I’m not a gamer, but I do like to lose myself now and again in a good game when I can.
My preference is for strategy games over ‘first person shooters’, and where possible my ultimate preference is for a game based in a science fiction property I love.
When I came across Star Trek Timelines by Disruptor Beam a couple of weeks ago, it looked really good. I’m always cautious when I download an app based game that has the dreaded “in app purchases” sign beside it, but I liked the sound of Timelines and was determined to give it a go.
The premise? It’s the 24th Century, just after Voyager has returned home and the events of Star Trek: Nemesis have played out. You’re the captain of a Constellation Class starship (think the USS Stargazer from TNG’s first season episode “The Battle”). You’re sent to investigate a temporal anomaly and come across Q. He explains that a full scale temporal crisis is in process, and it’s begun throwing people, places and objects out of their timeline into yours. He needs your help to set things straight.
At the beginning the game is great. It’s kind of a choose your own adventure experience that allows you to assign crew to various missions and then choose the way forward based on who has the best skill level to achieve a particular challenge.
I was pleasantly surprised by the characters I could claim for free or win through the time portal. Old favourites were there, as were some unexpected personalities. There are a few silly ones – like Ice Hockey Harry Kim – but by and large there’s an excellent selection that will surprise and make any fan happy.
At the beginning, you don’t need to spend any money. You can if you want to, but it’s not necessary to progress your characters. That lasted for about three days. As I eventually aced every mission at the lower levels to complete two ‘episodes’, suddenly the skill required for each new challenge mounted (by quite a lot) but my characters’ levels did not and the need to spend money reared its ugly head. I was enjoying the game at that point, and I wanted to keep playing it. Initially, the cost didn’t seem unreasonable. You can stay in the game for $7.99. That’s the cost of two coffees a day. When I play games, I play them as part of a stress management strategy. $7.99 was a relatively healthy investment in something that would engage me and distract me.
Then, at the one week mark, I was encountering missions my characters had no chance of winning without spending more money. I pushed that envelope a little, but ended up bumping my expenditure to the next level only to get no where… which led to a remarkable level of frustration and a growing sense of disappointment. It was obvious I needed to spend more but that was unacceptable for my budget, especially this close to Christmas.
I’ve downloaded games before with in app purchases and been sucked into the same money black hole, quickly deleting the game and forgetting about it. I had hoped that anyone who loved Star Trek, and these guys have done their research so I thought they did love Star Trek, would be less driven by greed and more driven by a sincere desire to create something fans would love and that would bring us joy. Yes. I really am that naive! Which is one way of saying I was wrong.
If you’ve downloaded this game and played it for longer than a week, you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t downloaded it yet and do, you’ll very quickly discover how obnoxiously expensive it can get and how unreasonably expensive certain ‘specials’ are. Not content to make some money off Star Trek fans, the game designers have decided to charge like a wounded bull and gouge fans. There was one special that was on offer recently where you could buy a special character and a few other things for just under $160. That’s a day’s wage for some people. That’s a three hour massage… a trendy pair of jeans… a week’s groceries… a monthly health insurance payment for a couple… a donation to the World Wildlife Fund that would help save a species… things that have meaning. Not a picture on a screen and a momentary advantage in a game that has less and less going for it the longer you play it. Hello! Reality check to table two. What are the people at Disruptor Beam smoking?
If you don’t want to spend wads of cash you can fumble through by repeating increasingly boring missions – sometimes the same one over and over and over again – in an attempt to find the object you need to advance your character, but it’s frustrating and it’s counter intuitive. Sometimes you can buy the object you need at a Faction Centre, but more often than not you can’t, and sometimes you can win it at the Dabo table – but again, more often than not you get something you’re never going to need.
I haven’t given up on the game yet, but I have given up on spending more money on it because that expenditure is getting me no where. I might as well throw my money out the window of my car while driving along a freeway, it would do more good.
The good things about the game?
The likenesses of the characters, and most of the range of character choices.
The story concept is brilliant and filled with promise… which is eventually killed, sadly, by the game play.
You can get back into the story, but it actually takes a fair bit of effort because the disruption caused to the story by having to repeat missions jades you quite a lot.
The game is easy to figure out, which is nice.
For a while, you do feel like you’ve been swept up and transported to the universe of Star Trek.
There are some iconic ships to captain if you’re lucky enough to win them – including a Borg cube!
The effects and graphics look pretty good on a smartphone and are a huge departure from most mobile based game platforms.
You also get to visit some familiar locales – including Regula One, Romulus, Cold Station 12 and Earth.
The game play gets bogged by what seems to be a lack of care for us the players. There appears to be a flowing narrative at first, then as you’re waiting to build your characters up so they can actually achieve something in episodes three and four, that flow vanishes and there is no rhyme or reason to any of it because you’re forced to revisit so many ‘bits’ of episodes you’ve already completed to obtain objects you need to level up. At this point, the narrative is shattered and the game becomes a task to be begrudgingly completed rather than enjoyed.
It’s buggy. I’ve had to power down my phone on a number of occasions because the game has stalled or because there’s a constant error message that pops up.
In fact the whole money thing is the worst part of this game and, as I said above, reeks of an obnoxious level of greed. You’ve run out of chronitons (which you need to get from challenge to challenge)? Spend money. Sick of repeating games over and over and over and over and over and over again to find that one item you need to advance your character? Spend money. Really want to add Picard to your crew? Spend money with no guarantee you’ll get him… so… oh, you better spend more money so you can keep trying to get him!
Then of course, there’s the ads. We’re spending money but still have to suffer through ads if we want to get someone without using up our entire chroniton allowance or if we want an extra scan or if we want to complete a Faction Mission without waiting up to two hours.
I’ve obviously played this game for too long (8 days, very infrequently, but probably for a total of three hours a day), because it’s affecting me and I want to meet the game designers and punch each of them in the face. Repeatedly. That’s a little extreme, I know, but it’s about where my frustration level is sitting. Stupidity mixed with greed brings out my inner-Klingon.
And the game design is borderline stupid. It feels like the game is designed to defeat itself – to earn some quick bucks and then… who cares?
The designers deserve to make money, yes. We all do for a job well done, but there’s making money and then there’s stealing your hard earned cash with a faulty product or product that doesn’t deliver on its promises or potential.
The final frustration is that the game actually has a lot of potential. It could be so good!
I hope the designers tweak it a bit to make it less of a black hole for players’ wallets and more of an enjoyable romp through an amazing universe that millions of people love. As much as I want to find the game designers and shove a smartphone or a tablet somewhere the sun doesn’t shine, I’m going to give them and their game until it’s next update to see if things improve. If not, I’m out of here and am vehemently recommending to everyone they steer clear.
If I were to give it a score, I’d give this current version of the game 2.5 out of 5.
And that’s generous.
Disruptor Beam, take a reality check, please. Realise you’re not saving the world here, and apply some sane or at least realistic pricing to your in app purchases, and then go and apply some logic to your game play, character progression, and then give us, the players, the opportunity to in some way impact on the game play rather than be victims of some random score generating device that makes no sense whatsoever.