Genre: RPG Developer: Spectrum Holobyte Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1 Released: 1994
Star Trek fans have been offered almost as many games based on the franchise as the Star Wars faithful have, and just as with the competition, some of them have been great, and some have truly sucked. I’m sure that most are quick to throw Echoes from the Past in with the latter group, but they’d be quite mistaken. In fact, the game’s whole existence seems to be a case of mistaken identity. At first glance, it doesn’t look like a real RPG, yet it’s more complex than you’d think. Initially, the combat seems obtrusive and tedious, but it eventually grows on you. Yes, Echoes is definitely an acquired taste, but will non-Trek gamers be willing to develop their palates?
Echoes plays like any tried and true episode of the long-running television series. The Enterprise is called near the Neutral Zone to investigate the activities of Romulans who have supposedly lost one of their research teams in Federation space. In true Next Generation fashion, this simple mission turns out to be much more, and the crew find themselves racing to unravel the mystery of the “Trinity Test” before it consumes them…and the universe.
As they journey through the galaxy, Jean Luc Picard and his loyal troops will explore several planets, battle enemy races, and work to save needy aliens. What’s most interesting about this is that the game doesn’t play like a traditional RPG. You don’t level up and your characters have no hit points. Aside from the simple tools they take with them on their away missions, there is no equipment to collect/equip/upgrade. This might seem a bit too basic for many die-hard players of the genre, but it’s actually quite in step with the show’s theme. Starfleet officers travel light, and there’s an air of simplicity and confidence that surrounds everything. Whether you’re beaming aboard a derelict ship for repairs or exploring a planet’s surface, the four members of your away team need to be very diligent in their assigned tasks or they might be taken out by some angry Romulans.
You can choose from any of the show’s characters for your team (Data for the win!). Captain Picard can remain on board, or you can take him with you. I prefer to leave him on the Enterprise, watching the team’s progress and ready to defend the Enterprise from any attacks… and there are attacks. Taking on a few Romulan Warbirds can be tricky until you get the hang of the tactical station. You will literally have to decide if you want to throw all power to the shields and weapons for a knockdown, drag out fight, or put it all to the engines for a hasty retreat. Picard’s diplomatic skills come into play here as well, and you’re even able to talk your way out of what might otherwise turn into a nasty confrontation.
That last part is perhaps what bugs me the most about Echoes from the Past. If ever there was a game that should have expanded upon Starflight’s communication dynamic, Echoes should be it. Far too much of the game is spent responding to an endless series of red alerts, and the emphasis on fighting is contrary to the flow of everything that the franchise stands for. I would have been content to merely explore the galaxy, aiding and trading with alien species, and negotiating on the Federation’s behalf. As it is, there are far too many random space battles, though you can thankfully avoid them by not answering the Romulan hails and just warping the heck out of Dodge.
Another problem is that while you are able to choose your away team, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between any of the members, save for Data. One would think that having Lt. Commander Worf on a mission would make a difference in combat. Sadly, it does not. You might as well have ensign Wesley Crusher doing the fighting, as it’s basically the same thing all around. Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of choosing a team in the first place? The missions are also very vague, which results in a lot of wandering around, wondering what you’re next task should be. Why not at least give the player a varied selection of officers? This would have really opened up the gameplay by offering different ways to resolve each task.
Perhaps I’m just nit-picking here. After all, most Star Trek games of the era outside the PC realm suffered the same limitation drawbacks. It would take the advent of CD technology found in later consoles to truly represent what the series should be like in gaming. Taken for what it is, Echoes from the Past is a good representation on a 16-bit console of Roddenberry’s vision, at least good enough to warrant playing. I would recommend the use of a FAQ unless you’ve got the patience to get around the steep learning curve. It’s not a bad way to spend an afternoon, but true Trek fans may want to look elsewhere.
SCORE: 6 out of 10