Much like the films of the franchise, Star Trek games have always been a mixed bag. But where the films run the gamut from good to lousy, the games, for the most part, are a mix of playable-but-dull to downright awful. YesGnome is the latest developer to take a shot at the franchise, with Trexels, a micro-manager for iOS in which you supply and train a crew of Starfleet personnel on your very own Federation starship that you build up and maintain. So was their phaser set to deliver a truly stunning game or have they killed their chance at creating a fantastic Trexperience?
The game is set in a mysterious and unexplored region in space known as the Trexelian Expanse. The laws of physics aren’t quite the same as in known space, nor are its strange inhabitants. As the game begins, Federation starship USS Valiant has gone missing in the expanse and it’s up to you to build up a familiar looking ship and maintain its rooms and crew to explore the expanse. You’ll encounter familiar and new enemies along the way, and get a surprise visit from a friend or two from the future, thanks to the game’s nifty time travel-infused plot.
Sending out your ship’s lone probe (you’ll get more as you slowly level up) you begin exploring the first sector in the expanse. As the probe sends back information to the ship, time-based missions become available ranging from diplomatic, combat, medical, engineering, scientific, etc. This is a nice touch as Star Trek has always been about exploration above all else, and always tried its hand at diplomatic and scientific solutions before resorting to combat. That said, while the mission objectives are different in name, you play through them the same exact way, which quickly loses the appeal of having various mission types.
One of the strange laws of physics in the Trexelian Expanse involves random cubes emanating from the bodies of your crew. Whether it’s a battle, diplomatic, or scientific mission, you collect these cubes and spend them on two options: attack and heal (they have different names depending on the mission, but they are the only two controls you’ll need to worry about). Upon completion of tasks and missions, you will level up and collect resources, which are used to build new rooms on the ship, thus allowing new missions to become available and the story to progress. Once you assign crew members to the new rooms they will foster the production of resources as well, minus Dilithium crystals, which are crucial to continuing your mission (and a bit pesky unless you don’t mind paying some real dough to keep up a healthy supply).
One of the first things you’ll notice as you boot up the game are the 8-bit graphics. Never before have a Klingon warrior or a Borg drone looked so adorable. The graphics are charming and somehow seem very appropriate as a throwback to the original series due to their nostalgia factor. However, the graphics have something to offer TNG-era fans as well, as the game’s interface mimics the LCARS from that series and its contemporaries. It’s a clean layout, and you’ll be using it quite a bit, so it was a wise decision, even if it does clash somewhat with the setting and timeline in which the game takes place.
The sound design is also well done. George Takei narrates the game, and his voice, along with music taken from the original series, contribute much to making the game feel like a genuine Trek experience. Sound effects, from the ubiquitous ambient engine noise to the blips and bleeps of the ship computer, add a nice touch. Many of the rooms you build will also be recognizable to fans of the franchise. You can send crew members to Starfleet Academy rooms to brush up on specific subjects or assign one to run analysis from the Astrometrics Lab.
Exploring the expanse in the first part of the game is fun and engaging, but it quickly becomes evident that you’ll either need to spend some real money for dilithium via microtransactions (ranging from five bucks to 50), or plan on investing a lot of time in the game in order to collect enough resources to advance. There are other in-game purchases, such as buying uniforms from The Wrath of Khan or Next Generation eras, but those run about 10 dollars and we can’t see how they could possibly be worth that amount. Since the game already costs $2.99, it’s a bit annoying to have to pay more to advance at an acceptable rate, but then again that’s a model that would make Quark proud.
There is a minigame where you can switch to an outside view of your ship in space and blast away ships, debris, and asteroids to collect resources, but this isn’t all that much fun, and you collect resources at a very slow rate. It’s also a bit disconcerting to go from a diplomacy-based mission to blowing up random ships. Though the game looks great on iPhone, iPad is recommended. The ship is pretty big and you’ll do a lot of pinching to zoom in and move around the ship on a smaller screen.
Has YesGnome made it so? Yes, but with a caveat. Serious fans of the franchise who enjoy this type of game and who don’t mind spending some cash to advance, or have a lot of time on their hands to collect resources on their own, will want to beam it into their iOS device immediately. The story feels surprisingly authentic, like the developers actually care about the license, as there are many tips of the hat to TOS and TNG. For everyone else, there’s just not going to be enough here. It’s certainly not a bad game, but it advances too slowly, and if you’re not a fan already this probably won’t convert you.