Star Trek Online: Game Performance Analyzed And Benchmarked

Star Trek Meets World Of Warcraft?

Star Trek has been a part of PC gaming since its inception. In 1971, decades before the PC became commonplace in the home and six years before anyone had heard of a movie called Star Wars, Mike Mayfield wrote a text-based Star Trek game in BASIC. Since then, there have been some 50 Star Trek computer games released over the past 35+ years.

As with every major game franchise, for every hit title there are a lot of misses. Some of the better games that involve Star Trek-style space combat are the Starfleet Command series, Klingon Academy, and Bridge Commander. The only laudable Star Trek-themed first-person shooter is the Elite Force series. Unfortunately, the most recently-released games I've mentioned here debuted about seven years ago.

Since then, it seems Paramount has put the brakes on Star Trek game development (probably a reaction to a decline in popularity). Now, in 2010, with a new movie reinvigorating the franchise, we will see the first-ever massively-multiplayer online (MMO) game in the Star Trek universe: Star Trek Online (STO).

Developed by Cryptic Studios (the folks responsible for the popular City of Heroes and City of Villains MMOs), STO takes place in the traditional Star Trek universe about 30 years after the events in the feature film Star Trek: Nemesis. For the sake of making things more interesting, the galaxy is a much more volatile place. The Klingon Empire has declared war against the Federation, the Borg have returned, and new enemies have entered into the fray. In short, there is a lot of combat to go around. This really sets the stage for the new MMO, and that's probably a good thing. Let's face it--if the game was limited to discovering ways to communicate with peaceful alien species, it probably wouldn't be a good time.

STO is combat-centric, like any decent MMO realistically has to be. That's not to say exploration is unheard of. In fact, it's a mainstay of the game. Just don't expect to do much exploring without getting shot at.

I've played a few MMOs, and STO stands out among the crowd, as it does a few things differently. To begin with, there are really two distinct games here: a space game, where you control your starship in battles against enemy vessels, and a ground combat game, where you control your character and crew. Many missions will require a mix of space and ground engagements. But some will play out only in space, while others are only planet-side.

The space game is best described as a cross between Starfleet Command and Bridge Commander, and the final result is arguably better than both. For folks not familiar with those PC game titles, STO's space-combat arena might be best described as a third-person naval combat game. Every ship has four shields (front, back, left, and right), and the idea is to bring down an enemy's shields with energy weapons and then send some torpedoes to do some real damage. All the while, you try to preserve your own shields, manage energy resources, and bring multiple weapon arcs to bear in a big starship that was never intended to be nimble.

The interface is fairly accessible and functional, and as with any MMO, there are a lot of special abilities that come into play here. But what makes this really different is that there is twitch-play involved. A player cannot rely solely on earned equipment and skills to win space battles, as a crafty opponent can use maneuverability and timing to gain an advantage over a stronger foe. To my taste, the space game is more than I had hoped for, but for folks who prefer traditional MMO ground combat, the space arena might not be as appealing.

On the ground, though, the game follows the standard MMO-combat model. There are weapons, stats, and special abilities. Anyone who has played a major MMO in the past 10 years will feel right at home. Compared to space combat, the lack of innovation is noticeable, although the game does have one major twist: away teams. When you beam down, you are required to pick the crew members whom you want to bring along on your mission. Essentially, you're always accompanied by a group of non-player character (NPC) pets who you can outfit, train, and level up.

The point is that this game really does offer two very unique and separate arenas. Players spend the majority of their time in one or the other based on the types of missions they accept, but I don't think it would be possible to avoid either one entirely. The variety does keep things interesting.

  • Silmarunya
    jdh64Admit it TOMS......Geforce rules this games as well as others.......quit being ATI fanbois......Wait till the new series of cards comes out....then whatcha gunna do...cry!!!!
    Not really. This is just about the only benchmark where a Geforce card beats a comparable 5000-series one, so there's still a nice lead for the 5000 cards. With a driver update, this result can change in favor of the 5000, which would give them back every game tested here...

    And nobody should be very concerned about the GTX 300, at least not for the first year and a half. The initial mammoth chip will be expensive, hot, noisy and more powerful than useful for gaming. By the time it scaled down properly, ATI will have refreshed cards in the market for a while, probably offering better performance, lower power consumption and more features for a similar price tag.

  • gilbertfh
    This game looks interesting and could be a good diversion once in a while but I can't really see it replacing the games I am playing now. I have played other cryptic studios games and they really didn't engage me for long. If I buy it I will at least play it for the included month before purchasing a subscription.
  • toxxel
    If your interested in playing this game give it 6 months or so. Currently there is no content at max level, and it takes less than a week to hit max rank. Klingons only have pvp content but more is promised for both factions. Server instability and downtime have plagued launch mostly for the overwhelming player base and not being prepared.

    I for one would wonder how this and Champions Online run since ST:O runs on a modified CO engine.
  • footsoldier
    Sh*t game. Sh*t graphics. But, good article. Geforce do weirdly beats 5000s tho, maybe some driver updates will fix it.
  • JeanLuc
    How does such an ugly game mange to tax state of the art video cards?
  • notty22
    Star Trek and Nvidia ROCK, thats not news to people in the Know. I feel sorry for ati***s scared of Fermi.:)
  • jennyh
    I guess Nvidia leaned on Don after this months "Best gaming graphics card".

    Batman AA was the last one of these reviews I believe. Either way, twice in the past 4 months you've managed to review games that go quite wildly against the norm in terms of the gtx260's actual potency.
  • cypeq
    it is a shameless advertisment...
  • cypeq
    notty22I feel sorry for ati***s scared of Fermi.
    I feel sorry for nVidia now becouse roles on marked turned and now nVidia is on position where it needs to chatch up.
  • Onus
    Subscription-based? Pass.