Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation – A Final Unity (PC)

A Final Unity was released back then almost 15 years ago in 1995, so I am yet again a little late with the review. The gameplay consists of two core parts, away missions, that feature classic point&click adventure gameplay and tasks on the Enterprise itself, that involve navigation and ship on ship battles. The adventure part is the dominant one as most of the fighting and ship repairs can be delegated to either Worf and Geordi and thus run completly on their own. I made plenty use of that, so I can't really comment on how they play if you don't run them on autopilot.

On the away mission the player is in control of four characters and can switch between them at any point. The characters act however as a group, so you can't have different characters on different screens, they also all share a single inventory. They however have different abilities and they also act as a build in help system, you can talk to them at any time and they give you hints on what to do next. Sometimes it can annoy a bit to have four characters standing around, as they can get in the way, covering hotspots you have to click, you then have to manually move them out of the way.

The actions you have at your disposal include Look, Walk, Use and Talk and can be rotated via the right mouse key, which makes the game easy to use. The walk speed of the characters is quite slow. The game does allow to fast-forward the walking by holding the shift key, which causes however is a little fast and pretty much an instant warp function on a faster PC.

The puzzles in the game are for most part logical and easy to solve, especially with the helpful comments of your teammates, they however can sometimes end up a little bit on the tedious side, as especially in the beginning they are more about doing things then figuring out what to do. Dialogs also happen to be mostly of the "click every answer" type. One of the more annoying parts of the game is that the dialog varity is a little limited, using items that can't be combined always gives a single default answer and contacting starfleet always presentents you with the same few questions and answer choices, some more varity and context related answers would have been welcome.

The story of the game is overall ok, its not great, as it starts rather slow and ends in the classical, but rather uninteresting, "ancient superace created mighty weapon" plot. The story also lacks interesting characters, so its mostly diplomaty talk, which isn't all that organic or interesting.

What the game does really well is the mix of away missions and tasks on the bridge. The tasks on the bridge remove the feel of a static point&click structure and gives the game a more organic exploration feel, which fits very well with the TV show. When on the bridge the game also tends to have delayed events, i.e. you wait for a call of somebody and it will take a few minutes to come in and in those minutes you can talk to other people on the bridge or check engineering or such. Its a small thing, but helps to make the game feel alive and less predictable. The game also offers some freedom of choice, so its not a completly linear experience and on a replay one an discover a few new things, that might have gone unsolved the first time around.

The game also offers a difficulty selection, not quite sure how that affects the game in detail, but the harder difficulties allow you to manually select the teammembers and items you want to take with you on a mission. I played on the lowest difficulty setting, so no idea how much additional frustration and trial&error results from that. The game does have character death, on the lowest difficulty setting at least the game however was solvable without any bigger issues, only very close to the end dieing become a little bit of an issue, so saving often can't hurt.

The graphics in the game are a pretty mixed bag. The technical limits aren't that bad, with 640x480 and 256 colors the game looks decent enough, but the graphic style is a problem, as its very inconsistent. Some characters are digitalized real people while others are hand drawn and in some cutscenes you get 3d models, which again don't fit in with the rest. The backgrounds also have their problems, as they have a colored pencil look, which doesn't fit well with the character sprites. The character sprites themself of course have issues too, while they have plenty of frames for animation, the animation looks often rather awkward, with incorrect anatomy and heads that look a little like a bad copy&paste job. The art design of the backgrounds also looks a little over the top, more like classic sci-fi magazine covers, then things like you would see in a TNG episode.

On the technical side of things the game is a little troublesome, its one of those late DOS games that cause some trouble with Dosbox, so making it run there isn't trivial as it involves things like replacing the DOS4GW extender and patching the install routine. As I didn't manage to make it work in Dosbox I used an old 800Mhz Athlon computer with Windows98 to play it, which for most part went well. My TFT did have a little trouble keeping up with graphic mode changes, so sometimes I had to power-toggle it to show me a picture again. Disabling Windows detection in the properties is needed as well and my computer is a little to fast for the game, causing the ship battle sequences to run rather speedy. The core adventure parts however ran fine, except for a few crashes here and there.

Overall, A Final Unity isn't perfect, the story isn't all that interesting and the graphic style is rather inconsistent, but it manages to caputure the feel of a TNG episode extremely well and makes a pretty decent Star Trek game.

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