Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, spin-off of a spin-off, basically parked the anthology-mobile in favor of a contained serial set on a single, gateway space station near a time of war. I’m not a Star Trek buff in general, but I did watch a few episodes of this series long enough to decide I wasn’t interested, and didn’t expect much from the show. So it is very surprising to find out that the only 16-bit game for the series actually isn’t that bad.
True to the series, DS9 places you for most of the game in the role of head of the station, Commander Benjamin Sisko. As I understand it, the concept of the show is as follows: Sisko and his crew are Federation officers meant to keep an uneasy peace between the formerly warring Bajorans (actors with makeup on their noses) and the Cardassians (actors with makeup on their foreheads and necks). Yet parties on both sides still want a good fight, so it’s not uncommon to find one side craftily preparing to destroy the other behind Sisko’s back.
Yes, all the backstory in the paragraph above is indeed relevant. The game requires that you have at least a marginal knowledge of the show and the Trek universe. If you don’t know what a phaser, transporter, and a Borg are, then you won’t get much out of this game, because it certainly doesn’t take the time to teach you. The plus side is that fans of the series will feel right at home.
Though at the cost of alienating the uninitiated, the game does intentionally play out like an episode in the series, and a reasonably clever one at that. There’s a lot of variation in what you do and where you go, from disarming bombs in the docking rings to traveling back in time to the Borg’s attack on your former ship. Surprisingly, they all make logical sense (well, Star Trek logic anyway) and fit together nicely. There are about five plot sections to the storyline that consist of an “interaction” period where you run around the command and promenade levels of the station talking to characters and moving the plot along. These always then lead to an equally long “action” section where you actively run around doing things such as disarming bombs or crashing computers. If you have at least a reasonable amount of Trek interest then you will find both sections equally entertaining.
You’ll play as Sisko through most of the game, but you’ll also get the occasional chance to play as other major characters. You’ll even get the opportunity to play an infiltration mission as the T-1000… whoops I mean the completely original character Odo. At the press of a button you can alter your shape to become a rat, and melt through grates with ease. Other sections find you in a shuttle trying to navigate the “wormhole” (big rip in space that plays a major role in the show), doing some detective work as the station’s doctor, and of course a healthy dose of blasting the piss out of some evildoers.
The graphics are well done and represent the strange look of the show very well. I’m not sure how accurate they are in relation to the actual sets, but they look pretty good regardless, and recreate the alien station’s odd browns, greens, and ornamental lights. The station backgrounds certainly look nice, but other areas such as the planet Bajor and the wormhole steal the show and look simply great. Characters are a high point too. Sisko has got to be the most active leader in the series’ history as you’ll find him running, leaping, and climbing level after level, the animations for all of which are nicely done. He’ll even pant to catch his breath after you stop sprinting. The other major characters you play as or interact with also look just as good. Even Odo’s shapeshifting, surprisingly, doesn’t look hokey.
Controls aren’t anything spectacular, but get the job done. The A button handles your inventory, and switches between the two items in each hand. Holding down the button gives you full access to your inventory and lets you select what items go in your manly manos. B uses whatever you’ve selected, and C jumps. You can catch ledges, hang from them, and all that tasty platforming stuff, which you will get used to as you play. The inventory system can be a little clunky though, and isn’t more convenient than the standard “press start and get an inventory menu” system. Aiming and shooting can also be a chore.
Sound is nicely done with generally great effects, right down to the comical *poink* noise when you pluck a hair for a DNA test. Background music is less impressive. Some themes seem mismatched to the level but all are still of good quality. The rendition of the theme throughout the game is about the best you could hope to get for a 16-bit system.
The game is not without its problems though. Chief among these is that most of the puzzles suffer from a fatal case of over-implementation syndrome. The designers basically took a good idea and then overused the holy hell out of it – take the the first bomb defusing puzzle for example. You learn you have three hidden bombs you must find and dispose of. Fair enough, and somewhat fun. But after your success, the radio alerts you of 5 more bombs in the next section, then 9, and so on until it’s just more annoying than anything else.
The same problems occur with the password puzzles in the game, where pressing a certain combination of statues will open doors, except you’re given NO clues on how to decode them. It’s all trial and error. Once you get one door you’ll just have to crack another one more complicated than the last until eventually you get to your goal. Similar story with Odo’s infiltration mission, with a ship laid out like a maze, but navigated entirely through 2D scrolling levels connected by vents and doorways. Get ready to draw a map.
Likewise, the diversity in the game is fun, but it can also get annoying at times. The standard game is enjoyable enough, so when its time to do something radically different, such as piloting the shuttle through the narrow walls of the wormhole, it may not be something you want to do. It took me about 20 tries to make it through the wormhole, and playing a shooter wasn’t even something I signed on for. But I wanted more side-scrolling Sisko, so I had to beat this. Same is true for the Odo section where you must find the right combination of vents to properly navigate the ship. No one said anything about a stealth mission. Some gamers may appreciate the chances to do something new, but others like myself may find these sections too much of a departure, and more of a distraction.
If you’re a fan of Star Trek, and not necessarily DS9, then this game is worth checking out. In fact this may well be one of the better Trek games you’ll find on any system. It delivers a solid experience worth playing through until the conclusion. However, if you don’t harbor even a passing Trekian interest then pass this one up. It’s not general enough for just anyone to play, and a lot of jargon will be tossed at you with references you won’t understand. For this reason, its score will probably be much higher with fans of the show.
Treat for fans, great gameplay, nice graphics.
Non-fans will be lost, some overly diverse and confusing puzzles.