It's facing something of an uphill struggle, this. And not just because it's based on a TV series everybody either a) really hates, or b) secretly loves, but pretends to hate. No, the Star Trek thing we can cope with. What we find less easy to cope with is the fact that, at least for the opening couple of hours, Star Trek: Legacy is intensely dull.
Things aren't helped by the frightening opening 'tutorial' which bombards you with uninspiring information, complex button configurations, endless map screens, and a barely explained power distribution system - before just throwing you at a trigger-happy Romulan war fleet expecting you to get on with it. If Captain Picard had done that to Ensign Crusher, Next Generation would have undoubtedly made for better viewing. But, unfortunately, it doesn't quite cut it here.
You'll wonder what the hell is going on, where the excitement is supposed to come from, and - short of sellotaping the entire instruction manual to your forehead in the hope that, somehow, the information will filter directly into your brain - just how you're ever going to get to grips with it. But you will. Eventually. Because, if you have a decent tolerance of the TV series (well, you're still reading this, after all...) then we assume you're going to be gracious enough to give it a damn good shot. And good for you - because if you look hard enough at Star Trek Legacy you'll find this is actually decent, rewarding and pleasingly tactical.
Although it might look it, Legacy isn't really a space combat sim. Even though you can take direct control of the individual ships making up your fleet, don't expect to be swooping around nebulae delivering photon death at light-speed. Starfleet's vessels are mostly sluggish, battleship-like affairs. It's about setting courses, intercepting craft, choosing the right ship for the job and making sure you divide your resources intelligently. There's no need for lightning-quick reactions and no need for deft piloting skills. Legacy plays far more like an RTS - and once you 'get' this, it becomes far more enjoyable.
Taking in campaigns spanning all five TV series, you're pitted against pretty much every Starfleet enemy imaginable - and each campaign is made up of a series of battles littered with objectives. Escort these craft here, take out that space station there, scan this planet, make sure such and such a craft doesn't escape you - the usual mix of RTS objectives. Each battle plays out on a square section of space - and so the trick is, to use the handful of ships you have in your fleet intelligently and carefully, sending individual craft to take care of one job, while another group goes off and does something else.
At its best it can get pretty frantic. You can switch and control individual craft at will, manually tweaking power to weapons, shields and engines, locking on and firing weapons, before heading off to check up on your other ships' tasks. If it's the feeling of commanding a small Starfleet, er, fleet that Legacy is trying to pull off, it manages it quite brilliantly. And given the fact that you have less units to worry about, it actually makes for a better strategy game than, say, Battle for Middle Earth II. It has a much better focus on individual control, while making wider-reaching decisions via the excellent overview map, accessible and satisfying - in that it gives you all the control you need without becoming too complicated or overly fiddly.
So despite its somewhat... irritating opening, there's a great deal to enjoy here - but there are still some annoying problems dotted around that stop it from fulfilling its potential. To start with, for a Star Trek-based game, it's curiously lacking in the series' personality. Stories are told entirely from space, with the view constantly on your fleet of ships, and even though the script is very strong (series scribe DC Fontana is one of the writers) and all the Captains are voiced by the proper cast, the lack of faces to the dialogue leaves you curiously detached from the story.
True, all the famous Star Trek trappings are present, with the proper fonts, sound effects and so forth giving it an air of authenticity, but conversely, stupid little niggles like ships pathetically bumping off planets, spacestations (and each other) as they lose their way, completely shatters any sense of immersion that has been built up.
The niggles are a letdown because there's obviously been a massive amount of effort put into the game - and Star Trek fans (we're looking at Xbox World designer Craig now) will be very happy with the sheer amount of content on offer, the story, attention to detail (particularly for each of the beautifully-modelled crafts) and the chance to take their fleets of ships against each other in the very good and very comprehensive online mode.
Great stuff for some, then, but well short of reaching its potential.
A solid tactical command game, with a very strong story and plenty of content. Star Trek fans will like.
- A bit like a simple RTS
- Enjoyable, rewarding for the patient
- Initially slow and confusing