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Star Trek offering is mission ready

By Mark Baard
Globe Correspondent / February 1, 2010

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MASSIVE MULTIPLAYER GAMES
Shields up, people! Star Trek Online, the massive multiplayer online (or MMO) game from Cryptic Studios Inc., is scheduled for release tomorrow.

The game (startrekonline.com) mixes two online genres: the space-themed MMO, typified by Eve Online (www.eveonline.com), and the virtual world, of which Second Life (www.secondlife.com) is the best-known example.

Star Trek Online is far easier to learn than Eve, however. And I like that it encourages avatar-to-avatar interactions off the battlefield, much like World of Warcraft (www.worldofwarcraft.com), which STO more closely resembles, with its use of inventories and its style of play.

(I can see STO becoming a fun place to hold scholarly meetings, as is WoW.)

In STO, you get your own ship, which you can then dress up with new toys, such as the powerful impulse engines you will need to escape those inevitable Kobayashi Maru scenarios.

Throughout much of the beta testing period for STO, I steered my research vessel, the USS China, into battle against Gorn, Klingon, and Romulan vessels.

But with my ship’s measly array of energy and projectile weapons, my avatar only made lieutenant. (Everyone starts out as a lowly ensign.)

You find missions in STO by warping across a grid covered with 3-D models of star systems and space stations. Once you click to enter a star system, you might be ordered to rescue a mining operation that’s under attack by Gorn ships, for example, or get handed a boring diplomatic or scientific mission.

By destroying enemy ships and rounding up dilithium crystals, you earn points toward promotion. You also collect minerals and spare parts to exchange for weapons on space stations such as Deep Space Nine.

Game play in STO can be exciting. But you can often predict the outcome of any engagement just by looking at the numbers: STO’s crowded, head-up display shows the relative strengths of your ship and of the enemy vessels.

In some missions, you beam your avatar over to other ships and down to planets for armed and hand-to-hand combat with intruders.

The planet surfaces in STO are as richly detailed as any of the islands in Second Life.

STO also gives you excellent control over your avatar and your away teams. Like Jim Kirk, you can spread out your red shirts to surround a cluster of Klingons occupying a Vulcan monastery. And you can outfit your avatar with all sorts of neat body armor and assault weapons.

STO’s standard PC software package, available in a box or as a download, starts at about $50. You will also need to shell out about $15 for a monthly membership.