The best part of playing video games in virtual reality might be the way it encourages its users to pretend.
Star Trek Bridge Crew, Ubisoft’s multiplayer-focused VR simulator, lets players step onto the bridge of the Enterprise and putting themselves in the same situations as Hikaru Sulu, Pavel Chekov, Montgomery Scott or James T. Kirk — and going places no one has gone before.
The game facilitates great, childlike state of immersion, where you let yourself become a part of something you love, like Star Trek. The big upshot of Bridge Crew, though, isn’t pretending you live in the Star Trek utopia. It’s taking on that role as part of a group, with people who are just as immersed as you are.
With a few other Trekkies in tow, Star Trek Bridge Crew is a fantastic example of how VR is elevated thanks to the inclusion of other people. Unfortunately, when you’re left to play alone, it comes up short.
You have the bridge
Star Trek: Bridge Crew boils down to a pretty simple idea: You run the bridge of a Star Trek spacecraft, taking on one of four roles, based on the stations shown in the series’ various shows and movies. Where other Star Trek games have given players command the U.S.S. Enterprise (and vessels like it), Bridge Crew leverages virtual reality to elevate the experience to a simulation. You occupy the roles and control the ship — in this case, the Aegis, a craft added to the franchise for the purposes of the game — using the consoles on the bridge, rather than approximating that control using a mouse and keyboard, or controller.
Sitting at your desk or on your couch feels like sitting in the captain’s seat…
Bridge Crew is meant to be experienced as a multiplayer game with a crew of four, each person taking on a different but equally vital role. There’s the helm, A.K.A. the pilot, who flies the ship; tactical, which takes care of scanning potential threats like enemy ships and anomalies, then blasting the bad ones with phaser beams and photon torpedoes; engineering, which distributes the ship’s finite power supplies to various systems, like the engines or the shields, as the situation dictates; and the captain, who coordinates them all and makes critical decisions.
The actual gameplay of Bridge Crew comes down to running a computer panel. Each station has a different holographic readout, with controls, buttons, sliders, and maps. The game can be played with an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 controller, depending on what VR hardware you’re employing (Bridge Crew supports all three major headsets at market right now, as well as cross-play among them), but the various motion controllers — Oculus Touch, PlayStation Move and the HTC Vive controller — make for the best experience. With those, you’re able to reach out and tap nearby targets, grab throttle control levers, and tune power distribution with tactile sliders.
Sitting at your desk or on your couch feels like sitting in the captain’s seat with three other people, and the sense of being on the bridge of the Aegis, or Star Trek’s original U.S.S. Enterprise, and reaching out to almost actually touch the controls, is delightful.
Fill out all four spots, and Bridge Crew is like being in an episode of Star Trek, complete with just enough techno-babble to feel like it’s taking place in the 23rd century. Each role is only one piece of the big picture and access to part of the ship, making working together vitally important to success. The co-mingled mechanics captures some of the essential social-ness of experiences like board games or sports, and redistributes it into a beloved sci-fi world. It’s exactly what you’d hope for from a game that lets you be a Starfleet officer.
Technically, you can play Bridge Crew with fewer than four players — in fact, you can even play the game alone — but the game was not made with that experience in mind. Developer Red Storm has put a lot of attention into creating a game in which the setting and controls mimic what you’d be doing if you were aboard a Starfleet ship — learning to cooperate and coordinate with your three teammates is essential to that premise.
Fill out all four spots, and Bridge Crew is like being in an episode of Star Trek.
With fewer than four players, unfilled stations are run by computer-controlled officers when you don’t have a human for the role, and they’re competent, so long you have a human captain to keep an eye on them. The captain uses a pop-up menu of orders, tied to which station you’re looking at, to tell the different AI officers what to do. More involved orders that require more hands, like prepping for warp, can be given to all computer allies at once.
Playing alone, the entire game becomes a menu-driven tactics game, where your goal is to give orders to the correct stations in the heat of the moment. If things get really hairy, you can zap over to any station and run it yourself, allowing for tight maneuvers or clutch warp coil charges at key moments. Playing alone serves serviceable as good practice, or as a means of keeping busy until more players show up, but communicating with other players is what makes the game shine.
When it comes together, Bridge Crew requires smart coordination between players. While the game mechanically compensates for having less than four players, the satisfaction you feel when playing the game does not scale down well as you remove players from the equation.
After completing the campaign, Bridge Crew hopes to keep your attention with randomly generated “Continuing Missions.” Each mission has different parameters, based on classic Star Trek objectives, such as checking out weird space distortions, or try to save survivors from a wrecked ship, if you want to get specific. You choose those parameters, or let the game spawn missions at random, allowing for vast number of potential adventures.
With a few players who get into the action — even if aren’t role-playing — Bridge Crew will definitely have VR fans returning whenever they can get a crew together. Its great premise, combined with solid, well-conceived design, leverages some of the best things about VR, and the best things about cooperative multiplayer games: Teamwork, mutual benefit, and those clutch moments where understanding your teammates means you’re better than the sum of your parts.
Is there a better alternative?
No. When it comes to Star Trek games, nothing quite captures the feel of the show and movies quite like being there. It’s something only VR is capable of right now, particularly with motion controls.
Other multiplayer VR games, such as Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, feature similar gameplay mechanics, but none blend simulation and puzzle-solving like Bridge Crew.
How long will it last?
The five-mission campaign is fairly short — each mission takes about 30 minutes at most. However, the game’s randomized “continuing Missions” give you and your crew the opportunity to continue exploring until you’re ready for something new.
In general, what matters is how much you get out of playing the game with other people. Bridge Crew is a game you’ll pop into with pals once in awhile, rather than an obsession you’ll return to every day.
Should you buy it?
If the idea of living out a Star Trek mission sounds enticing, Bridge Crew is definitely worth it. You’ll get the most out of the game, if you already have some VR buds willing to enlist as well. Solo-players shouldn’t fret, though, the game has online matchmaking, so you can track down other players to join your crew if you need them.