Star Trek in VR Really Is ‘The Next Generation’

Motherboard went hands on with Ubisoft’s Star Trek Bridge Crew for the Oculus Rift.

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Oct 13 2016, 3:00pm

Image: Ubisoft

I'm not a Trekkie, but I certainly hold a soft spot for The Next Generation—as I think most of my peers do—after watching countless reruns during my childhood in the '90s. And when it comes to Star Trek video games, few have held my attention but one—2002's Star Trek Bridge Commander. I was eleven at the time, and I spent hours upon hours playing through the demo that came on a PC Gamer magazine CD-ROM. I could finally take command of the Bridge; it felt glorious. What more could I ask for than to be a Captain on a Federation starship? So, 14 years later, when Vice Gaming's Mike Diver invited me to come along with them to play through Ubisoft's upcoming Star Trek Bridge Crew VR game, which is set in Star Trek's "Kelvin Timeline," of course I said yes.

I'm a simulation fan. It's realism or nothing for me, which is why all I play nowadays is Digital Combat Simulator, a bit of ARMA, and for relaxation, Battlefield 4. Saying that, I've yet to really venture into virtual reality—I don't own a headset of any sort—and my few experiences of VR have been interesting but fairly lonely experiences (even my demo of VR porn.) It's also expensive, and I've yet to find a reason to fully buy into it [I'll sell you my Oculus, it's pointless - Ed]. Playing Bridge Crew changed that perception, though, for sure.

Image: Ubisoft

The aim of the game is to make virtual reality a collective, cooperative experience, and it works. Up to four players can each take a position on the bridge of a federation starship (Captain, Helmsman, Tactical, and Engineering) and each is assigned their respective tasks, such as managing weapons, steering, or shields. After entering the USS Aegis via shuttle transfer, Diver and myself duly took up positions on Tactical and Engineering.

I got the shivers. Star Trek had come to life.

What followed was one of the most exciting gaming experiences of my life. I couldn't help but grin as I looked around me at the other crew members on the bridge. Behind me, over my right shoulder, sat Scotty (or rather, Diver). We waved using the new Oculus Rift touch controllers. The camaraderie in our suspended reality was real, and as our Captain (played by an Ubisoft employee) ordered Scotty to prepare for warp, I got the shivers. Star Trek had come to life.

The demo level was a simple rescue mission, with a Klingon ambush twist. To survive, all sections have to coordinate with each other to manage power levels, beam survivors on-board, and destroy Klingon warships. Vocal communication is just as much a factor in this game as virtual reality. Without it, a team won't survive. It was a powerful gaming experience to see my captain look across at me and order "shields up," hearing his real voice come into my Oculus Rift, and then carrying out that order on a virtual desk in front of me. Really something else.

This isn't a meant to be a game review, though. This is just a blog to tell you that, in my opinion, virtual reality for gaming has reached a level where I'd be happy buying into it. The Oculus touch controllers worked well, and were comfortable, and most importantly felt natural. They responded well to my inputs, and watching the panicked hand movements of fellow crewmembers was a novel experience. The controllers themselves aren't due to be released on December 6, and will set you back $199.

Image: Ben Sullivan

Star Trek Bridge Crew will no doubt have its cons. For instance I can see the levels becoming repetitive processes of shields down, transport, shields up, shoot rotations, and the controls, while fun at first, will quickly becoming boring due to their simplicity. If you want to play with friends, rather than strangers over the internet, you're each going to need your own VR-ready PC (or PS4), too. But overall, I'm finally convinced of the gaming benefits of VR now. I just think you really ought to play it, that's all.

My counterpart Diver didn't seem as nearly as impressed as I was though. "What gives?" I thought. Then I read his hot take of the game back at E3 in July. "Looks like a total novelty production that Trekkies will want, naturally, and can split the epic cost of between a group of them; but anyone with a degree of distance from the franchise will likely steer clear of this, due to what looks like gameplay with all the depth of a soggy beer coaster," he said.

Heh. Maybe I'm a Trekkie after all.