|Publisher: Aspyr Media Genre: Action
|Min OS X: 10.1 CPU: G3 @ 733 MHz RAM: 256 MB Hard Disk: 1050 MB Graphics: 16 MB VRAM
Game play: Phasers and Tricorders at the readyThe story may not be totally convincing, but at least it provides plenty of variety in terms of different missions and locations. You'll find yourself battling the Borg, exploring the crippled Dallas (a very spooky and tense early mission, this), fighting Exomorphs in a space station and down a mine, infiltrating a Romulan outpost, pursuing a Ferengi through a Klingon base. And, perhaps most novelly, hopping around the Enterprise's hull to repel Idryll invaders and firing its gun turret manually at the Idryll ship. Of course, there's the usual warp core breach to avert, too. No Star Trek experience would be complete without that.
The nice thing about Elite Force II is that it has a bit of something for everyone. Those of us who like to explore will find it an unusually interesting game because there are quite a few levels where no action, as such, takes place at all (though the mission at Starfleet HQ is admittedly pretty boring). For one thing, the 11 main missions alternate with information gathering missions which generally take place on the Enterprise. Here you're free to wander around the corridors at your leisure, explore and chat to other crew members. Sometimes you'll get a new weapon and train with it in the holodeck.
Even in some of the main missions the action is only sporadic. When infiltrating the Romulan base, for instance, you are disguised as a Romulan and have to avoid bio-scanners that could reveal that you're not what you appear to be. You primary tool is the tricorder, which lets you see extended information about objects and people, provides various view modes (structural integrity, bio-scan and trace-gas), modulates consoles to open doors, and lets you interface with other systems. You'll need to use your tricorder to solve little puzzles when trying to do things like ejecting the warp core. The puzzles are really very easy, but it can still be a scramble to solve them against quite a tight time limit (the warp core in particular is a very large firework with a very short fuse). You can even use your tricorder in one mission to call down missile strikes from the Enterprise.
So the tricorder is an essential and useful tool, but of the actual weapons the one you can always rely on is the phaser, which recharges itself and is always available. It's surprisingly powerful, but there are plenty of other more powerful and interesting weapons. The only disappointment is that some weapons have very limited exposure. One, for instance, can only be found in a couple of secret areas in the game, so you may miss it entirely. Seven of Nine's I-Mod is only available in the initial Borg mission (unless you find it afterwards via another secret). The worst example, though, is the Klingon Bat'leth, which has the potential to be fun but is only used very briefly, once, at the end of a particular mission (despite being highlighted on the game's packaging as part of your arsenal).
Speaking of secrets, incidentally, Elite Force II does very well in this area, and any player who enjoys looking for secrets will have a great time with it. Secrets take two forms: hidden areas and collectable "golden starships". Find enough starships and you can gain access to some extra levels that become available via a prominent "secrets" button on the main menu. There are some excellent secrets, including even a hidden Sonic-style platform game. Overall, a lot of thought has clearly gone into devising some really good hidden extras.
A criticism of the first Elite Force game was that it was too easy. I thought that the same was going to be true of the sequel, because the early parts of the game are a walk in the park. Even the first big boss you meet, at the end of the Borg mission, is much easier to defeat than he has any right to be. The difficulty level cranks up rapidly, though. It has to be said that the game play is a bit patchy in this respect. Generally it's not too difficult by any means, but certain sections can be really tough.
As in the first game, you're not supposed to kill your teammates or other allies, but this time there's both less incentive and less opportunity to do so. You play more missions either on your own or with just a single companion, and they no longer irritate you to death by repeating the same inanities endlessly. They also don't get underfoot to nearly the same extent any more, so these are all good improvements over the original game. If anything, the Hazard Team elements are underplayed now. Aside from brief appearances, your colleagues don't get very involved. When they're around, though, they'll help you to take out enemies.
In general, then, game play is excellent and an improvement on the first game. The levels are generally very much bigger than in the first game, the secrets are an order of magnitude better, and there's much more opportunity to explore.
One area in which the game has not been conspicuously improved, though, is its loading times. I complained that the first game had glacial loading speeds because it sometimes took over a minute to move between levels. Elite Force II is generally not as bad as this, but at times it can be much worse. It depends on the level. Although some load in only a moderate time (well under a minute), others take considerably longer. A progress counter appears while loading some levels, and generally counts up quickly to a couple of hundred. The level that took the biscuit, though, involved a counter that incremented, much more slowly than usual, to a total of nearly 1,600. Loading this level took maybe 10 minutes on my machine, which was no joke at all. Luckily, reloads are much faster and saves are pretty quick (though not instantaneous), and most levels are of a reasonable size, so you don't feel like you're going to trigger a new load every time you go through a door, as in the original game. But even so, when a new level starts up, the waiting period can get pretty tiresome.