Star Trek: First Contact

Posted by Joseph Lindell.
First posted on 01 June 2012. Last updated on 02 June 2012.
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Star Trek: First Contact
Star Trek: First Contact is the third game of an interactive fiction trilogy published by Simon & Schuster Interactive based on Star Trek: The Original Series.
Star Trek: First Contact
Spock and Uhura are on the Bridge of the Enterprise.
Star Trek: First Contact
Starbase Lambda is a Federation stronghold.
Star Trek: First Contact
A few tribbles may be hiding in the cargohold aboard the starship.
Star Trek: First Contact
The private quarters are a tempting respite from the chains of command.

Star Trek: First Contact, released in 1988, is the third and final game—after Star Trek: The Promethean Prophecy and Star Trek: The Kobayashi Alternative—in the Star Trek: The Original Series interactive fiction trilogy published by Simon & Schuster Interactive. Developed by Micromosaics Productions (who is also the developer of the second but not the first game in the series), Star Trek: First Contact is one of the least well-known video games based on the popular Star Trek license.

You play Captain James T. Kirk, famed captain of the starship Enterprise. You and your crew are assigned a diplomatic mission—to escort a group of ambassadors to the world of Gothica to preside over a coronation ceremony that is supposed to lend stability to the planet and bring it within the Federation's ambit and away from the Klingon Empire. However, as you quickly learn from Admiral Tecar's secret orders, scans of a star system near Gothica reveal an energy pulse of unknown origin. Investigating this new discovery is vitally important, as is ensuring that the Klingons do not find out about it. Yet, with the diplomats in tow, you also discover a nefarious plot to prevent the coronation from going as planned. When a murder aboard the Enterprise heightens the stakes, it is up to you to unravel the mystery before it is too late.

The story is classic Star Trek at its finest—shapeshifters, Klingons, pitched space battles, and strange new worlds. The atmosphere is detailed and evocative. The locations, characters, and events are described in a rich prose, on par with the best of the genre. The dialog is expertly crafted, capturing the familiar personalities of the Enterprise crew, including Spock and McCoy. All of the major characters from the canon are in the game—in fact, the developer has even populated the Enterprise with a whole bunch of extra crewmembers based on Diane Duane's Star Trek novels (conveniently published by Simon & Schuster as well). The starship itself is laid out in meticulous detail, which shows that the developer is extremely familiar with source material. Fans of the series will be delighted to know that every single room on the ship can be visited and that each room is filled with numerous details. In fact, this is still the only Star Trek game I know of in which you can visit every part of the Enterprise. Even the library computer on the Bridge is stocked with an unbelievable amount of Star Trek trivia, much of which has no direct relevance to the game but lends it certain credibility and flavor.

The gameplay is highly innovative for the genre. In truth, the game is not fully a work of interactive fiction, because it uses a number of 320x200 16-color CGA graphics interspersed throughout to delineate new star systems or rooms that you encounter. The music and sound effects—that is, the occasional staccato outbursts from the PC speaker—are less than graceful but perhaps forgivable for a game of its era. Additionally, the interface is not fully parser based. Rather, the function keys bring up menus with lists of actions that can be performed, such as ordering your crew members what to do, using your inventory items, or examining your surroundings. Character dialog pops up in colored boxes on the sides of the screen. You move from room to room by using the arrow keys. Navigation is assisted by an arrow key map on the bottom of the screen that shows all the possible moves from your location. This, coupled with the fact that the game is quite small, eliminates the need to draw a map (a common practice when playing other interactive fiction titles). Thankfully, you can choose to type instead of navigating the cumbersome menus—the menus are more useful for determining which commands are actually valid or available. Unfortunately, there are a rather limited number of commands recognized by the game.

In a strange way, character control is both wide open and incredibly limited. For example, you can bring whomever you want in your landing party; yet, only certain crew members will be of use. You can ask any character about almost any topic in the story or give any character any item to examine; yet, the answers you receive are very rarely informative. This problem is further compounded by shoddy programming. Since you can choose almost any action at any time, sometimes the responses from the characters will reference different parts of the story that either have not happened yet or have already occurred.

In addition, the puzzles are not so great. Aside from a few assorted inventory puzzles, much of the gameplay consists of walking around waiting for the next event to occur. To the game’s credit, a fairly clever set of deductions are needed to solve the murder mystery. However, there is also a frustrating combat sequence which is difficult because of the clunky interface, and there are other periods of rather interminable waiting due to travel between star systems.

Unfortunately, even the story, which has promise, falls flat toward the end. It is just too short, and the latter parts seem rushed and oversimplified. The whole game takes no more than a few hours to complete, unless you fail to save frequently and have to repeat some of the rather annoying timed sequences.

Star Trek: First Contact, despite its flaws, is still a solid Star Trek game and is by far the best of the series. In fact, it appears that the game has served as a model for Interplay's own Star Trek games—Star Trek: 25th Anniversary and Star Trek: Judgment Rites, published years later. Moreover, some important plot elements in Star Trek: Judgment Rites seem to have been directly inspired by Star Trek: First Contact.

While Star Trek: First Contact may only be a casual diversion compared to better games of its genre, for Trekkies, this game is a rare breed among Star Trek adventure games. With a decent story and charming characters, Star Trek: First Contact is a boldly nostalgic trip into the final frontier that is worth taking.

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