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'Star Trek: Away Team'

By Caillan Davenport
Posted at April 7, 2001 - 4:47 PM GMT

'Away Team' Box Title: 'Star Trek: Away Team'
Developer: Activision
Release Date: March 2001
Price: $39.95

'Star Trek: Away Team' has a very pretty box. There are some nice images of Starfleet crew staring menacingly out into space, and an alluring night-time vista of what appears to be a Klingon outpost. The tag-line is also rather cool: "Squad-Based Strategy: Unofficial, Unseen, Unknown." Of course, it implies that no one ever finds out what you do in the game. I wonder if the hordes of Klingons and Romulans that I managed to slaughter felt the same way. The game itself is a bit like the box: yummy icing, but the core is a bit stale. Nevertheless, icing isnít all bad.

Away Team The premise is a familiar one: you control an elite group of Starfleet officers, stationed aboard the USS Incursion, whose task is "to eliminate problems Starfleet canít officially touch." Or so it says on the back of that nice box. In order to fit this proviso, the game sees the player leading the away team on missions against the Federation, Romulans, Klingons, and others, in order to topple a conspiracy of intergalactic proportions. However, the plot is just that - a barebones link between each mission, because the storyline is neither inspired nor very interesting.

Once the game proper begins, itís actually quite enjoyable, in that yummy-icing sort of way. Before each mission (except for your inaugural tour), you can pick and choose which officers you want to be part of your Away Team, because each member has different skills and advantages. This is one of the better points in the gameís design, because it feels like your crew are actually characters, rather than random bodies for you to control. When you actually play the missions, however, the strategic element feels underdeveloped. I found that the best way to get through a lot of the missions was to run in with phasers firing, and then call for a beam out. Itís very difficult to plan strategy when sloppy game design tries to thwart you at every corner.

One example of this failing occurs when one of your officers is hit. They simply stand still and say "I am hit" or something equally inane. Thus, itís difficult to do much else except keep your team running in one group through the crossfire, firing at the odd target. Itís certainly disappointing, because the box is full of little blurbs telling you how much of the game depends on tactics. The most difficult aspect is the fact that if you split your team up for tactical reasons, itís difficult to control them all at once. Granted, thereís a pause mode that lets you plan your moves in advance, but more often than not, itís a way to save your officers from certain death as they are pummelled by enemy fire.

Away Team Adding to the frustration is the interface, which is exasperating to use at times. Although most of the gameís operations rely on simple point and click with the mouse and a few keyboard buttons, applying the inventory to the characters can be irritating, as you spend valuable time working out who carries what, and then isolating that character from the group so they can work their magic. When youíre being chased by Borg drones intent on turning you into the latest piece of electronic gadgetry, itís not something you want to spend time dallying about with. Once again, player can switch back and forth between pause mode and real time, but it slows down the action of the game. As I found the best strategy was to run as fast as possible with phasers firing, some of this minutiae was obstructing to say the least.

There are a few nice touches that will please long time Trek fans. Lt. Commander Data is the technical advisor to the Away Team, and thereís even continuity with 'Deep Space Nine,' as Worf appears in his role as the Klingon Ambassador. I particularly liked the presence of Cochraneís 'Phoenix' outside Starfleet Academy, but on the whole, much of the Trek side of the game is a hollow experience.

As much as I enjoyed 'Away Team,' it still feels like another Real Time Strategy game, coated in sugary Trek icing to entice the loyal fans. I wouldnít expect Academy Award winning storylines or characterisation from games of this genre, however, 'Away Team' fails to integrate these elements successfully into the game play. Thereís a certain standard you come to expect from Trek games. I still remember enjoying 'A Final Unity' because it was about exploration and the unknown, and featured some interesting concepts. Although itís a different genre of game, 'Away Team' fails to capitalise on this, and we are saddled with the Borg and some half-hearted Klingons.

Not to be completely negative, the graphics are good, despite the clumsy animation during the opening sequence, and the sound effects and music are excellent. The music is particularly refreshing simply because itís far more effective than a lot of the music weíve heard on Trek in recent years, and it certainly suits the game extremely well. The character voices are adequate, with Trek guest stars such as Kim Rhodes and Alexander Enberg lending their talents in addition to Brent Spiner and Michael Dorn.

On the whole, 'Away Team' is an enjoyable game and kept me occupied for an hour or so each day. Certainly, if youíre doing well, it becomes addictive. But thereís nothing to distinguish it from other games; the 'Away Team' premise itself isnít particularly thrilling, and thereís nothing really special in it for the Trek fan. My love affair with Trek has lasted for seven years now, but I suspect 'Away Team' will be nothing more than a passing fling. For some odd reason I feel like cake.

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Caillan Davenport is moderator of the Trek BBS Science Fiction and Fantasy forum and is editor of the J-Team newsletter. His 'A Briefing With Caillan' column is published regularly here at the Trek Nation.

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