What Star trek can learn from the Mass Effect formula
Hands up who preferred Speed 2: Cruise Control to the high-octane original? How about Dirty Dancing Havana Nights to the original? Or even Lion King 2: Simbas Pride? No? Me neither. The reason I’m bringing up these lesser regarded sequels is because this is how Mass Effect Andromeda is being described when compared to the original trilogy. You have the core of what makes a Mass Effect game here; the conversation and relationship system, the third person combat and the light RPG elements. Even though I don’t wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment that Andromeda is terrible, even I can see it’s a bit of a sub-par experience, especially compared to the perhaps un-measurable expectations.
Even by now, still close to the launch window, numerous bugs in animation have been well documented – T-poses and dead eyes being at the forefront. However, rather than really delving too much into the problems of Mass Effect: Andromeda, I want to talk about the bright aspects of not only the game, but also the general Mass Effect formula and how I feel its structured gameplay could be applied with great success to another sci-fi IP – Star Trek.
It’s fair to say Star Trek has had a chequered past when it come to video games; of course we all have the excellent and free Star Trek Online; a game that lets you team up with countless friends and strangers as you take on quest after quest set in that universe, gaining loot in the process. For the most part it’s a great experience, in my opinion, and one that I feel any sci-fi fan should at least play. Unfortunately though, it arguably doesn’t offer a fantastic story driven singleplayer experience.
The closest Star Trek has ever gotten to this was way back in 2000 with Deep Space Nine: The Fallen, a third person shooter in which you play as either Lieutenant Wolf, Major Kira, or Commander Sisqo, with each playable character having their own set of levels. It’s definitely an interesting game with a steady foundation for what could be, with modern game mechanics and a bit of imagination.
Ever since the original Mass Effect, I always had that feeling of ”wouldn’t this be a great Star Trek game!”. You had the great cast of characters, each with their own quirks and missions that dove deeper into knowing your crew and what makes them tick, you had the interesting, self contained stories of certain species or families, much like the shows had. The interesting setting and technology also really lends itself to the Star Trek world.
It wasn’t until the second Mass Effect game where planet scanning and flying your ship in space (albeit just to travel and on a small scale) was introduced, that I truly felt a Star Trek game was possible. I mean, even the ideologies and core philosophies of Martin Sheen’s ”Illusive Man” could be seen as akin to a sort of Q like figure, or even ”Cerberus”, the rogue army organisation he controls, being like the Cardassians Obsidian Order.
Other such mechanics and ideas to come out from Mass Effect 2 are the loyalty missions. Here you have the ability, after recruiting certain squad members, to take part in backstory specific missions based mainly on that particular character. By doing so, getting that character’s loyalty, gives you a higher percentage chance of them surviving till the end of the game, as well as unlocking specific outfits and enhanced power moves. Ok, so this would obviously have to be reworked to fit around the Star Trek lore, but could be done with relative ease in my book.
Swinging round to both Mass Effect 3 and Andromeda, the main aspect of the two games that I think could influence a Star Trek RPG is the introduction of exploration and the minute combat. Not only am I talking about the general third person shooting, but also the level design and verticality. People may remember that the most recent movie tie-in Star Trek game, based upon Into Darkness, tried this. It was bland, while also being boring; the ultimate devastating combo. Within Mass Effect you have tight knitted third person shooting with more often than not smart, if not a little predictable, level design. You have the corridor halls, the big rooms full of conveniently placed cover, that when entering you know full well some form of fight is about to take place, and the multiple levels available for combat. Star Trek Online does ham-fistedly attempt to accommodate a type of third person shooter play style with limited success. It’s nearly serviceable, but constricted somewhat by its MMO design nature.
So, take the foundation together with the great cast of characters from the original Mass Effect, throw in the intricate, complicated and intriguing story along with great writing and passing from Mass Effect 2, in addition to the tight controls as well and fun combat of three and what do you have? An extremely promising base to work on. A game that, while having potential, doesn’t do anything amazing to stand out from the competition.
So what do you do? You draw upon a franchise staple. Ship battles.
This is something that the Mass Effect universe has toyed with in cutscenes, even showing a quite spectacular and heavily Star Trek influenced battle towards the end of Mass Effect 3. Now, I could say that this imagined Star Trek RPG should just rip out the systems used in Star Trek Online considering that the most fun you have in that game is in space battles. I could! But in all honesty, I feel like a game the size of a Mass Effect-style single player heavily driven story RPG needs a little more.
Here is where I believe Battlefront comes in. Yes, I said Battlefront. Whatever people may think about the core game – lack of story mode, lack of content at launch etc, the one thing most players can agree on is how good the game controls and plays when it comes to the air dog-fighting combat. It’s pretty bad-ass. Especially in modes that support up to 32 players. What’s nice with Battlefront is how tight the ships handle with the game giving you the ability to to perform rolls, swerves and evasive manoeuvres, it’s most certainly not a stretch of the imagination to think that this kind of battle system would work in the Star Trek universe.
Will we ever see a Star Trek game influenced in the same way as Mass Effect seems to be influenced by Star Trek? Unfortunately, no matter how hard my heart wishes it to be so, my brain is telling me the opposite. With Cryptic’s Star Trek Online having now being ported over to consoles together with the great price of it being free-to-play, there’s no real need or cry out for such a thing. In a way rightfully so, it’s a quality product with a lot going for it, plus with Star Trek’s most recent outings on consoles being extremely sub-par, I can see why this kind of experience could be on the back burner for now.
One can only dream that, one day, we may boldly go where no game has gone before.