Kaelin Consulting

Mark W. Kaelin

I have over 25 years of experience in the electronic publishing industry. I was an editor for CBS Interactive for eleven years, where I was responsible for acquiring, editing, and writing technical content for daily publication on CBS Interactive properties TechRepublic.com and ZDNet.com. My duties included the recruitment and development of contributing talent. Prior to CBS Interactive, I was an editor with ProQuest for 12 years, where I developed, designed, edited, and maintained an array of university and business school supplemental curricula products. Before ProQuest, I was a public accountant for five years, specializing in tax preparation and in compilation and review engagements. In addition, I have performed independent consulting services over the last 30 years for various business clients.

This away team is not far enough away

Originally published in May 2001.

Historical note: After eight years beta testing for Activision, this game was the beginning of the end. It was obvious to me that the suits were making design decisions at this point not the developers. This game was destined for painful obscurity.

Name: Star Trek Away Team
Genre: Squad-based Strategy
Format: CD-ROM
Developer: Reflexive Entertainment, Inc.
Publisher: Activision, Inc.
Multiplayer: Yes
Requires: Pentium II, 266MHz, 64MB RAM, Windows, 500 MB hard drive space, 4X CD Drive, Sound card, Mouse, Network Interface Card or Modem for Multiplayer
Retail Price: $49.95
Street Price: $29.95

When I first started playing Star Trek Away Team in its beta form, I had every intention of enjoying it and writing a positive review. The premise of an elite force operating clandestinely throughout the Star Trek galaxy as a first line of defense for the Federation of Planets was intriguing. But after playing the game I just can’t say I enjoyed it. Star Trek Away Team, published by Activision and developed by Reflexive Entertainment Inc., is, to put it simply, bland. The reality of this assessment is all the more disturbing to me on a personal level because my name is in the game as a beta tester.

While Star Trek Away Team (STAT) is not really bad, it is definitely not really good either. It falls in the twilight zone of mediocrity that dooms the game to the bargain bin, probably by the time you read this. However, this is not to imply that the game is not well-crafted, because it is, but instead, the implication is that it fails to break new ground or even prove interesting in previously plowed ground.

The Lowdown

The basic plot is that there is this special ship with a special hand-picked crew, whose mission is to infiltrate hostile areas of space, complete a designated dangerous mission, and escape undetected. Sort of a Mission Impossible meets Captain Kirk. Of course, the whole project is hush-hush and no one, save a few high-level admirals, even knows of the unit’s existence. The player omnipotently controls this special away team unit as it probes the mysterious undertakings of the Federation’s most nefarious enemies, including the Romulans and the Borg.

As the story unfolds, the crew discovers an insidious plot against the Federation. This conspiracy threatens the Federation and all it stands for down to its very core. Lucky for you, Data and Worf make cameo appearances to help save the day. Unfortunately, the player does not get the opportunity to direct those stars or make use of their unique abilities.

The game bills itself as a squad-based tactical strategy game, however the available tactics are quite limited. Each possible member of the Away Team crew has specific abilities in terms of useable weapons and skills. This limitation is apparently supposed to pass for strategy because once on the mission, there is really no strategy at all. Each mission is basically blast your way through or sneak your way through. No matter the nature of the mission, the only way to complete it successfully is to solve the myriad of puzzle-like obstacles that stand in the way. Gone are the tried-and-true tactics of most squad-based strategy games - combined arms, ambushes, crossfires, or any of the other tactics veteran game players are familiar with.

Viewing from an isometric angle, players move their away team using simple mouse-click commands. Ordering your engineer to use his or her code breaking device is a simple mouse-click here and a mouse-click there. This basic ease-of-use interface holds for all team functions whether it is firing phasers or healing the wounded.

One of the few bright spots in STAT is the voice-acting. It is top notch, with characters properly using verbal inflection and syntax without the typically stilted I’m-reading-a-cue-card delivery. In fact, the production values of the game are quite stellar and beyond reproach. Tapping the vast array of sound and music from the television shows and the movies, the game sounds great. Phasers sound like phasers and the transporter sounds like the transporter. And most importantly, the game is very stable. Kudos to Activision and Reflexive for producing a nearly bug-free game.

However, the actual meat of the game seems borrowed. All of the elements, the art work, the game engine, the general plot, the characters – everything is familiar to a fault. Not Start Trek Universe familiar, but previously-played game familiar. The feeling of “been there, done that” is too much to overcome. Another major flaw is the lack of interactivity the player can have with the environment. Away team members can only interact with the universe in specific and limited ways. If they can’t use a tricorder on it, it doesn’t exist. There are no real conversations with computer controlled characters and, oddly enough, the computer controlled characters themselves don’t interact with each other. The characters don’t salute each other, say hello, carry on conversations, nothing.

This game is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB, presumably for the violence. From my perspective, the rating seems one level too high, especially when considering the comic-book nature of the violence and the situations. If your children regularly watch Star Trek on television, I feel certain they can handle the content of this game.

Go Team Go

Obviously, I did not like Star Trek Away Team. But the reasons why I didn’t like it are subtler than the usual reasons I don’t like a particular game. I am a huge Star Trek fan. The universe originally created by Gene Roddenberry is rich, deep, and hopeful for the future of human kind. The possibilities for good computer games using the characters and universe created by Star Trek seem endless. Inexplicably, computer games created using the franchise have been mediocre and generally ignored by the game buying public. This game just continues that trend.

The game mechanics are top notch and implemented with near perfection. The story is plausible for that universe and creates some excitement and generally holds the players interest, even though many aspects are rehashes of television episodes. This not why the game falls flat.

No, the real culprit is the game play itself. As I said, it is boring. The missions are uninspired, the crew is not very interesting, no character development takes place, and no moral dilemmas are presented. This is a game that goes through the motions and it shows. Star Trek Away Team is a perfectly executed tepid computer game.