Star Trek Bridge Crew takes fans to the final frontier: virtual reality

Here's a blow-by-blow account of what it's like to be one of Starfleet's finest

Star Trek VR

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Star Trek remains one of the most revered and respected touchstones of the Science Fiction genre. It's inspired many of us through its exploration of alien worlds, the vistas of vast areas of space and comradery between crewmates.

As it turns out, those attributes are perfect ingredients for a video game. Though some of the titles in the franchise's history have been hit-or-miss, the folks at Ubisoft felt that the advent of the virtual reality medium was time to bring those elements of Star Trek to life in a brand new experience for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR.

Set in the Kelvin timeline, the name fans have dubbed the 2009 reboot era, players join the crew of the USS Aegis to seek out and explore new life in the universe. Assigned to one of the four core members of the bridge, you and along with three others will work together to accomplish missions that range from the routine, to high-stakes rescue missions that will push your leadership and teamwork skills to its limits.

A little background: the game is developed by Ubisoft's Red Storm Entertainment, the studio behind Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six and The Division. Surprisingly, Tom Clancy was the perfect launch pad for a Star Trek game – tactical and team-based gameplay transfer perfectly to a simulation of what it would be like to command one of Starfleet's ship.

Enterprising young men

The game itself runs on four separate PCs – one for each of the four core members of the crew. We sat in the same room in the real world, which makes sense considering how crucial good communication is to surviving the mission.

We were then placed into one of four roles: The Captain is the commander of the ship and must give general instructions to their crew; the Helmsman is the navigator and controls movement of the ship; Tactical is assigned to shields, weaponry and targeting of hostiles and allies; and Engineering is in charge of teleporting and making sure the ship's power consumption is in check.

The Aegis was imposing and massive, and seeing it get larger and larger as our small shuttle approached was humbling to say the least.

In my demo led by one of the developers, I took up the Tactical position on the bridge. It was my job to make sure that we had an eye on all objects and points of interest around the ship, and that we were able to defend ourselves when needed.

Prior to boarding the ship, though, you'll enter transport shuttle commuting the USS Aegis … all virtually, of course. Much like you've seen countless times in the films and TV series, this is your first look at the massive ship. And with the Oculus Rift, the sense of scale and depth is impressive. The Aegis was imposing and massive, and seeing it get larger and larger as our small shuttle approached was humbling to say the least.

Star Trek VR

Once on the bridge, I finally got to meet the other members of the crew face to face. My character was a human male named 'Jonathan Frakes', and the other positions were headed up by a vulcan and two other humans. There was a bit of character customization, but it was fairly light, limited to character name and gender, which was a bit disappointing.

This was also our first chance to get a look around the bridge. There are several other crew members populating the room, which helped to establish that we were a small part of a larger machine at work.

During our trial run, we came across a large asteroid heading towards our ship. The Captain instructed the Helm to make evasive maneuvers, while giving the order to Tactical test fire the phasers and photon torpedos. While waiting for Engineering to power up the phasers, we were able to get a look at our own unique control consoles in front of them.

While you have bridge has a massive viewscreen for every member of the crew to look at, most of the action will be what's on the desk in front of them. With each member assigned to unique tasks, their command systems will be tailored to their roles.

Star Trek VR

With the Oculus Touch controllers, we were able to manipulate the buttons and diodes of the console to our liking, which felt very satisfying. However, unfortunately, there were times that it felt somewhat finicky. Some movements weren't properly registered on the console, I was rapidly tapping the controls to get it to work, which was somewhat frustrating during intense moments. That said, they worked properly for the most part, and I even nailed a high-five with a fellow crewmate.

TARGET LOCKED," I shouted. I was already getting really into it.

For my role, my console possessed a targeting map along with weapons and shield systems. With the asteroid approaching, I had to lock onto the drifting object. "TARGET LOCKED," I shouted. I was already getting really into it.

As Engineering diverted power to the phasers, I used to the trigger of the Touch controller to 'tap' the phaser fire button on my console to engage with rapid fire blasts of the ship's weapons. After firing, the Helm evaded the asteroid and continued onward.

To boldly go

Not long after, the Captain alerted us of a distress call from another sector. Preparing our warp, with Engineering diverting power to engines, the Helm 'aimed' the ship towards its destination, which takes time, and 'punched it' towards our destination.

In a brand new zone, the developers on hand instructed us to mess around with the various camera modes in game. My favorite easily was the ship view, which allowed us to get a good look outside the ship and the surrounding cosmos. It was marvelous to look at, and the VR capabilities did a lot to enhance the visual aspects of the simulation.

Near a massive star, the Aegis immediately came into contact with Klingons who provoked by our presence. We were no longer in a safe zone, and our Captain instructed us to proceed with rescue. I engaged the shields just to be safe as we drifted past debris and other objects, we finally found several pods scattered about. On my console, I saw several that needed assisted. After the Captain gave the go ahead to beam them aboard the Aegis.

Star Trek VR

As engineering ready power to the teleporter, I targeted the ships, but was reprimanded by our Captain. "Tactical, drop shields!", he said. Teleporters can only work when shields are off. After dropping the shields, we beamed aboard the first group of survivors.

Unfortunately, things took a turn for the bad. A Klingon Bird of Prey, a standard Klingon warship entered our view and immediately began to fire upon us. With several pods left to rescue, we would have to simultaneously engage the enemy while conducting a rescue of the stranded crew. Shields up, phasers locked. The Bird of Prey approached our ship and I let loose with both phasers and torpedos, resulting in heavy damage to the ship.

Even with the shields up, the Aegis was getting pummeled.

As the enemy ship moved past our six, I dropped shield and targeted the remaining pod for rescue. Engineering, right on cue, beamed them aboard. Just then, the enemy reappeared. I reengaged the shields and readied my phasers. While waiting for the torpedos to reload, the Helm maneuvered closer to the other pods, which showed up on my map. We had a long mission ahead of us.

After several minutes of intense action, we were finally able to rescue the pods, but had to hold out a bit longer for our warp drive to power up. Even with the shields up, the Aegis was getting pummeled. After a nasty hit from an enemy torpedo, one of the red shirts on the bridge came flying across the room and landed in front of us. She never stood a chance. It was hectic, and we were all panicking as the flames began to erupt from computers and vents around the bridge.

Just then, Engineering alerted us that warp was ready.

Star Trek VR

After setting our course, the Helm reengaged warp and we left the Klingons in our dust. We were cheering and thankful to have made it with our crew and ship intact, even though there were several members of the crew dead on the bride. They were red shirts, so it was all good.

As I mentioned earlier, exploration, wonder, and camaraderie are elements of Star Trek, and I definitely had those feelings in Bridge Crew. I had just met the other players I was with, but I became quite attached to them during the game. I was impressed with how Ubisoft is utilizing the VR tech, as it did a lot to enhance and project the detail present on the bridge. There's even lip-synching tech employed for the characters in game, which makes getting orders from the crew all the more authentic. It's the little things.

Set for release November 29, Star Trek Bridge Crew feels like the game hardcore Trekkies have been waiting for. Though I worry about several rough spots in the game's design and visuals, the detail and authenticity here is very powerful. While there have been other bridge sims in the past, the VR capabilities here are impressive and make it feel one of a kind.

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