We're well into the era of at least somewhat consumer-friendly virtual reality, so it's about darn time a game releases that really captures the things that we could once only dream about. Unfortunately, Star Trek: Bridge Crew isn't quite that game.
Bridge Crew may not be perfect, but it's one giant step in the right direction. The game, developed by Red Storm Entertainment (whose credits include assisting on The Division and Far Cry), puts players into the shoes and red shirts of crew members aboard a Starfleet cruiser, the USS Aegis, as the ship and its crew search for a new place for the Vulcans to live.
Aboard the ship and on its deck, players can take on one of four roles: captain, tactical officer, engineer and helm officer. Each role is integral to not only the mission at-hand, but the entire crew and ship's survival, though it might not seem like that when a player is flailing their arms wildly in the air before a warp jump. Though, it is more than welcome.
Unlike most virtual reality games, Star Trek: Bridge Crew prides itself on two things: immersion and longevity. With immersion, you'll find yourself communicating almost obsessively with your other three crew members, who themselves are real players somewhere in the world. You'll also find yourself distracted by the screens in front of and around you while you're in the ship. Unfortunately, you're stuck manning your post indefinitely.
Longevity comes from the fact that in a handful of missions, you'll easily have spent a couple of hours wearing a VR headset, something that may not be as comfortable as one would hope. Experience may differ, of course, as headsets like Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR boast a lighter weight than HTC's Vive.
The game itself is fairly straightforward, at least in how it introduces certain concepts. In a lot of ways, Bridge Crew is like one big interactive Bop-It, as in each of the roles, you'll spend time flipping switches, sliding sliders, scanning, steering or diverting power. As captain, you'll get an overview of things like engine power and shields, and it'll be key for you to alert your crew members to what you need.
During an early mission, our captain left their post and we were left with no directive (myself playing as an engineer), eventually killed by a Klingon Warbird, the one the mission objectives had asked us to subdue and rescue prisoners from. Each of our player avatars awkwardly slumped, and despite a lack of impressive motion capture, moving mouths and controllable arms made the experience at least feel real.
And that's the thing with Bridge Crew. The game really only works when you're playing online with others. Hop into some single player missions and you'll find yourself bored or lost within the first 30 minutes, checking out different roles and attempting to complete the fast-moving Bop-It puzzle laid out in front of you. Should you choose to man one role, AI-controlled crew members fill the additional slots -- and this goes for online, too, when a teammate drops from the game.
In a way, that makes communication the biggest and best part of Bridge Crew, since you'll not only be forced to work together, but forced to learn about each other and how each of you reacts to certain situations. Think of it like an ice breaker from summer camp. You won't want to introduce yourself to these total strangers, but by the end of the mission you'll be best friends.
In the collection of missions I played, I found myself wondering one major thing: why is this game VR-only? Aside from the excitement and intensity of actually being on the deck of a cruiser, the VR itself doesn't have much depth or need. The game even supports a game pad, so if you decide not to play with your VR controller of choice, you don't have to.
Despite that, the VR itself does work, and its not wholly distracting or uncomfortable to experience (aside from the aforementioned weight). Not one of the missions led to dizziness, and there were no hiccups or lag in the actual game play, aside from the less-than lovely load times between menus.
Bridge Crew was also one of the first Vive games I'd played that was enjoyable while sitting down. Games like Adventure Time felt off-balance or clunky, but Bridge Crew makes sitting in a chair feel like you're actually sitting in your role's chair in the middle of space.
Unfortunately, a limited field of view from the front of the ship makes battles ten times scarier (because you can't see) and ten times more boring (because you can't see). You can, however, view the ship and its surrounding area from space, but this feels disjointed from the main plane of the game.
As a virtual reality experience, Star Trek Bridge Crew feels like an insanely polished, well-rounded title. Its focus on communication may not make up for the game's lack of depth or content, but it makes for a fun few-hour romp for any Star Trek fan, or someone looking to pad out their VR library.
While its price may be steep, its proof of concept is worth buying into. The game supports cross play, much like Ubisoft's other virtual reality titles, so at the very least the community will have more density for a while.
Rating: Three-and-a-half out of five stars.