In our last episode, Captain Kirk and his crew saved a group of colonists from shape-changing robots guarding an ancient sleeping race. It was a fun adventure even though the space combat was tricky on modern laptops and I struggled with the eclipse puzzle. As the curtain closes on that episode, it’s time start another: “Hijacked!”
The story opens as usual with an assignment from Starfleet: the USS Masada failed to report in as scheduled. We are to travel to the Beta Myamid system, investigate the delay, and take whatever actions we deem necessary. It seems like another rescue mission, but this time we are looking for a ship. Once in the system (after passing the requisite copy protection), we are greeted by an “Elasi” captain. He’s a surly sort and tells us that we have to leave immediately because we are interfering with their affairs. Moments later, he arms weapons and raises shields; we have no choice but to fight.
Before I get into that action-packed battle, I promised last week that I would take a deeper look at the interface. From the comments, I see that this is a big problem for some of you playing along. As far as I can tell, this engine was custom-built by Interplay and was only used on this game and its sequel. It is very similar to others that we have seen: the left mouse button is used to move or select, the right calls up a menu of verbs.
That’s where this gets a bit strange: the “menu” is actually a tiny picture of a golden, naked human:
|Close up of “Interface Man”|
It’s not all that complicated from there: we click on his eyes for “look”, his mouth for “talk”, and his two hands are for “take” (left) and “use” (right). The rest of his chiseled body does nothing, but the Enterprise logo in the upper right corner accesses the system menu. I don’t want to seem too harsh, but these are tiny UI elements on an already small picture. It’s very easy to miss your target and click off of the hotspots. Some games that we have seen used text menus so that the verbs could be situational and others used fixed text or icons at the top or bottom of the screen, but few of them were this tiny and kludgy. Devoting so much of the “UI” to non-clickable area also seems questionable.
The “use” icon is the strange one because it does several things depending on the context.
- You can click “use” and then an item on the screen to manipulate it as Kirk.
- You can click “use” and then a member of the away team to switch control to that person. From there, you can click on the screen again to manipulate whatever the object is as that team member.
- You can click “use” and then an inventory icon appears in the upper-left of the screen. Clicking there lets you select your inventory items to use on the screen. With an item selected, you can click the inventory icon again to use the item on another item in your inventory.
- Using an item with another item is very touchy. If you use a combination that doesn’t work, you select the other item instead of getting an error. It also seems that sometimes you can only use two items together in specific rooms for no plot-relevant reason. For example, you can use the tricorder on a museum item in your inventory only in the museum room. This makes solving some of the puzzles extra hard.
|Six items in the default inventory.|
On the topic of inventory, there are six items that we always seem to start with: two phasers (green for stun and red for kill), a tricorder, a medical tricorder, a communicator, and a medkit. Items that you pick up in one episode do not seem to carry over to the next. The two “tricorders” act as more intense “examine” functions. Spock can use the regular one to comment on the environment, computers, etc. while Dr. McCoy can use the medical tricorder to see the health of an individual. The game does not make you switch to Spock and McCoy to use these items as the relevant character will always take over when you use them. One nice touch with the interface is that the cursor changes whenever you hover over something you can interact with. This makes finding the manipulatable objects in the rooms much easier. It’s a good touch and one of the few elements of the UI which I really appreciate. As a guy who managed UI engineers for a year or two, I find the use of a non-intuitive graphic to select the “verbs” to be strange. I welcome other folks to comment. Is it just me?
One final note before I move on: after a commenter told me what 3% that I missed last week (I did not show the Nauian the skull), I couldn’t help but restore and get 100% and 4 commendations for the episode. If there is anything special about the ending later, I don’t want to miss it by mistake.
|You know the battle’s going well when this happens...|
Prepare To Be Boarded!
I don’t know how to talk about combat with the Elasi ship except to say that it is tougher than the mock battle we fought in the first episode. The Enterprise was damaged frequently and I kept Scotty hard at work trying to keep up with the repairs. That involves toggling the target analysis mode off to see our health, ordering the repair, then switching back to the enemy. I died constantly. The Elasi ship also will be repaired if I don’t keep damaging it, so I just had to get lucky enough to score hits in succession. It was very frustrating. After 25 minutes of running, shooting, fixing, and repeating, I get lucky enough to defeat him. Next post, I’ll dig deeper into the battle system and see if I can do a better job explaining it.
|Warp nacelles on the bottom?|
After defeating the pirates, we are free orbit the planet. The Masada is there, her shields up and with twenty-seven lifeforms aboard. Spock suggests that we use a command prefix to lower their shields briefly and sneak a transporter signal across. These “command prefixes” are secret backdoor codes to override control of a Federation ship but they must not be too secret because we have the Masada's in the library computer. Her crew compliment is only seventeen so we can assume there are at least ten pirates on board. This will be fun!
Before I board, I research Elasi pirates in the library computer: they are a “Class I” threat, responsible for 46 attacks on Federation ships in the last three years. We also learn a ton about their clan structure and homeworld, but I see no immediate value in knowing that there’s an Andorian colony on their main planet. I suspect this will be more important later. All of this points to the Elasi as recurring antagonists in this game. The manual lists them as one of the big three enemy groups we might encounter, the others being Romulans and Klingons. As far as I know, they were created for this game and have not appeared in other Star Trek productions.
|The art of negotiation.|
Before we backdoor the ship, I try diplomacy. We hail the captain, a man named Cereth, and I get some dialog options. I accuse him of being in possession of stolen property and he disagrees. Instead, he wants us to free twenty-five Elasi political prisoners before he will release the crew. I try to get them to send over the hostages as a show of good faith, but he’s not having it. I tell him that the prisoners have already been tried in court and they are serving their legitimate punishments. He doesn’t take that very well and we’re going to have to do this the hard way.
I have Uhura send the command prefixes, but the game makes me type the 16-digit code myself. I have to go to the library computer, write the code down, and then come back. It’s simple enough, but they really could have just noted that I asked the computer first. That seems successful, but it still will not let me beam over because the shields are up. It takes me almost 10 minutes to realize that it is the Enterprise’s shields that are up! I lower them and we sneak aboard the Masada. Time to liberate.
|Their transporter has a wheelchair ramp.|
We arrive in the Masada’s transporter room and find it shot to hell. I send McCoy to help a wounded crew member who tells us that the Elasi boobytrapped the ship. Fortunately, he hid some tools that we can use in a secret compartment. How helpful! He gives us a “Runcinate Transmogrifier”, a technobabble device that is used to maintain transporter systems. This one is missing some bits. Spock looks at the transporter and says that it would take Mr. Scott two days to repair it. Since we don’t have two days, I guess that is moot. If not to fix the transporter, what will I use my transmogrifier on?
|This place sure is a mess!|
Without finding anything else to do in the transporter room, we head out into the hallway. We find a ton of junk on the floor, some of which might be useful later: five phasers without power packs, a drained “phaser welder”, scraps of metal, and pieces of wire. I pocket all of it. The door to the bridge at the end of the hall is protected by a force field, but there is also a hallway to the right. We’ll go that way first.
The side room turns out to be the brig where the pirates are keeping the Masada crew. There are two guards, but we stun them both before they can kill anyone. Unfortunately, the holding cell has been boobytrapped so that any attempt to open it will detonate a bomb and kill all of the prisoners. Even touching it causes the bomb to go off and I have to restore.
|Looking for the bathroom?|
I do not find anything else in the room I can manipulate so I go to my inventory. If I use a phaser on the welder, I can charge its drained batteries. I can then use it on the metal scraps to make a bit for the transmogrifier. I still have no idea what it does, but Spock seems happy. Despite telling me it was impossible earlier, Spock is mostly able to fix the transporter but he needs wires as the ones we have are not long enough. There are wires all over the transporter room and hallway, but we can’t seem to pick any of those up. Trying to weld the little ones I picked up into bigger ones just results in them being destroyed.
The answer was right in front of me: I need the wires attached to the bomb in the brig. I expected that I could beam the prisoners out of the cell, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. If Kirk tries to defuse the bomb, everyone dies, but I find that if I select Spock to do the work, he is able to do it successfully. Everyone lives! The crew tells us of a secret spot that we can use the phaser welder on that will take down the forcefield. Before I do that, I also confirm that Spock is able to finish repairing the transporter. I have two paths to the bridge. Which should I take?
Beaming in seems like it would give us the best jump on our enemies, but that doesn’t go as planned. We are immediately in a firefight and my redshirt gets killed. I restore and try a different strategy, but no matter how quickly I go or who I shoot first, one of the pirates always kills my security officer. What am I to do? I’m embarrassed to say I tried this nearly twenty times before I thought to try talking before shooting. If we talk to the pirate captain, we convince him to surrender. Enterprise security beams in and the mission is over!
|I’ll get you next time, Gadget.|
Once again, I get a 97% score. I’m pretty happy with that, but I actually restore back and this time destroy the forcefield too. Even though that is unnecessary, it bumps my score up to 100%. Go me! This episode seems shorter even than the first one. Should I try to cover two episodes in a post if I can? Or leave it at one?
|I seem to always catch this guy blinking…|
Star Trek Trivia
- The Elasi pirates seem completely unrelated to the Elasians, a race of Greek-inspired people from "Elaan of Troyius". I wonder if they were originally intended to be Ferengi, a pirate-like race that first appeared in TNG. The Ferengi were a poorly-written and developed race when this game came out; Ron Moore fleshed them out considerably during Deep Space Nine.
- The USS Masada was probably named after the Israelite fort. There is an outside chance it was named for the science officer from the USS Constellation that was killed during its battle with the “planet killer” ("The Doomsday Machine").
- The use of a secret “prefix code” to backdoor a Federation ship and force it to drop shields wasn’t from the original series but was first used in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. It was also used once on TNG (“The Wounded”).