Pages: 1 2
Review by: David Laprad
Published: December 31, 1999
A person can no longer avoid bumping into Gene Roddenberry’s enduring science fiction universe. What started out eons ago as an enterprising television show about a space ship and the bold mission of a handful of people to go where no man had gone before has grown in scope to encompass a macrocosm of characters and events. It has also become something of a commercial overachiever, with even gaming channels being overrun with offerings from several companies. Activision is one such publisher, having signed a long-term agreement with Paramount to bring titles to the interactive screen.
Given the rich creative potential of this license, it seems no one should have trouble coming up with original and fun entertainment; nevertheless, the first title Activision beams into stores is an action and adventure release that builds on the most recent film, the pointless and episodic “Insurrection.” The hope that this might be good source material for a game comes in the form of developer Presto Studios, which has a distinguished record of bringing excitement to the PC with their successful Journeyman Project series. The real dangling carrot, however, is the chance to adventure under the auspicious tutelage of Captain Picard, an offer no budding Ensign can resist.
Presto did not pull its age-old point-and-tap format out of mothballs this time; rather, Hidden Evil has more in common with the fashionable survival horror genre. This means we use the keyboard to guide a real-time 3D character through pre-rendered environments viewed through a fixed camera that changes position from scene to scene. It also means there is a balance between gathering and manipulating items, communicating with NPCs and battling foes. Serving as the avatar is a spirited young Ensign who comes to us fresh from Starfleet Academy. Our hero-to-be is a human who was raised on the planet Vulcan at the hand of a wise master who supported him after his parents died during an experiment at the Science Academy. In an effort to assimilate, he attempts to be the first human to achieve Kolinahr, the shedding of all emotions that imbues the Vulcans with their famed detached logic. When he fails, his master recommends he attend the Academy. He trains to be a part of the Federation’s grand navy, but never gives up hope he can master the Vulcan disciplines. The main benefit of this melodramatic contrivance is that we get to learn and use the Vulcan nerve pinch, which figures into some of the game’s most effective sequences.
The plot begins its turning soon after the events in the film on the planet Picard and crew saved from the clutches of the evil Son’a. The Ensign’s first appointment has him assisting Picard and Commander Data in the excavation of alien ruins and solving an elaborate scheme involving one of the Federation’s oldest enemies, the Romulans, who are attempting to access a terrible secret hidden beneath the surface of the planet in order to create a genetic weapon of immense power. The dilemma regarding how to stop this plot spans nine missions set on the planet, in a Romulan space station and on the Enterprise. At the start of each one, introductions are given either through the Ensign’s log or from Picard and Data themselves via a communicator. Although actors Stewart and Spiner lend their talents in an attempt to fashion an authentic Next Generation experience, there is not much face-to-face interaction with these two famous characters.
At the Ensign’s disposal is a small set of familiar items that help him solve puzzles and fight off the Romulans and other miscreants that stand between him and a transfer to the Enterprise. Basic implements include the standard issue phaser, a tricorder, and a communications badge, while items that can be found throughout the game include health, access cards, talismans that activate alien teleporters, a genetic sampler, a suit that renders its wearer invisible, and not much else. This limited arsenal is used to solve simple navigational puzzles such as donning the suit to infiltrate the Romulan station and drop guards with the nerve pinch without ever being seen. Other sequences are a little more elaborate, such as using the genetic sampler to read the DNA of a steam-resistant creature, creating a new creature through uploading its code to a recombination chamber, and using a power cell to lure the new creature under a metaphasic conductor, which turns off a series of steam jets trapping Picard. Overall, that is as complicated as the puzzle solving gets.
As promising as some of this might sound for a fun diversion, this is high-concept gaming material at its worst. For starters, the meager plot is unable fill the nine missions, with the first one being a brief training exercise and the last being a pointless postscript that feels pasted on in an attempt to pad the content. Given the breadth of possibilities inherent in Paramount’s fictional canon, this is a disappointment. The missions themselves are meteoric jaunts so short, I was able to complete all of them in one evening. Considering the budget price tag Activision slapped on the product, this might not sound so bad, but Hidden Evil fails to live up even to its own limited potential. Picard and Data are onscreen for mere couple of minutes–despite their prominent positioning on the box–and the conclusion is, without a doubt, the briefest and most unfulfilling ending I have ever encountered in an adventure title. I sat open-mouthed as the final mission ended, a short video sputtered across the screen and the credits rolled.
All this might have been excusable had there been some bold adventuring or thrilling action involved, but Presto has created a watered down crossbreed that is going to disappoint both camps. Adventure fans will be annoyed with the strict linear nature of the missions, the limited character interaction and the sometimes laughable puzzles. Even novices should be able to complete Hidden Evil in a couple moderate sittings. Furthermore, people who purchase the game hoping to experience Resident Evil in space are going to toss aside the CD in disgust at the blunted action sequences. Perhaps most disappointing of all, fans must suffer through one more tepid attempt to cash in on this vibrant fictional universe without contributing something meaningful.
Pages: 1 2