We've all wanted a Star Trek-based online world for many, many years now.
We've dreamed about it, plotted it out, made our plans for what we'd do, gotten excited over potential, and then steadied ourselves in moist anticipation once it was finally announced that the dream would be turned into reality all those press releases ago. And they've given us... well, a travesty.
Star Trek Online is almost comically bad in execution, an obvious sufferer of rushed production schedules, inept design and very, very poor execution.
At its base level, Star Trek Online puts every player in command of their own starship, complete with an automated crew, throws a mix of spaceship and ground combat at you, and coats it all in every Trek reference you could think of. Which sounds OK, until you play it and realise that none of it gels and everything has been horribly crowbarred into Cryptic's existing MMO format. A setup that, as anyone who's played Champions Online will tell you, was never that great to begin with.
Not all the blame can be thrust in Cryptic's direction, mind you. When you look at Star Trek in the cold, hard light of day, you quickly start to realise how awkward the universe's structure is for an MMO interpretation. Just to cite two examples: the Federation doesn't use any form of currency, and 90% of any classic Trek episode is actors talking to each other: hardly the stuff of low-attention span gaming greatness.
But what really saddens the game-loving heart is how clear it is that, even with the challenges in front of it, Cryptic haven't even tried to make the most rudimentary attempts to translate the true spirit of Star Trek - that force of nature that can survive multiple awful films, several turgid spin-off shows and a host of God-awful cash-in novels and merchandise.
You can almost see the developers at Cryptic looking at the huge whiteboard of All Things Trek in the initial stages of design, realising the amount of creative effort that would be required to pull anything decent off, and just saying "Ah sod it, let's re-skin the Champions engine and make a basic combat game instead."
It's not like there isn't precedent to try this stuff. BioWare is busy creating a solid-looking story-based MMO with Star Wars: The Old Republic. EVE Online has shown that a space-based MMO doesn't have to be all about fighting. And just about every MMO under the sun includes guild structure tools that let multiple players team up and follow orders, provide unique roles in situations and contribute to a greater end result in different and meaningful ways. Are you honestly telling me that we couldn't have had ships made up of multiple bridge positions, with the guild leader sitting in the Captain's role and not have had a meaningful Star Trek experience?
That's what comes across most when you play STO: the sheer level of laziness in the development. Of course it looks lovely, yes all the words are correct, the nods to content from the rich Trek history is all there - from pet tribbles to the Guardian of Time, from raktajino to the Crystalline Entity - you literally can't move for fanboy-sating references. But none of it feels as though it's being used in any sort of meaningful way. It's all just being thrown at you as if to say "See! See! It's Star Trek! Lap it up!" regardless of whether any of it makes narrative or logical sense.
So that's why this really doesn't cut the mustard in terms of being a decent Star Trek property. What of its actual gaming credentials? Does it at least have the saving grace of being fun to play, regardless of narrative accuracy? No, it most assuredly does not.