Tactical officer’s log, stardate E320160614: Holy shit, I’m inside Star Trek, and I did not expect it to be this cool. I didn’t totally buy the bridge at first. It looked about as real as the set from the old show, with this big boxy viewscreen and these oversized control panels suited to my VR display. But then our captain said punch it, our helmswoman blasted us into warp, and I was starting to buy in. Exiting warp was a genuinely stunning moment: the wreckage of a space station was there orbiting around a dying star, all the space around it flushed with beautiful orange plasma. And there was debris. Uncomfortably close debris. Suddenly everyone was yelling, helm veered to the right, and somehow we missed it by inches.
We were not a calm, professional Starfleet crew. But that’s not the point: the point is we were a crew carrying out the mission of the USS Aegis, and I was all in. And it turns out I’m a pretty damn good tactical officer. It may be unbecoming of my station to break out in a big stupid grin when a Klingon Bird of Prey suddenly warps into the sector, but what can I say. What good are phasers if you never use them?
Before becoming a tactical officer, I’ve immersed myself in enough VR worlds now to know, within a few minutes, whether a VR experience is a cool idea that mostly just makes a great first impression, or if it’s a “this is why VR will change video games” type of revelation. I’m pretty sure Bridge Crew has the potential to be the latter. If you’ve ever pretended to be on the bridge of the Enterprise, anyway, you are going to love it.
My tactical station was simple enough to grasp in just a minute or two. A radar display takes up half of it, showing me nearby objects—in this mission, that means asteroids, damaged shuttlecraft, and the Klingon Bird of Prey that warped in to attack us. Tapping one of those objects on the radar will let me press a large button to scan it for an informational readout. Below the radar I have a slider for toggling the shields on and off, while the other side of the station has a button to fire phasers and launch buttons for two photon torpedo tubes.
There’s not much complexity with what I’m doing here, which is my only real worry with Bridge Crew after a short demo: it seems possible the task itself won’t have enough depth to satisfy me once I’m a veteran of the bridge. But what’s so promising about it—and what makes it really different from almost every other VR game I’ve tried—is that the interaction, what I’m doing with my hands, isn’t really the point. That’s not what makes it fun. What makes it fun is the crew, and how their four stations require a group to coordinate to carry out a mission.
Pressing a button a few times to fire the phasers? Eh, not so satisfying (although that phaser sound effect is pretty great). But firing phasers with one hand when helm sweeps the ship around to bring you in range—made possible by engineering routing power to engines—while you raise shields with the other hand, waiting until the precise moment engineering has finished beaming up survivors from a wrecked shuttlecraft? Pardon my language captain, but that’s fucking sweet.
In classic Star Trek fashion, systems on the bridge can be damaged and non-essential personnel killed in battle. We lost a poor redshirt on the bridge when a second Klingon Bird of Prey warped in and started attacking us. At that point, our captain decided it was best if we beamed out the remaining survivors and warped away instead of fighting two enemies. We escaped by the skin of our teeth, hull down to 25 percent integrity and sublight engines permanently slowed from damage, but whooping and hollering like a crew that’d just successfully completed its first mission.
Bridge Crew isn’t really meant to be a combat game; as in the shows, you’re aboard an exploration vessel that can fight when it has to. There’s a certain clumsiness to its combat that I think actually makes it more fun. The ships move slowly and I spent more time waiting for my weapons to charge than firing. There’s no aiming, just a simple lock on. But it looks so authentically Star Trek, especially when you press a button to view outside the ship and see your photon torpedoes arcing through space towards an enemy, that it’s hard not to get into the action.
My first mission was a simple story mission with a Starfleet briefing at the beginning. According to the developers I talked to, Star Trek: Bridge Crew will have a campaign as well as a wealth of procedural missions that will keep things fresh on multiple playthroughs. It’ll be available for both the Vive and Oculus (Touch required) in the fall.