Hands- and heads-on with Star Trek Bridge Crew

Ubisoft recently showed off Star Trek Bridge Crew on Oculus Rift with the soon-to-be-released Touch controllers. It was pretty damn special.

Hands- and heads-on with Star Trek Bridge Crew

Oculus Rift, and VR for that matter, has come a long way since its inception. A few years ago at QuakeCon, I got to take the quite literally taped-together Carmack prototype for a spin in Doom 3. The resolution was ugly, the blur was disorienting, and because I was playing standing, I found myself rocking in a precarious way as my brain kept telling my body that I was moving (even though I was only moving virtually).

As bare bolts as the demo was, it showcased the potential of the tech, and it didn’t take long before I was snapping my head at targets to pull off some finer aiming skills (I was playing with a controller) on the demonic hordes.

Fast-forward to Gamescom 2016, and I had a crack at the latest iteration of Oculus Rift, and outside of it being of the same ilk as its prototypical predecessor, the experience was chalk and cheese. Obviously, the resolution has been upped considerably, and the distracting blur has been reduced, too. Because I was playing Star Trek Bridge Crew this time, I was also able to play seated, which tied perfectly into the virtual reality of what my avatar was doing in the game: namely, sitting.

I also used the Rift’s upcoming Touch controllers for my admittedly minimal interactions with the game world. The straightforward design of the Touch controllers means they’re intuitive to use when you’re effectively blinded to the real world by the VR headset. More importantly, the delay between movement input or button press is so miniscule it doesn’t drag you out of the virtual fantasy.

The Star Trek Bridge Crew demo kicks off with a shuttle ride to the starship you’re about to control. It’s a great introduction to both VR and Bridge Crew, that lets you scan your head around to stare off at space, admire your soon-to-be-boarded ship, or notice that Red Storm Entertainment has followed that unfortunate Hollywood trend of not including New Zealand on the map when you stare down at Earth.

I was playing in the Tactical role and had picked a female avatar which, faithful to older and recent Star Trek traditions, included the politically incorrect miniskirt uniform. As the Tactical officer, I was in charge of the weapons (phasers and torpedoes), shields, and scanning. Because it’s a cooperative experience, certain actions can’t be performed while other players are doing theirs.

With our Red Storm Entertainment captain behind us issuing orders, we warped to a distress call to look for survivors of an ill-fated starship. When we arrived, the captain recommended we press a particular Touch button for an external view of the starship. At first I thought it was weird to be transported to a perspective other than my avatar’s, but it was honestly a nice inclusion for scanning the gorgeous bigger picture that wasn’t restricted by what was on offer through the viewport.

My first task was to scan escape pods for survivors, which was easy enough. I simply used the Touch controller to move my in-game hand to a map, then selected an object to scan, before sliding the scan button. It was then up to Engineering to rescue the survivors by beaming them aboard. That was okay for the first escape pod, but after scanning the second, a Klingon warship warped in and I immediately threw up the shields without my Captain’s orders. Whoops.

As it turns out, activating the shields meant the Engineering officer was unable to beam survivors aboard. I was instructed to drop the shield, and settled for powering-up my phasers and arming my dual torpedo ports. The Captain instructed me to fire some “warning” shots (my shots automatically targeted the Klingon ship I was locked onto, which didn’t leave much room for shots across the bow), and I unloaded everything I had: two torpedoes and a salvo of phaser blasts.

The Klingon ship, understandably, didn’t take too kindly to this act of aggression, and returned the greeting in much the same way. With the shields down, we took some hits, but I was again instructed to leave the shields down while Engineering continued to save escape pod survivors. Switching to space view, I could see that the Klingon shots had left some cool but concerning holes in our hull.

Back to my main view, I launched more torpedoes as they became ready, but the Klingon ship was out of range of my phasers. The Captain ordered Engineering to boost my phaser range, but this never happened, so I was stuck waiting for the torpedoes to reload, and could only use my phasers as the Klingon ship turned in for additional strafing runs.

Ultimately, even though we were reportedly able to save most (no, not all) of the survivors, our pilot was unable to warp us out in time and it was mission over when the unstable nearby star went supernova. It was disappointing, but in a way that reinforced the interdependent nature of the cooperative experience.

I’m only a recent convert to Star Trek (through the recent rebooted films), but I had a lot of fun playing Star Trek Bridge Crew. Undoubtedly, if you have a passion for Star Trek, you’ll get even more out of the VR experience than I did.

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