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Tuesday August 22, 2017
Hands-on Preview: Star Trek: Bridge Crew
by David Hollingworth | Mar 7, 2017 | Comment Now
Ubisoft is boldly going where no virtual reality developer has gone before.
Hands-on Preview: Star Trek: Bridge Crew

A lot of VR games at this stage of development are taking two tacks when it comes to how they work. They're either games wed normally play on a flatscreen, but which in VR we can now look around in, like flight sims and racing games; or they're one-trick gimmicks, like Eagle Flight (the elevator pitch is basically "You're a bird in Paris").
What we're really waiting for, are the games that do something truly unique, in a way we've never even considered before.
What we're really waiting for, is a game like Star Trek: Bridge Crew.
Intel had a demo of the game up and running at the Intel Extreme Masters in Poland, and while others raced toward the Virtuix Omni treadmill, or the sailboard setup (which was pretty awesome, I admit), I only had eyes for getting onto the bridge of a starship. The demo in question was pretty limited - it was only for one person, and it only ran for about ten minutes. But it's a testament to how damn good it was - despite some flaws, which we'll get to - that when I'm back in Sydney, I'm going to order a pair of Touch controllers for my Rift headset.
I have to admit this - I am a dyed in the wool Trekkie. I grew up watching TOS re-runs with my mum in the 70s, discovered what I still call 'My Star Trek' with TNG in the 80s, adored what DS9 did with the setting later, and was enthralled with Enterprise. Voyager? Not so much. The movies? Hell, I even like the reboots. I've a couple of uniforms, I roleplay and write Star Trek games... I love it.
So, I may be a little biased.
In fact, when the bridge of the USS Aegis appeared around me, I got a little emotional. I have imagined being a bridge officer for almost as long as I can remember, and just being able to look around the bridge was amazing. But in Bridge Crew you do far more than look.
The demo gave me a brief time with all four of the main bridge stations - engineering, helm, tactical, and of course the captain's seat. There was a very brief tutorial of each station's role, then a chance to fiddle with some virtual knobs, before you moved on the next station. To call it a tantalising, teasing taste of what's to come is an understatement.
The game will be released on all three major VR platforms - PSVR, Vive, and Rift, but you will absolutely need controllers - so make that upgrade to your Rift now, Iike I'm doing. Between the buttons on the controller, and the trigger, you get a surprisingly deft amount of control over each touch-screen station. In fact, one of the best effects in the game is when you take your index fingers off the trigger, and they then point on your virtual hands - it effectively mirrors your natural movement, so you can use precise controls. Sure, the lack of actual feedback was a touch distracting, and I would recommend not trying to touch your virtual finger-tips together (the sensation when your 'hands' 'touch' and you can't feel it is... odd to the say the least), but it offered an amazing sense of presence.
The other great thing about how places you on the bridge is that your avatar is always seated, so when you look down, and see your virtual body, with your legs tucked under your panel, it feels natural. Look around, and you'll see your crewmates, too. 
I can't think of another VR game that has offered such a thrilling sense of presence, and when the full version releases, and you can crew up with three other players, this will be a remarkable experience, as you follow your captain's orders, facing various threats as you explore a region of the galaxy known only as The Trench.
I will admit, it's not perfect. In particular, the relatively low res, at least on the Rift, is a distraction, and it can make the controls and displays hard to read, which is a vital part of the game. Too, it doesn't help that we're used to seeing this sets in high resolution on the films; it's jarring to see these bright, clean stations (the game is set in the Klevin timeline, so if you dislike the design of that setting you're out of luck) so pixellated.
Similarly, I know, when I'm playing captain, that I'm going to have to resist physically getting up to peer over the shoulder of one of my crew. I kind of want to see a version of this game that uses room-scale VR, because that would be just about the best thing - but at least, this way, the game plays on all the platforms, which is far better than it relying on a single one.
It's also a game you'll want to play with some space around you, as bumping into things is supremely distracting. If you do VR at your computer desk, make sure you push back for a lot of room. 
Also - and I hope this is a demo thing - the translation of movement in game, and actually managing to manipulate controls was more than a little... hit and miss. I suspect that's down to this being setup for a big show, with lots of people using it. It would be hard to keep everything synced up, and with your own rig play it will likely track movements far more more precisely.
Still, as a promise of what's to come, I'm super-excited. Not only will this game finally take Star Trek fans where no one has gone before, but it takes VR in a similar direction. This is the game that every Trekkie needs to play.


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