E3 2016 – Star Trek Online Preview – Beam Me Up (PS4)

Cryptic Studios, in collaboration with publisher/distributor Perfect World Entertainment, has been on a console tear lately. First, the well-received MMORPG Neverwinter is heading to the PlayStation 4 this summer, three years after its release on PC. Now, Star Trek Online is also headed to consoles this fall. We managed to get a taste of the game while at E3, and have our impressions ready for you.

A Long Journey

Star Trek Online released well over six years ago, in February of 2010. While developer Cryptic Studios may have toyed with the idea of releasing the game onto the PlayStation 3, any plans they may have had were likely scrapped because the PS3 was perhaps a bit unwieldy to work with, and limited in terms of hardware. Fast-forward to today, however, and the situation is quite different. MMOs are quickly and easily finding homes on consoles, likely due in no small part to today’s consoles sharing x86 processor architecture.

Since Star Trek Online was originally developed as a PC game, the control scheme had to be mapped in a way that made sense on the more limited input device that is the console controller. According to Executive Producer Steve Ricossa, nailing down an intuitive control scheme for consoles was one of the first tasks that the team needed to get right before the porting project could even be green-lit. But they figured it out, and the game is well on its way to a console near you.

Better on Consoles First

During development, Cryptic Studios decided the game needed a cosmetic facelift, and so they got to work on improving the game’s lighting and shaders for the console release. The result was one of those very rare times in which the console version will launch with better visual features than the PC version, though the feature parity on PC will likely very quickly catch up.

The demo began in space, as any good Star Trek game should. Controls involved using the directional pad to set acceleration, the left stick for pitch and yaw control, and the right stick for reticle control, a new feature specifically for consoles. The ship was in an automatic heal mode, which helped to adjust power to shields when needed. That ability could be swapped out for others, naturally, perhaps for extra experience when taking down enemies. Combat during the demo was rather easy, but it drove home the main point: that a viable control scheme had been worked out for Star Trek Online.

The interface has a few handicaps for the console controller, to make up for the lack of buttons. Instead of a power shortcut bar, certain controller buttons bring up different categories of abilities in a wheel, and scrolling through using the left analog stick is a very quick option. As mentioned previously, a reticle appears during space combat, and using the right stick to flick between targets helps to compensate for the lack of aim speed due to consoles not using mice.

To Infinity…And the Ground

Once I mopped up the enemies in space, we were taken to the surface of a planet to engage in some ground-based combat. Controls here were mostly like a third-person shooter – left stick to move, right stick to aim, R2 to fire, L2 for sights, etc. However, the target-flicking from space combat was intact in ground battles, which made for even quicker firefights. Some people may consider this a handicap that is too great, but it is an option that does not have to be used.

Overall, this felt like a very solid port. With a fresh coat of paint, and familiar console controls, it seems Cryptic Studios has a good idea of what it takes to successfully port a full-fledged MMO to consoles. Trekkies who have somehow not played the game up until this point have a lot of catching up to do, and the game is inviting enough to newbies that this release may even entice gamers who may not try such a game in the first place.

To top things off, Star Trek Online is a free-to-play MMORPG. This means that you have a licensed game with a major brand behind it. Six years after release, the game must be doing well enough to warrant a fresh release on consoles. This bodes well, and indicates that Star Trek Online will be supported with new content for a while to come. Star Trek Online is currently on target to release this fall 2016.