I’m not much of a gamer. I mean, I’ve played and occasionally still do play the odd computer or board game, but I’m not a “Gamer With a Capital G.” At best I’m a casual hobbyist, despite generally enjoying myself whenever I venture forth into this realm. If I’m being honest, my heyday for gaming likely peaked in the early 1980s with the advent of videogame arcades before plateauing during the years with the first games I bought for what I now laughingly call my first home computers or game systems.
We’re talking the age of the Commodore 64 and the Atari 2600/5200, kids, which at the time were the absolute cat’s meow. The first Nintendo systems were years away at that point, and ended up being something for which I didn’t have much time. Way back when, the systems we had for home use paled in comparison to the fun one could have at the local arcade though. Tron, Gyruss, Star Wars, Defender, and I long ago forgot the sheer number of quarters I dropped into a Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator game whenever I happened across one, and those of you who follow me with any regularity know I still have an upright cabinet version in my home office.
Still, as home computing (and home computer gaming) technology improved, I did sample the odd game. If it wasn’t an early first-person shooter or adventure game, as often as not it’d be some flavor of Star Trek game. The C64 had a decent port of the Strategic Operations Simulator that even looked better than the original arcade version, but there were also text-based adventures like The Kobayashi Alternative and The Promethean Prophecy, and by 1990s we were getting some pretty decent offerings like Star Trek: 25th Anniversary and its sequel, Judgment Rites. By the end of the 20th century (it feels so weird to write that, yeah?), games like Starfleet Academy were pushing the limits of what gamers could experience on their home computer systems.
(Aside: You have to know I still have these and others stashed in a box somewhere.)
Then we skip ahead to September 2000, and Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force.
Released in the UK on September 15th and celebrating the 20th anniversary of its US release today, Elite Force was one of Star Trek‘s early forays into the now quite-popular realm of first-person shooters.” For those unfamiliar with the term, these are video games where everything in the game is presented as if from your personal point of view. You can only see what’s in front of you, you have to navigate the game’s scenarios and obstacles as though actually traversing a tunnel, space ship, jungle, or whatever. This usually involves a lot of shooting at various things that want to eat or otherwise kill you. Long before Fortnite and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order begged for my children’s attention, we had games like Doom, Duke Nukem, and Star Wars: Dark Forces (another kick-ass game from days gone by).
At first blush, Star Trek having a game which could fit into this particular genre might seem off-putting, as Star Trek generally doesn’t evoke lots of images of ground combat or other situations where you’re blowing the shit out of things and people and whatnot. However, Activision and Raven Software managed a truly impressive feat with Elite Force: marrying an actual, bonafide Star Trek story to a first-person shooter setup.
You, the player, take on the persona of a character who’s part of Voyager‘s “Hazard Team,” a rapid-response group that could be described as something like Star Trek‘s version of a SEAL team. Voyager and its crew find themselves attacked by marauders and trapped in a graveyard of alien ships, you and the Hazard Team are dispatched to investigate. Along the way, you encounter various species previously encountered on the Voyager TV series like the Hirogen, Klingons, Malons, and…oh yeah…the Borg. You’re also introduced to all-new species created for the game as you and the team work to unlock the secrets of the graveyard and the mysterious creature that created it so Voyager can escape the alien trap.
Those reading this and thinking the solution is to shoot your way out will be pleasantly surprised to learn the game is much more than that, in the best Star Trek tradition. The entire cast from Star Trek: Voyager provided the voices for their characters, with whom you get to interact as you proceed through the game. Elite Force’s original release did not feature Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine, as her schedule at the time didn’t permit her to participate, but a software patch eventually came along and added her into the mix. Many of the Voyager‘s interiors were recreated or invented after only being referenced in dialogue with painstaking detail. There are also a number of surprises and Easter eggs baked into the game, and it would be poor form to spoil any of that here.
I’ve not played the game in years, but I remember having a blast playing through it. Elite Force combined the best aspects of adventure and first-person gaming with a fine Star Trek tale. Long ago, when I first started writing Star Trek fiction, I wanted to novels and other ties to the game that might offer more adventures for the Hazard Team. We got something in that vein thanks to Wildstorm Comics, who published a one-shot comic tie-in that offers a somewhat streamlined adaptation of the game’s core storyline. If there were plans for other such comics, they likely ended when Wildstorm lost the license to publish Star Trek comics in 2001. While I did pitch the idea of Hazard Team stories to Pocket Books (and I doubt I was the only one to do so), nothing ever came of such odd wish-listing. Such is life, and all that.
Meanwhile, the game begat its own sequels.
First, there was the Elite Force Expansion Pack, which as you might imagine from the title added a series of new scenarios to the original game. Even after all of these years, I’ve never acquired a copy of this but maybe one of these days I’ll happen across it. A full-blown follow-up came in 2003 with Star Trek: Elite Force II, which transports the Hazard Team to the Enterprise just after the events of Star Trek Nemesis. Of the Voyager cast, only Tim Russ returns to provide the voice for Tuvok, but that’s offset a bit by the addition of Patrick Stewart reprising his role as Jean-Luc Picard. While I’ve played this game, I must confess I enjoyed the original much more.
So, maybe you’ve read my yammering to this point and you’re all the way down here and you’re thinking, “Gee, Dayton. This game sounds pretty cool and I’d like to play. But…you know…you just told us the thing is 20 years old today and do they even make computers that can run a game as old as this anymore?”
Well, you can at least get a taste of retro Star Trek gaming thanks to The Last Outpost, a group of dedicated gamers who – with the permission of CBS and Raven Software – have recreated the game’s multiplayer “Holomatch” component and made it available as a free download. All you have to do is follow this linky-type thing RIGHT HERE.
I don’t have much time for gaming these days, Star Trek or otherwise, but I have to admit to having a bit of an itch to revisit this one. If you’ve played the game, share your thoughts and memories in the comments. Maybe you’ll convince me to chisel out a bit of time to have a bit of old-school gaming fun for a while.
Happy 20th Anniversary, Elite Force!