There are two types of people in the world: those that love Star Trek, and those that don't know any better. The rich tapestry of sci-fi created by the late Gene Rodenberry has lasted an amazing 40 years, spanning 5 different TV series, 10 feature length films, scores of novels and comic books, and even a Saturday morning animated cartoon. The Star Trek legacy has successfully transcended and conquered every form of media except for one: PC gaming. Although there has been a quite a few successful titles over the past several years, they've been eclipsed by the slew of crappy games that have perforated the video gaming market (check out Star Trek: Hidden Evil if you don't believe us). One of the first games to actually break the cycle of poor Trek gaming was Star Trek: Elite Force, developed by the creative geniuses at Raven Software (the same group that brought us last years' incredible Jedi Knight Outcast). Elite Force successfully interwove classic FPS gaming with Trek styled writing and execution, providing fans of the sci-fi series (as well as gamers) with an incredibly dynamic PC game. After two long years, we finally have the chance to revisit the FPS Star Trek world with Elite Force II. Unfortunately, the same Gene Rodenberry Trek-styled magic that was captured by the original release just didn't exist with this latest game.
Like the original game, Star Trek: Elite Force II follows the exploits of the specialized 'Hazard Team' created by Captain Janeway and Lt. Tuvok during their Delta Quadrant adventures (as chronicled in the Star Trek: Voyager TV series). After the final battle against the Borg (as seen in the series finale of the TV show), the Starship Voyager and her crew find themselves back in Federation space, safe and sound. Of course this puts a hamper on the activities of Lt. Alexander Munro and his specialized Hazard Team, since there isn't a pressing need for their brand of extreme combat and specialized war tactics. The team find themselves quickly re-assigned along with the rest of Voyager's crew, returning a sense of normality to their lives (even if it is a tad bit boring compared to their adventures in the Delta Quadrant). Several years pass by, and once again it seems that StarFleet and the Federation have a use for the Hazard Team after all. Several Starships have come under attack recently, and Captain Picard has been ordered to investigate. Before the Enterprise-E leaves for deep space in search of answers to the mystery at hand, Picard enlists the services of Lt. Munro and his exceptional teammates. With the remnants of the Hazard Team together again (along with a few new faces), they must not only solve the mystery of the attacks, but also protect the Alpha Quadrant from the resurrection of an ancient evil.
All in all, we found the game to be entertaining, both as a First-Person Shooter and as a Star Trek based game. The graphic design was probably the best aspect of the game, taking advantage of the newly enhanced Quake III Arena engine. Every visual found in Elite Force II was incredibly detailed, giving us not only realistic terrain and interiors but also some extremely life-like in-game character models. Fans will definitely take note of the improved 'skins' found in the game, modeled off of some of the most popular races and species found in the Trek universe, including the machine-like Borg, the warrior race known as the Klingons, the unscrupulous Ferengi, the blue skinned Andorians, the conniving Romulans, the animalistic Nauscicans, and even the mild mannered Denobulans. Players will not only run into these familiar Trek faces, but also hordes of other new alien races from the farthest reaches of the galaxy as you explore the 70 levels of Elite Force II. Not only that, but players will get to use several new and upgraded Hazard Team weapons not found in the original version, including the Quantum Torpedo Burst Rifle, the Radiation Disruptor Pistol, and even the dreaded Klingon Bat'leth. The new weapons come in handy during the 20 plus hours of intense First-Person Shooter action that makes up the base of the gameplay, keeping gamers on edge for quite some time. Fans of the genre will definitely enjoy the combat, regardless of whether you're a Trek fan or not.
Although many Star Trek elements surround Elite Force II, the game just didn't pull off the same effect as the original. Two years ago, Elite Force did an excellent job of capturing the essence of a Star Trek episode. Not only was the plot line of the game coherent and well written, the pacing of the game went along the same lines as a TV episode of a Star Trek episode (intermixing several 'acts' made up of cinematics with the regular gameplay). Elite Force actually made us feel like we were in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, letting us mingle with Captain Janeway and her Starfleet crew. Elite Force II on the other hand seemed disjointed and 'stuck-together', for lack of a better term. The plot lines surrounding the gameplay (again, dealing with resurrected bad guys bent on galaxy wide chaos) seemed contrived and hastily put together, lacking the Roddenberry finesse that inspired the original game. Although the A.I. of the game has been greatly improved upon (allowing for better interaction between the gamer and the computer opponents and allies found in the game), the team aspect was greatly diminished when compared to the original Elite Force release. On more than one occasion we found ourselves curiously going at a mission alone, with the rest of the Hazard Team hanging back to 'protect the area', or for some other dumb reason (one of your teammates actually asks you during the game why your character always runs ahead by himself). Even some of the weapons found in the game had an non-Star Trek quality to them, mimicking your standard FPS weapons found in any game, but having a more sci-fi sounding name. The last oddity to capture our attention was the inane side-plot role play aspect that allowed you to supposedly change the direction of the game with your in-game choices: in reality, it only gave players the chance to view a slightly different personal outcome that had little to do with the meat of the game.
Even though Ritual Software might not have done as great a job with Elite Force II as Raven Software did with the original release, they weren't complete slouchers either. For example, the developers were able to wrangle up the largest amount of ex-Trek voiceover talent ever for a PC title. The cast includes series stars Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard and Tim Russ as Lieutenant Tuvok, as well as a host of regular actors from various incarnations of the show, including Dwight Shultz (Lieutenant Barclay), Robert O'Reilly (Chancellor Gowron), and Jeffery Combs (Wayoun). The developers also enhanced the Multiplayer portion of the game, adding some highly detailed maps found in the single player part of the game, as well as creating several new maps for first-person action fanatics to rejoice in. The standard fare of Capture the Flag, Deathmatch, and Team Deathmatch are of course included: the special treat though comes in the form of a new Timebomb cooperative game, forcing teams to fight over one bomb that needs to be successfully detonated in enemy territory in order to win.
To wrap things up, Star Trek: Elite Force II was a decent game when compared to other titles within the FPS genre. Non only was the action in the game fast paced and non-stop, the graphics were incredibly detailed and simply beautiful to look at. The Star Trek aspect of the game was lacking, however. This included the non-Trek like plot surrounding the game, the weapons used, and even the pacing. Again, it seemed as if the game was created first, with the Star Trek moniker attached as an afterthought. Though a disappointing follow up to the critically acclaimed original Elite Force game, this latest release isn't without its merits. Unfortunately, this might be the last hurrah for at least a semi-decent Trek game since game publisher Activision is currently at odds with the franchise owner Viacom over supporting its titles and Star Trek as a whole. So, enjoy the adventures of the 23rd century while you can, even if they're not the best.