up to four members of the Enterprise can be beamed to complete a mission on a planet or abandoned ship. While each level has some enemies to kill, puzzle-solving is the most significant aspect. From an isometric viewpoint, members will need to scout pathways, find items to open doors, boot up computers and the like. Missions are usually completed by finding an object that aids in the game’s overall quest, such as a crystal shard or the IFD. I found most levels to be enjoyable to explore for the first 20 minutes or so, but beyond that the redundancy builds to an obnoxious degree and the levels become stale with their familiarity. Oh, and there’s nothing resembling a map to be found, so if you can’t memorize those countless alleyways you’ll have to either take notes or take your chances.
I do love the premise of choosing four members of the Enterprise and having them work together. Up to four people can be chosen for a mission, each with varying degree of skill in categories of strength, technicality and tactics. Some characters come equipped with tricorder, phaser, a command badge or medical units. DATA is the complete package. Not only does he pack phaser heat and a tricorder, he is the strongest character AND doesn’t need oxygen to breath in musty caves AND, along with Giordi Laforge, can see in the dark.
For most missions you’ll want a strong group who won’t crumble after a few phasers to the chest. Should you lose a member to speedy minecart or robot phaser during a mission, Future’s Past takes hierarchy of command into account.1 If Captain Picard is lost then it’s game OVER, space cowboy. If you lose one of your lieutenants then the mission must be restarted. And if you lose an ensign…you leave ’em! A writer at wikipedia.org claims that many of the characters in Future’s Past aren’t in the show but are actually the likenesses of some of the game’s developers. I haven’t been able to verify that, but I like to think some of the hard workers at Specrum HoloByte were able to enshrine themselves in this way.
To Seek Out New Life
It should be noted that not everyone in the Futures Past universe is out to get you. Some ships will let you go (though most won’t) if you surrender. Memorable Ferengi spice trader Quark makes an appearance, although he is portrayed as neither sinister nor sneaky. You’ll get to trade with him by sending an away team to his ship. At other times there are individuals in peril that you’ll be able to help, and they’ll give gifts to you at later points in the game. On the ship where you access the IFD, robots defend the ship until you shut down the ship’s security. No level is more treacherous than the Chodak’s; after beaming down against their wishes, you’ll have to eliminate the large, reptilian, game-created aliens who take four hits to go down. Then there’s the yetis on Ice Planet, who are indestructible and follow you, becoming angered when you shoot them!
Future’s Past has an interesting save feature, and I dig it. After completing a mission or dog-fight you’ll want to get to a star base quickly to fill supplies and gain a blessed password. Having your torpedos refilled is life-giving in that being caught in a fight without weapons most likely won’t end up in your favor. Finding the nearest starbase can be done by going to Computers and seeking “starbases in this sector” before setting a course in Conn. There is also an opening-game sequence to be found online that will allow you to begin the game from different levels.
Back to Earth
Although I don’t have the credentials to say whether Future’s Past does the Star Trek saga justice, the game does seem to be a fair translation of the television series, Next Generation, which aired with extreme popularity from 1987-1994. Perhaps it’s because of this that the overall experience comes across as too cognitive in a video game format. I’m all for a fair amount of problem-solving, but I could have done with more opportunities for the crew to prove themselves as bad-asses, not just brains.
I have no doubt that was supposed to come to fruition with the ship battle mode. But if I want to play a poor 2D rendition of the arcade classic Asteroids, I’ll get a free app. It really is an experience to get your blood pumping … with rage.
Yet there are elements of the game that are lovely. It’s not all that often you get to send Data, Giordi, Warf and Crusher (Riker I could take or leave) into a strange world to fend for themselves. Even as Trek fever continues into the 2010s, I smile on this game, though most people may want to fly right by it.
Three out of Five Stars
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