Since the very beginning of the medium, outer space has been one of the most popular settings in video games. Steve Russell’s 1962 multiplayer game Spacewar! is widely considered the first-ever shooter. In 1978, Space Invaders not only revitalized the flagging video game industry, but inspired legends like Hideo Kojima and Shigeru Miyamoto to become game designers. These days, sales charts are dominated by space-faring titles like Halo and Mass Effect. It’s a perfect pairing; after all, video games and outer space are two places where anything can happen. The possibilities are literally endless.
That’s why it’s a little strange that the granddaddy of interstellar-adventure, Star Trek, hasn't ever produced a truly great game. Last year’s Star Trek: The Game, a tie-in to J.J. Abrams’ recent Trek movies, was such a critical and commercial disappointment that Abrams claimed it actually hurt the films. Cryptic Studios’ Star Trek Online launched to favorable reviews but struggled to find players, eventually disappearing from the public eye.
Now, developer GameSamba is trying again with Star Trek: Alien Domain, a browser-based strategy title coming sometime in the next year. In Star Trek: Alien Domain, players take command of a Federation or Klingon outpost in the mysterious Fluidic Space. Captains are tasked with maintaining their fleet of starships while establishing colonies and fighting off enemy forces. Multiplayer is a big part of the game, too, as players can attack each other’s bases or engage in “large-scale squad vs. squad battles.”
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That sounds well and good, but given Star Trek’s checkered history, it remains to be seen if GameSamba can deliver. Trekkers curious about the title will have their first opportunity try it out on December 1st, when Star Trek: Alien Domain enters open beta. To apply, simply log in to the Star Trek: Alien Domain website and fill out a seven-question, multiple-choice quiz. Get all of the answers right, and earn a shot at entering the beta.
The quiz should be pretty easy for casual Trek fans (and everyone else can find the answers on Wikipedia), but the softball questions raise an interesting concern: who exactly is Star Trek: Alien Domain for? The game’s description sounds more like Clash of Clans than Wrath of Kahn, and the simple interface and browser-based gameplay make it look like GameSamba’s targeting a broad, casual audience. At its core, Star Trek is about exploration, not combat; focusing on a stationary military base seems to go against the whole spirit of the franchise (although, admittedly, the space-station set Deep Space 9 turned out pretty well).
Star Trek’s famous for its passionate fans, and they deserve a game that’s as dedicated to the series as they are. From the looks of things, Star Trek: Alien Domain probably isn't that title; still, let’s hope that gamers are presently surprised when the beta starts later this week.
Star Trek: Alien Domain is being developed for all major web browsers. It doesn't currently have a release date.