Before any great Starfleet officer can take to the stars, he or she must hit the books at the Starfleet academy. It’s a wonder that anyone manages to graduate; the teachers are horrible, the curriculum nearly non-existent, and the students only have a few, dull things to say. But before you shy away from serving the Federation, let’s take a closer look at Star Trek: Starfleet Academy Starship Bridge Simulator.
Starfleet Academy starts you off at the bottom of the barrel as a lowly cadet. Without much explanation, you’ll start off entering in your race, gender, and name. Hopefully your name is one of the six first names and last names you can choose from. That’s right. While games from the dawn of the start button have allowed you to enter in at least your initials, Starfleet Academy makes you choose from a preset list of names, most of which aren’t particularly common. I see this as a cheap cop-out of having a simple text entry system. It’s not like choosing a name puts you down a specific story path or something, so why not let me choose my own name?
So, once you’ve selected the name that most closely matches yours, you’re off to the academy. Cue the generic non-Star Trek background music and show them their options, Johnny! At this point, things seem similar to MechWarrior for SNES. You have some options to talk to your fellow cadets. Instead of having something interesting or personal to say, it’s just some garbage such as “I’m really excited to be on your flight team, [First Name #4]”. You can also view some 3D models of various ships, but they’re all really blocky looking and are nothing like you’d expect them to be. They’re all a solid greyish color and pretty nasty to view. Think Star Fox, but without Super FX…without…pizazz.
Once you’ve figured out which cryptic pictograph lets you actually fly a damn mission (never mind that you haven’t gone to a single class yet), you’re off on your first mission. And by “mission”, I mean, fly around aimlessly looking for a buoy to drop off at a starbase. You’ll learn all the great maneuvers used by modern Starfleet crews, like not having decent short range sensors and flying around aimlessly, the inability to delegate decisions and tasks to other crew members and doing everything yourself, and ramming enemy ships.
First, you’ll be picking up that buoy I mentioned. You’ll have to activate your tractor beam, but there’s no computer or science officer to tell you when you’re in range of the buoy. You’ll have to use trial and error, and be told that you’re too far away. Once you’ve tractored the buoy, you’ll have to drop it off at the nearby starbase, and call them up on your intergalactic rotary phone to let them know you’re ready to release the buoy. Again, there’s no indication of how close you need to be, no distance countdown or anything, just an error message if you’re too far away. You can travel faster than light, but can’t get a simple readout telling you how far away you are from something.
As you’re finishing with that fetch quest, you can try your hand at target practice. Other than a warning not to collide with the targets, you’re not given much instruction or button mappings. Now, in every Star Trek show and movie I’ve seen, ships fire phasers—a type of steady-stream beam weapon—at their enemies. Photon torpedoes are another option, fired like submarine torpedoes. Both work MUCH better by locking onto the target, perhaps aiming for a critical system. Starfleet Academy has none of this, though. You’ll just fire into open space and hope the enemy is where the shot will be. The phasers are not a steady stream, but a quick burst like the weapons you’d see in Star Wars or Star Fox. Furthermore, you can’t get a nice status on your own ship systems, or the enemy’s. Unless the academy is trying to teach their students on flying blind, this is a really poor interpretation of Star Trek. At least you can fly in 3D space, though, but the radar you have is only two-dimensional.
The things that draw me into the Star Trek universe are its interesting and varied characters, cultures, races, and dialog; the philosophical and ethical debates presented in many episodes; and amazing sci-fi technology. Star Trek: Starfleet Academy Starship Bridge Simulator excels at screwing all of these up. While Future’s Past is not an excellent game, it’s a vastly superior Star Trek adaptation than what we have here, plus it has all the beloved Next Generation main cast.