• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

Star Trek – The 25th Anniversary (Review)

This June, we’re taking a look at some classic Star Trek movie tie-ins. Check back daily for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was released quite close to the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek. With Star Trek: The Next Generation at the height of its popularity, the franchise was able to mark the occasion with a variety of celebrations. There were comic books and prose books celebrating the occasion. Both Spock and Scotty appeared on The Next Generation around the time of the anniversary.

Perhaps the most obvious example was the release of Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary by Interplay. While it was not the first video game to be based on the Star Trek franchise, it was the first high profile release. It set the tone for commercial Star Trek video games, remaining one of the best-selling Star Trek video games ever produced. It paved the way for everything from Bridge Commander to A Final Unity to Elite Force.

Ship shape...

Ship shape…

Released across multiple platforms and featuring seven episodic adventures structured like episodes of the classic television show, The 25th Anniversary set a dramatic and effective precedent for Star Trek video gaming. The CD-ROM edition of the game took things even further, featuring voice recordings of the show’s primary cast to help lend a sense of continuity and credibility to events. The 25th Anniversary is littered with easter eggs and in-jokes, and it’s constructed with the utmost love and affection.

However, perhaps what is most interesting about The 25th Anniversary is the way that it plays into all these established Star Trek clichés and tropes, but with a rather sophisticated outlook. It’s a wonderful example of how the original Star Trek show never stopped reinventing itself, only really reaching a truly idealised form long after it had been off the air.

Beam me up, Kyle!

Beam me up, Kyle!

The original Star Trek show was brilliant and groundbreaking. However, it was also deeply troubled. Watching the shows now, there’s a sense that the original Star Trek was nowhere near as progressive as it claimed to be, and as the mythology around it would suggest. The show was occasionally brilliant and transcendental, but there were also moments where it was unsettling and awkward. This doesn’t diminish what the show accomplish, it merely acknowledges the realities of those three seasons.

There are unquestionably moments of beauty and sophistication. The show produced some classic pieces of television and made some very important steps forward. And yet, despite that, there were moments where the show could have done better. Despite the diversity of the ensemble, most of the show focused on the three white American men at the core of the show.There were aspects of the show’s history that are questionable – the show could be unsettlingly jingoistic or the sexist.

That's the name of the game...

That’s the name of the game…

However, it’s a testament to the quality of Star Trek that so many later productions tried to retroactively fix these issues. These took a variety of forms. The spin-offs worked to rehabilitate the ideals of the show. The later seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation presented a more open-minded vision of the future than the one presented on classic Star Trek. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine dared to interrogate some of the franchise’s underlying assumptions.

However, these attempts to help remedy the problems with the original Star Trek also played out in the feature films. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan could be read as a criticism of Kirk’s recklessness as a character. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is a scathing indictment of the sort of dismissive attitudes expressed by the crew towards the Klingons in shows like Friday’s Child or A Private Little War.

Here there be Klingons...

Here there be Klingons…

However, a lot of the work was also done in the spin-off and tie-in media. Free from the constraints of working in network television, and afforded a reasonably free hand with the material, novelists were free to flesh out the universe and its characters. John M. Ford’s The Final Reflection presented readers with a three-dimensional Klingon culture. Diane Duane’s My Enemy, My Ally did the same for the Romulans. Vonda N. McIntyre’s The Entropy Effect gave Sulu an arc and a first name. Melinda Snodgrass’s The Tears of the Singers gave us a story centred around Uhura. The cover even allowed her to wear pants!

A lot of hard work was done in the gap between The Turnabout Intruder and Encounter at Farpoint to help to build a version of Star Trek that embodied the loftiest ideals expressed in the television show, while acknowledging and working to remedy some of the more glaring problems with the show itself. Produced by Interplay and structured into seven episodic missions that feel almost like a third of a lost season of Star Trek, Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary comes quite close to embodying that ideal.

Floating in a most peculiar way...

Floating in a most peculiar way…

The format of the video game should be familiar to anybody with a passing knowledge of nineties computer games. The game incorporates a flight and combat simulator, the character and conversation choice aspects of a role-playing game, and a puzzle-solving point-and-click adventure. There’s a lot of logic and reason involved in Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary, with a minimum of space combat. Most of the plot is advanced by conversations the player makes as Kirk, or logic puzzles solved.

Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary wallows in the traditional Star Trek tropes. Players will recognise the wonderful 8-bit versions of classical Star Trek music cues. Harry Mudd shows up for one of the missions. Carol Marcus makes a cameo, along with something that might be the Genesis Device. The crew confront Romulans and Klingons. There are aliens that claim to be deities. There are colonies under attack. There is even another Constitution-class star ships that have been damaged.

Here's Mudd in your eye...

Here’s Mudd in your eye…

However, what’s interesting is that Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary avoids the more awkward tropes of the franchise. Four of the seven episodic adventures include branching points where the player might be able to kill off the token security character who accompanies Kirk, Spock and McCoy. (Each of these missions has two points where the player can kill of the red shirt.) In keeping with the franchise’s rich history of killing off anonymous security officers, these deaths do not cause an immediate failure.

That said, they do lower the player’s score, somewhat dramatically. It’s clear that Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary is aware of the Star Trek tropes, but it doesn’t adhere to them blindly. You cannot score the perfect 100% if you let an anonymous red shirt die. Every death is avoidable – it just takes skill and effort. Similarly, while Love’s Labour Jeopardised and The Feathered Serpent put Kirk into conflict with both the Klingons and the Romulans, both favour peaceful cooperation over force and subterfuge.

Resting in pieces...

Resting in pieces…

(It is worth noting that a glitch in the game allows Kirk to sacrifice the Klingon commander and spark a conflict with the Klingon ship in The Feathered Serpent while still receiving a perfect score on the mission. However, this appears to be a programming mistake rather than any intent on the part of the design team. Most of the mission can only be accomplished if Kirk cooperates with the Klingons despite their contrariness.)

Love’s Labour Jeopardised features Kirk reaching a peaceful reconciliation with the Romulans, as Carol Marcus destroys all record of a potential weapon of mass destruction. “You’ll never cease to amaze me, Jim,” McCoy remarks as the Romulans politely return to their vessel and the situation is resolved to the satisfaction of all involved. This is a version of Kirk that is hard to reconcile with the character who appeared in episodes like Friday’s Child or A Private Little War or The Apple or The Omega Glory.

Good ideas take root...

Good ideas take root…

Interestingly, Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary preserves this version of Kirk – allowing the player to make several rather bullish proclamations or responses in various conversations. These choices are very clearly the “wrong” lines for Kirk. They are boasts that threaten to escalate already precarious situations. Instead, Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary relies on reason to help the player achieve the best possible outcome.

Of course, being a flight and combat simulator, some space combat is all but required. However, it’s telling that the climax of Vengeance sees the big final space battle opening with a conflict between the Enterprise and its perfect doppelgänger – a duplicate constructed so skilfully that it fools even the sensors of the USS Republic and the crew on board. This “exact duplicate of the Enterprise” is perhaps a cautionary tale, a dark reflection of the ship the player commands, turned to a warship.

New lifeforms...

New lifeforms…

Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary is packed with moments that emphasise the importance of understanding and exploration over aggression and adversarial behaviour. The only time that the away team are forced to shoot at Klingons, it turns out that those Klingons were manifested from Kirk’s imagination – the one time that there is a completely unavoidable conflict with the Klingons is when those Klingons are plucked from Kirk’s head.

The universe is a place packed with alien life, but peaceful coexistence is always a possibility. Having spent years in stasis beneath the surface of their planet, the Nauians are ready and willing to welcome the pilgrims who have settled there in the years since. In Another Fine Mess, Kirk and Spock discover the relics of a civilisation radically different from their own. “It should be no surprise that physiology affects mind and behaviour,” Spock observes. “I would say a six-fingered, six-eyed people would naturally develop their sciences and arts around base-six numerical systems, just as I observed on the bridge.” Talk about a new life form.

Hm. The Enterprise security team actually seem pretty competent here...

Hm. The Enterprise security team actually seem pretty competent here…

Religion plays a pretty significant role in Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary, and it’s interesting that the game seems to adopt a more tolerant approach to religion than the original show did. Demon World sees Kirk and his crew visiting a religious retreat that welcomes pilgrims from all sorts of worlds, adhering to their own unique belief systems – the pilgrims are each confronted with demons unique to their belief systems.

The Feathered Serpent draws rather heavily on two earlier religious episodes of Star Trek. The use of the Aztek god Quetzalcoatl, builds off How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth from Star Trek: The Animated Series. However, the plot also draws on Who Mourns for Adonais?, with the revelation that Quetzalcoatl draws his magnificent power from a strange internal organ – here, it’s gland, in contrast to the mysterious organ in Apollo’s chest.

Prey tell...

Prey tell…

In a delightful twist on the standard Star Trek formula, a bold inversion of a Star Trek staple, The Feathered Serpent features a god placed on trial by a mortal species, rather than a god placing a mortal species on trial. Far from a broad sweeping criticism of organised religion, The Feathered Serpent plays as a more thoughtful piece of work. It suggests that people must be held for accountable for their own actions and decisions, even when taken in accordance with higher beliefs.

The Feathered Serpent is sympathetic to Quetzalcoatl. He is not held responsible for the violent deed committed by his followers. Similarly, Admiral Vlict is not absolved of responsibility for his genocide of an entire entire planet Hrakkour because he took that action in accordance with his own beliefs about Klingon honour. In many respects, The Feathered Serpent plays out as a more moderate and more balanced version of stories like Who Mourns for Adonais? or The Apple.

Enemy mining...

Enemy mining…

Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary is an absolutely beautiful game. It still plays reasonably well today, assuming one allows for the leaps that have made since its initial release. The design is absolutely fantastic. The bridge animations are obviously primitive, but they capture the atmosphere of the Enterprise bridge perfectly. Captain Kirk leans and fidgets as Shatner would do. Spock checks his scanner and looks to Kirk as he would on the show.

Spock and McCoy banter away, as if nothing has changed after all these years – only DeForest Kelley and James Doohan sound noticeably older than they did all those years ago. The adventures frequently end with a neat summing-up on the bridge, as the characters trade playful jabs and offer succinct morals. When Spock notes that demons are a very human concept, McCoy shoots back, “I don’t know Spock. Everything I’ve read about demons suggests they have pointy ears.”

It makes me sick...

It makes me sick…

There are all manner of familiar references and plot elements. The Cold War set-up in That Old Devil Moon feels like it could have been lifted from a Gene L. Coon script, a condemnation of Cold War politics as a whole, rather than simply a stock rant against the Communists. The Elasi pirate stories draw heavily on The Wrath of Khan. Kirk uses the prefix to disarm a hijacked starship in Hijacked, while he stalls for time on a crippled ship in Vengeance, the title itself perhaps a shout out to the film.

Even the sets for new locations look very much like the sorts of sets that might have appeared on the original Star Trek. It’s a game that feels like it has been lovingly filtered through the sixties design aesthetic. The sound design perfectly captures the feeling of being back on the bridge of the Enterprise, albeit a slightly more pixelated version. The game faithful recreates the opening sequence to welcome the player into the world of Star Trek.

Spaced out...

Spaced out…

It may not be the Star Trek that aired all those years ago, but it’s the Star Trek we choose to remember – the best of Star Trek, in one neat video game. And that, perhaps, makes it the perfect anniversary gift for a twenty-five-year-old science-fiction franchise.

5 Responses

  1. Man, this was a fun game.

  2. This sounds positively fantastic, both from the perspective of Trek fandom and from videogame history. Thanks for reviewing!

    The pixel art is wonderful. Quality like must be rare.

    • I’m a big fan of pixel art. I grew up playing LucasArts games, even if I was seldom good enough to finish them. The 25th Anniversary game took me back to that.

      They really should repackage these games as 99c games for the iPad or iPhone or other hand-held devices. They are absolutely wonderful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: