I’ll admit I’m generally more of a Next Generation fan than of TOS, but it says something that models of the USS Reliant and the classic NCC-1701 Enterprise are the ones sitting on my desk as I type this, and NOT the Enterprise-D.  I’ve also been looking for a reason to try Cryptic Studios’ and Perfect World’s Star Trek Online for quite some time, but it wasn’t until I heard about the new expansion (launched on consoles last week) Agents of Yesterday that I finally decided to pull the trigger.  Much like the original show itself, it’s a bit clunky and worn around the edges, but the charm (nostalgia fueled or not) more than makes up for a less than friendly welcome for newer players combined with difficult ship to ship combat and incompletely explained controls.

I like that Agents of Yesterday looks dated.  The film grain effect coupled with boxy equipment and what appear to be low-rent backgrounds completely capture the look of the original Trek in all the best ways.  The Gorn LOOK like guys in lizard outfits, the Taureans’ carry comically oversized spears that lodge into your player’s sternum, and the Klingons’ sashes look as gaudy as ever.  Trekkers are going to get a lot more out of this, obviously since the game (and the expansion in particular) is a love letter to all things Trek, referencing all of the series, movies, and comics.  Unfortunately, as pleasant as it is to wander classic sets (I really enjoyed missions aboard both Kingon warbirds and the good ol’ Enterprise), dated character models do not hold up as well as the backgrounds.  While the models are detailed (I like the stitching on the original uniforms), the facial expressions are not impressive at all.  In space, things look a lot better, with pretty effects like nebulae, colorful ships with powerful looking weapons constantly swarm about, and the little details like animated nacelles are a nice touch.  Music and sound are perfect recreations from the show, so everything sounds exactly like it should, and I always get a kick out of the melodramatic soundtrack.  Bringing back Walter Koenig to give Pavel Chekov new dialog was a wonderful decision, and his “aged” voice actually fits perfectly with the storyline.  It was clear that the writers enjoyed creating the new Trek conversations, filling them liberally with references.  It was a bit disconcerting hearing Christopher Doohan playing Montgomery Scott rather than his father, James, who obviously originated the role, but the voices are similar enough to aid with the suspension of disbelief.  The rest of the cast does an admirable job for the most part, but sometimes line readings feel strained, especially for oft-repeated phrases such as “I have nothing for you right now” and the like.  Re-purposing classic dialog to fit the narrative feels a bit forced, but understandable.  The sound editors did a decent job not not making the out-of-context clips sound too shoehorned.  The storyline hits all the right beats, providing both a nostalgic look back on Trek history, but also introducing players to a new universe as well as telling a fairly compelling story, even if the ending is a bit forced in order to accommodate the rest of the game’s future setting.  becoming a Temporal agent is sufficiently amusing and is a clever way to solve an otherwise paradoxical situation.  I wish there were a few more missions in the Agents of Yesterday timeline, as 6 hours just wasn’t enough for me.  It’s certainly enjoyable, and considering it’s very possible to get through these missions without spending a cent, it’s well worth your time to create a new character just to go through it.

Playing Star Trek Online is fairly straightforward at first, but quickly becomes complicated as a dearth of instructions coupled with a fairly steep learning curve and an overwhelming UI that doesn’t easily allow you access to information cause you to struggle more than you should.  On the ground, things are much easier.  Controlling your character is easy, and your captain responds quickly.  That being said, I don’t like that I can’t dodge standard attacks.  It’s immersion breaking when a thrown spear tracks my sidestepping character to cause damage I should have been able to avoid.  The inventory system is decent, but the game doesn’t tell you that you can provide equipment to your accompanying bridge crew or how to do it, which ground a mission to a halt when I needed to give them encounter suits but had no idea how to go about it.  I ran into a more serious issue with this the first time I had to beam to my ship for a mission.  I somehow made my shuttlecraft my default vehicle, and I was unable to get to my starship, causing me to get naturally whomped in a space battle.  Searching the online forums got me sorted out, but leaving players stranded like this is sloppy.  Space combat also gets VERY difficult very quickly.  I found my strategy to be this: do as mcuh damage as possible to enemy ships, get killed, respawn, then finish the enemy off.  My ship simply didn’t handle very well, so attacking a certain part of an enemy’s shields in order to go for massive damage with torpedoes didn’t pan out all that often.  When I had better odds on my side, the combat felt like something right out of the shows with phasers firing in every direction, and ships maneuvering all around, using tractor beams and disruptors to try and destroy my humble USS Thames.

Star Trek Online faces the same issues as similar MMOs in that you can lone wolf and you can play for free, but you’ll be tempted at every turn to spend real money in order to better your ships, gear, uniforms, and so on.  It certainly doesn’t seem obtrusive, but there are constant subtle reminders about how much better you could be doing right now.  It’s not a distraction, and to Perfect World’s credit you can meet with at least a modicum of success without paying a thing.  However, the lure of bigger, better ships and gear is a tough one to ignore.  At the end of the day, I think it’s an enjoyable romp through the Trek universe, despite some frustrations here and there, especially for free.  Console players should jump at the chance to join their PC-counterparts in creating Original Series adventures now that they can.