On paper, Star Trek: Bridge Crew is a Trekkie's dream, as it requires teams of up to four players to assume the roles of officers aboard a starship, and therein navigate scenarios not dissimilar to those we've seen in the near-countless TV shows and movies that we've been watching for the last 50 years. We've sat aboard Federation ships before, sure, but never like this. Taking its cues from the likes of Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator, Bridge Crew takes things to the next level by moving the concept into the realm of virtual reality, which in turn proves more immersive than any Star Trek game that has ever come before it.
Whether it's actually that good is still up for debate, but the key thing we took away after two hours spent playing the four different roles across four different scenarios is that, played in co-op, it has the potential to be a hell of a lot of fun. As a game, especially one played solo with AI support, it may well be that Bridge Crew just doesn't have the chops to entertain for very long, however, played together with like-minded souls, with role-playing at the centre of the experience, this might be the definitive interactive Star Trek experience.
It's not perfect by any means, and much of the enjoyment comes from the context surrounding the experience, rather than the mechanics themselves. It's a general truism that nearly every game is better when played with friends, and even the most underwhelming experiences can be elevated by the company of comrades. This is the case here, but the key difference is that coop and role-play are at the heart of the game's design and it must be considered on those terms.
This role-playing element is felt most keenly by the person playing captain. Helm, tactical, and engineering positions all have meaningful roles to fulfil, whereas the captain's is more managerial. Armed with oversight of the ship's systems and, if the team works as it should, the power to issue orders to the crew, the captain acts as the link that connects the three other positions together. You could argue that in terms of interacting with the software, the role of captain is a little underwhelming, and that would be fair, however, it's also the uniqueness of this floating role that elevated the experience when we played it and made it more engrossing as a whole.
In terms of having actual control of what happens, those who play helm and tactical will hold the most pivotal positions, as there's more in the way of tangible feedback, with phasers and photon torpedoes firing this way and that while the ship lurches from left to right as the player in the helm role lines up targets and steers towards objectives. Just in terms of getting in the thick of the action, these are the most intense roles too. The person in engineering has a more behind-the-scenes role, acting as the glue that sticks the team together, repairing damaged systems and diverting power between engines, phasers, and shields to suit the moment. Essentially it's the healer role; not very glamorous but utterly essential for a well-oiled team.
We sampled each of the four crew positions, and indeed helm and tactical are where we had the most fun, but we were playing at a low level and with no prior experience, and we can see how important the engineer is going to be during more challenging missions, as teams scramble to balance their systems during battles with Bird-of-Prey and the like.