Elite Force Is Still the Greatest Star Trek Video Game

Illustration for article titled iElite Force/i Is Still the Greatest iStar Trek/i Video Game

Star Trek’s ideals don’t sit all that well with your average video game. Trek’s idealistic view of the future mostly dealt with conflict through discussion rather than liberal phaser blasts to the face, and video games are usually the other way around. That’s why a first-person shooter in the Star Trek universe should never have worked. Until it did.

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Released in 2000 and set during the sixth season of Voyager, Raven Software’s Elite Force put players in the boots of Alex Munro, second-in-command of a new “Hazard Team” security force created by Tuvok to handle the increasingly hostile areas of the Delta Quadrant. You were the security team called in when shit went down, and Elite Force was all about shit going down—Voyager gets transported to a derelict ship graveyard by a mysterious shockwave, and while the Bridge crew were tasked with investigating how to get back to their journey home, Hazard Squad was called in to protect them... mainly by blasting anything in sight that even looked at you funny.

Seven of Nine and Hazard Team transporting to an Away mission.
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And hoo boy, could you blast things. Previous Star Trek games gave fans the thrill of piloting ships and exploring strange new worlds, but Elite Force was about letting you experience tons of crazy Trek weapons. Elite Force was one of the rare Trek games out at the time to actually give you the sense of being someone on the ground of the Star Trek universe.

While Elite Force was a great shooter—with a multiplayer component based off of Quake III Arena, as crazy and intense as any PC shooter on the market at the time, but made even better with its Star Trek skin—where it truly shone is using its first-person perspective beyond shooting action to root you in the world of Voyager. In between action missions, Munro was mostly given free reign to explore the halls of Voyager, performing tasks for members of the crew.

Of course you fought the Borg. They were annoying as hell, too, with those adaptive shields.
Of course you fought the Borg. They were annoying as hell, too, with those adaptive shields.

You could interact with the main cast of the show, all voiced by their actual actors (Jeri Ryan did not initially return to reprise her role as Seven of Nine, but later did for the game’s expansion, re-recording all of her lines for the base game as well). For the time, the graphics were top notch, and unlike past games where you were restricted to only a few locales to visit, Elite Force’s recreation of Voyager was grand in scale. The game’s expansion pack added a mode that added another 10 decks worth of the ship to explore in “Virtual Voyager”mode, which let you poke and prod at replicators, panels in engineering, perform shipboard tasks for the bridge crew, and read personal logs (including Neelix’s recipe for Leola root stew!).

At the time, it was remarkable: the chance to completely explore one of franchise’s famous ships from stem to stern, and be part of that world in a tangible, personal manner. It was a playground to explore and interact with a Star Trek series unlike anything any previous game had attempted. As someone who was young enough to discover Star Trek through Voyager, it was an incredible experience.

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Star Trek games since have often struggled to balance solid gameplay that video game fans crave with the chance to explore the franchise’s beloved universe, to capture that intangible but vital “trekky” feeling. Elite Force was arguably the first that gave Trek fans the best of both worlds—and that’s why 16 years later it’s still my favorite Star Trek game.

James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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DISCUSSION

I was the writer for Elite Force and one of the main game programmers (I worked on the AI, the scripting system and the cinematics system).

I’m a huge Star Trek fan (I’ve written a bunch of Star Trek stuff as a hobby - one of which was a new series idea called “Star Trek: Uncharted” that I pitched to Paramount last year), so when we first got this game, I thought to myself “Star Trek is about characters and science and diplomacy, it’s not a first person shooter - how are we going to make this work?!”

Something I pushed for right away was to *not* play as the main characters. I knew we were going to be doing a lot of shooting and blowing shit up and that would just be out of character for many of the main cast. So we came up with the idea of the Hazard Team - a security force that would handle the more dangerous situations - with the explanation being that Voyager was alone and couldn’t easily get replacement crew. So they couldn’t risk the officers on every dangerous situation. Tuvok insisted they train up specialists to send into the dangerous situations. No more “redshirt” fodder!

We felt like that resolved a lot of the issues: we could have a shooter, but not violate the spirit of the show or compromise the characterizations of the main crew members as displayed on the show. (Oh, BTW, the game was originally supposed to be a Star Trek: Insurrection game that took place on the Enterprise-E, so Worf would have been in charge of the Hazard Team, not Tuvok, but otherwise the story was the same).

What this also freed me up to do, as a writer, is create a cast of characters of my own. Being a Star Trek fan, this was a dream come true. It was like being able to create my own little Star Trek show inside of Voyager, then have them interact with the main crew. I wanted to make the characters as diverse and interesting as the main crew, with distinct personalities, strengths & weaknesses and backstories (you can read their histories in the LCARS-style menus). This also let us make it so you could play as a man or a woman (something not too common in games at the time, especially shooters) and we intentionally left the romantic interest the same character for both genders.

It was really important to us to have the in-between moments of the game, the “downtime” be interesting, narrative, immersive story and character development periods. This is a huge part of making it feel like Star Trek and not just another sci-fi shooter. We wanted people to get the know the characters and hopefully become attached to them. I’m really pleased that our studio, Activision and Paramount were all behind this approach. It was a lot of work and could have been seen as an unnecessary risk, but I think it was worth it.

Another smart part that I wanted to make sure felt like Star Trek was the cinematic direction. I went to film school before becoming a game developer and so I wanted to make a cinematic scripting system that a director could use. Instead of scripting specific positions and FOVs and move times, I made it so you could say “put the camera on this track and follow these 2 characters in a medium shot” or “give me a close-up of this character from a 3/4 low angle” or “track left and follow this character”, etc. I also storyboarded most of the cinematics and scripted the first several cinematic (everything until right after the main titles). Looking back on it, now, it’s super-crude compared to the cinematic quality games have now, but it was pretty good for its time, I think...

Good times... :)