Thursday, January 05, 2023

Retro Review: Star Trek - 25th Anniversary [1992]

Star Trek's 25th anniversary was 1991 and the franchise was entering the height of it's popularity. Celebrations for the year included high profile conventions and documentaries, Star Trek's original crew had their final (and some say best) movie together with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Leonard Nimoy appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation as Mr. Spock and fans were getting some early information about a new series that would become Deep Space Nine. The celebrations were bittersweet however come October when fans learned of the death of Gene Roddenberry, the man creatively responsible for all of Star Trek up to that point. Despite his loss however the franchise continued (albeit with a few hiccups) and five different Star Trek shows are in production today.

Needless to say concurrent to its TV and cinema screen success, was the success of Star Trek video games. By 1991 video games for the franchise had been produced for machines like the Apple II and the Commodore 64, and for DOS for 20 years by companies including Apogee and Simon & Schuster. But it was the following year in 1992 that the first truly great Star Trek game was produced. US developer/publisher Interplay who had found success with The Bard's Tale (and would later create the first Fallout game and publish Bioware's Baldur's Gate) released Star Trek: 25th Anniversary. Sure it was a year late but was nonetheless critically acclaimed and a phenomenal success (prompting a sequel to be released the following year).

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary is a point & click adventure game where you, as Captain Kirk, issue orders on the bridge in spaceflight/combat mode and lead an away team with Spock, Bones and a disposable redshirt as you investigate happenings, solve elaborate puzzles and practice "diplomacy" in a myriad of dialogue options. The game is played exceedingly simply, you observe, speak to and scan every interactable person or node on the screen and through the results (and banter between the crew) you solve the mission and Starfleet gives you a new one. The game is divided into 7 missions which feel like different episodes and each take over an hour each if you take your time.

The game was 30 years old in 2022 when I played at Christmas and yeah it looks it but this isn't a game that relies on graphics as much as it does sound. First and most importantly the game is fully voiced (including all dialogue options) by the original series main cast, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig all lend their voices to their characters and is arguably one of the main selling points to the game today. Sound effects are directly taken from the series as are the music and themes which are those used in the series to indicate, danger, levity and the near inevitable death of a crewman. The music is a necessity despite the score being in the low quality of midi music of the era.

While the gameplay and the controls are simplistic the same cannot be said for many of the puzzles and the space combat. Solutions to most puzzles can be worked out by a combination of talking, observing, scanning and using different characters in combination with different objects. Often however, it was a matter of using the right character in conjunction with the right object that may not have been intuitive such as using the character on an object more than once to progress the result or getting to grips with the notion that using, for example, Spock on a device was not the same as Spock using the Tricorder on the device, but in other cases it was identical!

With the exception of a couple of skirmishes, space combat was only forced upon you at the very end - "the boss battle" or if you strayed off course during any other point in the game. It is the weaker part of the game and you basically move the mouse around the main viewscreen to steer the ship in the off-chance you can get a bead on your enemy to fire phasers and photon torpedoes. I was probably ruined by years of playing X-Wing that I was never able to drop back to the arcade-level of this gameplay. It can get a bit involved as you must also manually assign Scotty his repair jobs as you are damaged and soon the file that plays Scotty saying "She cannae take anymore Cap'n!" wears a little thin. I also declare that I've never actually beaten the game myself including my most recent 30th Anniversary play-through as it's Dark Souls in it's level of difficulty and considered a major accomplishment if you can actually do it.

Final Verdict: Despite it's advanced age, sometimes impossible combat and frustrating puzzles, Star Trek: 25th Anniversary still feels like a 4th season of the TV series. The visuals, music, sound effects and especially the voices of all the original main cast cement the immersion of you feeling like you're watching the show, a feat which not many other games have been able to manage - in any franchise.

Technicals: 8 hours approx playtime using a Nvidia 3070Ti on Windows 11. Game runs in DOSBox and will go full-screen unwindowed with black bars to force 4:3. Windows HDR does not engage.

Bugs: None. However some tweaks were made to the config file based on 'internet recommendations' to prevent the possibility of incompatibility bugs with high end hardware.

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary is available from both GOG and Steam for €9.99. Review copy from GOG for €5.69 in May 2015.

Interplay Star Trek games for PC:

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary [1992]
Star Trek: Judgment Rites [1993]
Star Trek: Starfleet Academy [1997]

-Star Trek: Starfleet Academy - Chekov's Lost Missions [1998]
Star Trek Pinball [1998]
Star Trek: Starfleet Command [1999]
Star Trek: Klingon Academy [2000]
Star Trek: New Worlds [2000]
Star Trek: Starfleet Command II - Empires at War [2000]

- Star Trek: Starfleet Command - Orion Pirates [2001]

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