Apart from the fact that I like Star Trek and will snap up any opportunity to make excessive use of any puns afforded to me, the upcoming Star Trek : Legacy, coming from Mad Doc Software, has piqued my interest of late for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, it looks like an interesting game concept - not original, per se, but it is something which has been tried before to only minimal success I’ve felt. Commanding legions of Starships in RTS slogging matches, essentially Command & Conquer with different avatars, has never seemed to quite fit with the Star Trek mould of graceful vessels craftily tearing one another apart in space we became used to in the films and TV series’. So, I’ve been waiting for a game in that vein to hopefully pull off the experience, and this looks to be another shot at doing so.
Secondly, because it piqued my interest in the first place I went and read up on it, and had to smile at most of the previews of the game I’ve read : They’re essentially the original fact sheet and press release rewritten with lots of gushing and parading of Star Trek facts to flesh out a couple of hundred words, while the stock photo’s are blown up to fill the other 5/6 of the preview spread. It’s not uncommon practice of course ; just that it has been a while since I was moved to read into previews in depth and thought I’d drive home a point from an earlier column of mine.
But that’s a perennial point, and I digress. Back to Star Trek : Legacy which, by the way, I’ve never actually played or looked at in person (just so as we’re clear on that, my dear reader.) The specifics of its play don’t really matter, as they’re fairly similar on the base level to most of the RTS’s-in-space-with-a-Star-Trek-license. The interesting differences pale in comparison to the ever-optimistic trekkie in me who hopes that they’ll get it right this time.
Legacy is more than just an upcoming strategy game however. It is a good and current example of how licensed games of popular television and movie franchises can be both a blessing and a plague upon their record.
On the blessing side, the "golden age" of licensed games was somewhere in the early to mid 1990’s, and largely revolved around Star Trek and Star Wars. On the Trek front we had the likes of Judgement Rites, 25th Anniversary and A Final Unity - all of which were adventure games, mind you, and all of which remain engaging to this day.
On the Star Wars front we had Lucasarts in its heyday anyway - they were at the height of their adventure gaming and it being pre-Episode 1 the silly stuff was largely contained. The era produced such games as the X-Wing series, which culminated in the far ahead of its time multiplayer X-Wing vs Tie Fighter, and Dark Forces, which went on to be the Jedi Knight series.
Many younger readers won’t know these games - they grew up in the years of decline for both the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises. As their woes mounted onscreen with such farces as Voyager and Episode I the quality of the franchised games varied for Star Trek, and went into complete free-fall for Star Wars.
Star Wars is, numerically speaking, the far more guilty of the two franchises, for it has over 100 videogames bearing its name. I would say I’ve played them all, but I’m not that much of a devoted fan. As time went on we had Dark Forces and X-Wing replaced with such choice games as Galactic Battlegrounds (or, "A Poor Mans Age of Empires III with Stormtroopers"), Jedi Battle Powers ("Think battles, with Jedi !" goes the pitch) and Force Commander (with a notable lack of The Force in all but the one obligatory level, if I recall. Of course that may be better than Every Other Star Wars RTS In Existence, which has Darth Vader pimped out in every minor skirmish you could imagine. Chap mustn’t sleep.)
Star Trek is not above reproach, and while the Armada series isn’t terrible, it’s not great either - it divides some, with myself falling into the camp of preferring the more precise, "Let’s aim for their port nacelle" type of Starfleet Command.
The outputting of endless cash-cows by Lucasarts on the other hand was completely and undeniably shameful and harmful for the Star Wars franchise as a whole. As the executives got over the lucrative deals that could be struck thanks to the release of three new films, they began to release that once the dust settled the videogaming legacy of their franchise could continue for a long, long time. However if they continued to flood the market then the Star Wars games would, and indeed had, become an ongoing joke in the videogame industry akin to the constantly knocked-off Tycoon games.
So they turned things around by farming out the Jedi Knight series to Raven Software, the same people behind the highly successful Star Trek Voyager : Elite Force series which is arguably more entertaining than the TV series ever was and they let experienced RPG hacks BioWare go wild on their own original creation. They came out with Knights of the Old Republic, which stands alongside its sequel as one of the best RPG’s for beginners and those who like ’em lite I’ve ever played, based on any franchise or original idea.
The Star Wars folks have strayed somewhat and followed the money when it suited, particularly around film release time, and even the Jedi Knight series has had its iffy moments with Jedi Academy in particular. But it’s much better than the dark old days of Jar Jar Binks Exists On Yet Another CD ROM Rip Off.
In doing so the Star Wars people have gone a long way to ensuring that the series will live on among its most natural audience. Meanwhile, the Star Trek fans aren’t having quite the luck with numbers of games, though there are some interesting projects in the works. I’d consider Legacy to be one of them, if only because I’m hoping for that perfect RTS.
It’s almost lucky for the Star Trek and Star Wars videogame franchises that there are no major film or TV releases on the horizon - thus the temptation for tie-in cash cows is lessoned, and decent games can flourish. So long as everyone heeds the lesson of the Star Wars cash cows and make sure to mind the legacy of their franchises as carefully in the videogame arena as they would on the silver screen [Aha, you did see Episode I didn’t you ? - Ed] then we should be OK.