Star Trek D-A-C
As you've probably noticed, there's recently been a new Star Trek film sitting atop the box office charts. Serving as a series reboot the new film comes complete with a cast of fresh faced youngsters taking on the famous roles of Kirk, Spock, Scotty, etc. Masterminded by Lost creator J.J Abrams the reinvention of Trek has turned out to be very good indeed, although Simon Pegg's Scottish accent takes a while to get used to. Strangely however, for such a big film, the only thing missing is the high profile game to go with it.
Not that Trek fans are completely without a new game to play this summer, because Star Trek D-A-C is going to try and fill the gap on Xbox Live Arcade, timed as it is to nicely ride on the coat tales of the movie without really having any direct link at all. In fact unlike most games linked to the evergreen Sci-Fi franchise D-A-C pays little or no attention at all to series lore, stripping away any semblance of story or characters leaving you with a back to basics top down 2D space shoot-em-up, multiplayer experience.
Anyone who's played Wing Commander Arena or that dreadful Battlestar Galactica game will know what to expect here. You pilot your ship around a distinctly 2D representation of space from a top down perspective engaging in battles with other ships that you cross paths with. You get a choice of three ship types, fighter, bomber, and flagship, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Each ship type has a different weapons system, fighters do the normal shooting lasers from the front thing while bombers, as their name suggests, drop bombs behind them and flagships fire energy bolts aimed via a target you hover over enemies.
You get to play as either a member of the Federation or the Romulan Empire which sadly does little more than provide a different graphic for your ship as the three classes of vessel are identical regardless of which side you choose. Disappointingly there really is no reason other than the visuals to pick a particular side since there's no plot or characters involved at any point, leaving D-A-C feeling distinctly empty and soulless.
The odd sounding D-A-C in the title actually stands for the three game modes, Deathmatch (Team flavour only), Assault, and Conquest. While Deathmatch does what it says on the tin and lets you join a battle on one of the two sides and blast away, the later two offer some variety. In Conquest you're competing to take over the map by capturing and holding a number of rings allowing a degree of ebb and flow to proceedings. Assault varies things slightly by having the attacking team capture rings in a set order before trying to capture the defending team's base while the defending team simply try to stop them. While D-A-C is a multiplayer game at heart you are able to play all these modes on your own with AI bots making up the numbers if you prefer, although it's fair to say the AI on display isn't the best.
As you may have noticed while D-A-C is officially a Star Trek game it's not stretching the truth to say the only ties it has to the name is in the ship designs. Other than that it could just have easily been called Space Battle Arcade or even Laser Cats vs Mutant Rabbits with a few subtle changes to the graphics. This is doubly disappointing when you realise that D-A-C has very little going for it on the gameplay front, something making better use of the license may have been able to paper over for at least a little while.
It's not that anything is broken exactly, more that it's simply so uninspired. The controls work well enough although there's an almost 'floaty' feeling to them which probably isn't down to any clever advanced space-style physics engine. The differences in the classes of ship give some pause for thought but never really become exciting and the few power-ups available all fail to satisfy.
Talking of the power-ups, these are picked up by simply flying over them (Is it just me or do floating 'magic' powers seem at odds somehow with the Star Trek ethos?) and include such wonders as temporary shields, temporary cloaking ability, one homing rocket and a one use only energy blast that pushes nearby enemies away. Practical yes, but hardly thrilling.
The top down viewpoint is also a little too zoomed in for my liking and means that despite the presence of an on screen mini map and a full battleground map available at the touch of a button there's a tendency for opponents, especially AI ones, to be peppering your hull almost before you're able to see them on screen.
The action itself looks nice enough with some well realised ships and pretty looking backgrounds to fly across. Combine that with the often beautiful explosions and weapons effects and it all comes together to make things look exciting in the heat of battle, it's just a shame it's less fun to play than it is to look at once the novelty has worn off.
There's not even much content here to try and keep you interested; the already limited number of game modes isn't helped by the small number of maps on offer. The slightly stingy four arenas available in Deathmatch mode are made to look positively numerous when you consider there's only two in Conquest mode and a pathetic one for those keen on playing Assault. It's not like they're particularly thrillingly designed either, in case you were thinking it was quality rather than quantity.
The overwhelming feeling, the more you play D-A-C, is that what it really needs is more Star Trek in it. An attempt at a story, some voiceovers, a bit of character, frankly anything would help. As it is there's nothing to hold your attention, nothing for Trek fans to latch onto, all that's left is a functional but soulless top-down shooter that's woefully short of features and completely snubs the possibilities it's license provides. As Spock might say, it's all highly illogical.