Star Trek: Klingon Honor Guard

snap2381Unreal puts on some Star Trek garbs. Fails.

With Klingon Honor Guard MicroProse has taken Epic’s powerful Unreal technology, with its flexible editor and superb scripting capabilities – and done little more than remake Unreal with Klingons. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and indeed such a game will be self-recommending to Trek fans regardless of its particulars. But for a full-priced, widely hyped title from a major publisher, it’s a major disappointment.

Considering the rich vein of Klingon and Trek lore that could have been mined, the narrow, conventional storyline and mission structure hardly fulfills the potential of the source material. Federation-spanning action with multiple planets and life-forms and a wide visual palette could’ve propelled the game to the heights of the genre, yet all these are lacking in Star Trek: Klingon Honor Guard.

The story (set in Star Trek: The Next Generation) begins when your training sequence is interrupted by an assassination attempt on the Klingon leader, Gowron. You’re ordered to track down the assassins and given short briefings before each mission. The introduction and briefings are sub-par. The entire, over-long introductory sequence is devoid of slick animation or even in-game scripted scenes. In fact, about two-thirds of the introduction is grainy stock footage of bubbling lava (which I presume is standing in for the Klingon home planet), and the rest are cartoonishly rendered still images with minute in-frame animations. The briefings are similarly under-animated images with badly dubbed voice-overs. It all just feels so cheap, or rushed if you want to be charitable.

snap2367The game itself is adequate in most areas, but nothing you haven’t already seen in Unreal. Mission areas include an icy planet, a Klingon village, a Bird of Prey, a space station, a prison, and others. There are 25 “levels,” but that’s counting levels within a world that are merely continuations of previous levels. Level design runs hot and cold. The Bird of Prey and the space station have interesting moments, including some slightly larger vistas than the rest of the game. Aesthetically they rival but never really surpass those of Unreal.

Only the ice planet really captures that Unreal feeling of large spaces, and the accompanying prison level is one of the most maddeningly confusing I’ve encountered in an action game. The mission requires you to pass back and forth between various hubs of an illogically designed prison, yet, the hubs are devoid of any strong, distinguishing features; as a result, you might find yourself wasting an extra hour on unnecessary wandering.

None of the levels are particularly interesting. Nothing much goes on in any of them, and after a while they all begin to blend together. Compounding this problem is the rather flat, and sometimes downright incompetent, art direction. Textures are largely drab and uninteresting, and add little to the Unreal experience. Underwater regions have a tendency to show huge seams. The bright pink blood of the Klingons may be accurate in the milieu, but frankly looks pretty silly. It’s also laid on in flat textures, so that in several places it floats above or beside the wall or floor upon which it is supposed to be spilled. One of the few effective visual effects is the enemy “melt-down” — when you hit someone with a huge bolt of firepower, he kinda melts.

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Creature animations are variable, and not particularly fluid. Too many appear to “skate” through the levels, barely touching the floor. Enemies consists of four types of Klingon, two Andorians (the blue guys with the antennae), robots, and animals like the BireQT, Targ, and guard dog. The only interesting critters are the Lethian (who blends into the background and has a Mind Sear attack), the Predator-like Nausican, and an ice-cave beast called the Ro’peD. Unreal artificial intelligence takes a step backwards in most instances as most enemies put up a decent fight most of the time, but sometimes just stand in the corner and sulk until dead.

snap2317Klingon Honor Guard almost makes up for some of its failings with the D’k Tahg dagger and the Bat’leth sword. Like the light saber in Jedi Knight, these have variable attacks linked to footwork, so you can slash, stab, and do a couple other combo moves. The dagger can also be thrown, which is a very effective and quiet way to kill a guard before you’re seen. The rest of the weaponry is a largely undistinguished lot of blasters and launchers that feel like they could’ve been ripped straight from Unreal. Each has two attacks, with the second one usually being more powerful and consuming more energy or ammo.

With the power of Unreal and the depth of the Klingon universe, MicroProse had within its grasp the ability to make the Trek equivalent of Jedi Knight with Klingon Honor Guard. But this is really just an average-to-poor effort, and from a major company with a strong licensed engine at its disposal.

System Requirements: Pentium 90 MHz, 16 MB RAM, Win 95

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