Star Trek wasn’t quite as action oriented as Star Wars, so when it came to games, its emphasis on exploration, mystery, and problem solving invited a different approach on what designers came up with. Most designers, anyway.
Star Trek’s gaming checkered history spans action-based space shooters like the one on the Vectrex “based” on the Motion Picture in ’82 to the text-only adventures from Simon & Schuster such as The Promethean Prophecy in ’86. But it probably wouldn’t be until the 90’s that it would really get its due with Interplay’s Star Trek: 25th Anniversary adventure game featuring the original crew.
It, and its sequel, Judgment Rights, were set up like a series of episodes featuring original stories and which used the same adventure gaming conventions that the popular crowd had brought to everyone icon-driven interfaces and pixel art to savor over.
For Trekkies, these were about as close to participating with Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu that they could get in gaming. This was also during the heyday of adventures in general and Interplay took full advantage of the license to really bring the series home in the same way that its peers had done with King’s Quest and Maniac Mansion.
The Next Generation with Picard and his own crew would also get their shots at gaming stardom, though perhaps the one that best encapsulated the series’ feel is probably Star Trek: A Final Unity from Spectrum HoloByte and published by MicroProse in 1995.
This was a great, if slightly flawed, adventure featuring hours of spoken dialogue from the actors themselves and a story steeped in galactic mystery. HoloByte spared little expense to build a title as close to being an interactive episode as their technical expertise could handle and for its time, it was an incredible achievement from the CG cut scenes to the extensive voice work. Just as the talkie versions of Interplay’s games brought the games closer to the fans, A Final Unity did the same for Trekkies venturing out with the Next Generation.
A Final Unity started out with a mysterious chase out from the Neutral Zone of aliens who encounter the Enterprise on patrol nearby. A short fight with their pursuers, a bit of shared information, and the crew is of on a quest to recover an ancient relic that may change the destiny of a people. But it soon becomes apparent that the quest reveals far more than anyone had anticipated leading to the revelation of an ancient race that had ruled the galaxy a million years earlier and whispers of their crowning achievement – a device so powerful, it makes the Genesis device look like a First Aid kit.
HoloByte did a great job in translating the Next Generation feel over to an adventure game. You can talk to your crew for advice and depending on the difficulty level that you’re playing at, even pick who is going to be on away teams. And it just can’t be anyone. Puzzles and situations will require you to juggle everyone’s expertise to get to the bottom of this mystery. A simple interface made things easy to navigate and there was even an in-game encyclopedia of Trek knowledge. Graphics were mix of digitized likenesses, CG, and hand-drawn backdrops which all looked amazing at the time.
The bad news is that the game could be a little buggy and it had some things in it that seemed to clash with the actual “adventuring” stuff like the space combat which I also hated in Interplay’s Star Trek titles. Even though Interplay’s version had you fly the Enterprise like a fighter plane, it felt like I was flying around a brick on ice while wishing for more obtuse puzzles instead.
Space combat in A Final Unity now tacks on a broadside of options, all of which only muddy the waters for a half-broken simulator that was a struggle to control. Like many others probably did, I left it delegated to Worf who flew the Enterprise around like a WW1 fighter and engaged the enemy for me. In Engineering, you could tweak with power settings and other options, but why?
Navigation-wise, you could plot the course yourself or just tell Data where to go which is what I almost always did. Sometimes I’d fiddle with the navigation controls and head off somewhere thinking that there might be something cool to discover. How neat would that be if this Star Trek game were a sandbox exploration game, too? But it isn’t, unfortunately.
And when it came to talking, no one was annoyed when you had Picard ask them the same question dozens of times and it offered some interesting choices though like more than a few adventure games at this point, didn’t immediately throw you over a cliff if you picked the wrong thing.
The story was decent stuff and it did the most important thing – it kept that sense of wonder and mystery from the series right up until the end. The puzzles could sometimes be on the really obscure side, too, though not entirely impossible once you threw enough objects at them. Even in the 24th century, it pays to pick up everything that isn’t nailed down.
The strangely shaped box featured the mugs of everyone involved and a string of screens showed how the game looked in luscious SVGA. As a CD-ROM game, it really made great use of the medium to actually deliver a remarkable experience for Trek fans. Running the game today, however, is something of a gauntlet since Spectrum HoloByte never bothered to repackage the game in something a bit more friendly to Windows.
Other Star Trek games set around the Next Generation would follow later on consoles and other platforms, but A Final Unity really brought home the series’ promise of boldly going where no one has gone before. If you’re a fan of Star Trek, and can get it to run on your system, it’s one of those forgotten classics that you can easily lose yourself in…as long as you don’t mind blowing away nearly as many ships as the Borg did at Wolf 359.