Star Trek: Bridge Crew makes zapping Klingons in VR a hoot

Some say that virtual reality is going to be the most social medium ever, and that’s the feeling I got from playing a demo of Star Trek: Bridge Crew, the new virtual reality game coming from Ubisoft and its Red Storm studio.

In a four-player preview of a couple of missions, I had a hoot playing with my fellow game journalists during a preview event at Ubisoft in San Francisco. This game is built in a way that makes it easy for you to immerse yourself in the role of being a Star Trek bridge crew member. You’ll have no problem as captain shouting orders at engineering, even if the person is a total stranger.

I played a couple of four-player missions on the bridge of the new starship USS Aegis, which is from the Kelvin timeline in the JJ Abrams films. You can also play on the bridge of the original USS Enterprise (no bloody A, B, C, or D), and the game accommodates anywhere from one to four players. It comes out on May 30 for Oculus Rift with Touch, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR (PSVR). It will have full cross-platform multiplayer.

Above: Star Trek: Bridge Crew

Image Credit: Ubisoft

You can play the role of any of four crew members: Captain, Engineering, Helm (moving the ship around), and Tactical (scanning and weapons). Inside VR, you can see the other players at their stations on the bridge, and you can see them as they move around and try to get your attention. You sit throughout the game, and most of the time you spend looking down at your console.

Players can communicate with others through an in-game voice client. That voice communication is also key to the simulation’s immersion.

David Votypka, creative director at Ubisoft Red Storm, worked on Star Trek: Bridge Crew as well as Werewolves Within, a VR version of the Werewolves tabletop game, where players try to figure out who among the villagers among them is a werewolf. Players in that game stayed in VR for hours at a time, and it gave Red Storm the confidence that people would play longer sessions in VR, he said.

“We saw the community in Werewolves Within was the super-positive and that strangers have a great time playing together, which was a big question mark,” Votypka said. “You can have fun pick-up matches with strangers you meet online.”

In designing the bridge, Votypka’s team found that there was no standard function assigned to various buttons for the crew members, based on the variations that occurred in the TV shows. One fan had created blueprints for the bridge, and Ubisoft made use of them. The Ubisoft team also visited the Star Trek Set Tour, a physical re-creation of the original Star Trek sets created by super-fan James Cawley.

Above: Star Trek: Bridge Crew

Image Credit: Ubisoft

We played on the Oculus Rift with the Touch controls. At first, you can go through short tutorials in the Starfleet Academy training. I went through Tactical training, and took a short look at the tutorials for the helm, engineering, and the captain. In each role, a console appears in front of you, and you have to reach out with the Touch in your hand and press a button or slider. It’s a physical action that can both speed you up or slow you down, given how familiar you are with the idea of using your hands in a game.

It’s amazing how quickly you slip into the role. The Engineer stays busy shifting power to shields or prepping the engine for warp speed or repairing the ship. The Tactical Officer scans objects that appear on a radar. If the objects are out of range, the Captain can ask the helm officer to move toward the target. As Tactical Officer, I also had to raise or lower the shields, which can take some precious seconds. If the shields are up, you can’t use your transporter.