Ship-management sim Space Crew is the Star Trek you don’t see.
No, I’m not talking about the deleted scenes where Troi goes on Twitter and starts bleeding from her nostrils or Riker survives on the food stuck in his beard. Space Crew may not be an official Star Trek game, but it wears its influences on its sleeve. Your crew hold the line while Trek‘s big stars are out there plugging trans-dimensional anomalies or brokering peace between warring races. Unfortunately, being sci-fi’s “other guys” isn’t as much fun as it ought to be.
Space Crew does lot of things right. For a start, you can customise your ship to your heart’s content. I did plan on covering my ship in the Saints Row colours and slapping on a few fleur de lises but, lacking the pixel-painting skills, I settled for renaming it “The Biggest Chungus”. Likewise, you can customise each crewmember’s appearance, so should you so desire, you can have a whole shipful of Picards.
Having your crew level-up crew post-mission is another bonus and it leads to some real quandaries. Take your comms officer, for example; with sufficient experience, they can summon a squadron of fighters to defend your ship. It’s harder to get your crew killed than in FTL, Space Crew’s closest competition, but once that officer is dead all that experience dies with them. So when your reactor is venting radiation and you’ve been boarded for the second time, you’re faced with a tough call. Do you fight to the last, knowing you might be able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, or do you shove your most valuable crew members into escape-pods and pray they get picked up?
And if you do stick around, who gets Space Crew’s scarce health packs? Geordi La Forge might be able to reverse the polarity on the Enterprise’s energy matrix (or whatever techno-nonsense he’s bandying about) but there are few easy outs. Lose a crew member and you’ve got one less person who can operate the gun emplacements. Sure, you could shove your engineer into the vacated seat – while he’s less skilled than a specialised gunner, he’ll do some damage. But without him in the engineering chair, you can’t divert extra power to the shields.
Unfortunately, these tough decisions and tense moments are diluted by the repetitive nature of Space Crew’s core gameplay. The missions you undertake are of the exterminate or escort variety and you’re pitched against wave after wave of anonymous alien fighters, with the occasional fighter ace every few missions or so.
You don’t directly control your gunners, which wouldn’t be a problem except that they refuse to fire at a ship you’ve not tagged using the first-person camera. You can be watching the action inside your ship, dealing with boarders and fires, only to discover that you’re taking damage from a ship your gunners have been ignoring. Unless you use the first-person camera to look directly at the enemy craft, it can be sitting right next to you, blasting away and your crew will do absolutely nothing.
You can zoom the camera out and watch combat unfold, ordering your captain to fly offensively or defensively, but combat is samey to say the least. Larger ships would have spiced things up but there’s none of the slow-paced ship-to-ship combat that featured in FTL. Discovering and purchasing a more powerful weapon is cause for celebration, but that initial sense of elation fades when you end up using it on fighter after fighter. There’s next to no story either, so there’s never a sense that you’re heading towards some grand goal as you roam back and forth through zones you’ve already visited. You’re grinding to level up, just so you can grind more effectively.
Space Crew can be hugely engaging, particularly when you realise that discretion is the better part of valour. When you’re frantically fighting off alien boarders, hoping your ship holds together till the hyperspace engine charges up, it’ll have your rapt attention. But when the dust settles, you’ll find another cookie-cutter task awaiting you.
Space Crew is a patchy trip into the cosmos. If you can tolerate the lack of mission and enemy variety you’ll get joy out of it but, with a little more attention it could have been stellar.