What geeky child in the 90’s didn’t want to captain the Enterprise? Well, there was one game that let you – Star Trek: TNG: Future’s Past.
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Future’s Past is the lengthy title for a 1994 video game released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System – it was released on Sega Genesis under a different title as well. Future’s Past follows the Enterprise crew on an adventure to investigate a strange, technobabble device called the Integrated Field Derandomizer.
I remember being thrilled when I found this game as a kid. I couldn’t help but imagine that a game cartridge was all it took for me to have my very own Star Trek adventures. But, did that happen?
Captain on the bridge.
The gameplay is broken down into three main areas, starting with the bridge. From the bridge you can visit the conference room and Picard’s ready room for information and advice on your current mission. The turbolift takes you to the transporter room to organize away teams. There are also various stations around the bridge, such as the science station which provides sensor readings for whatever object you’re currently orbiting, and the ship’s computer which provides you random factoids about everything Star Trek.
The conn is where you’ll navigate the Enterprise by picking various clusters, stars, planets, moons and whatever else you’d like to visit. It’s actually impressive how many places you can visit, that is until you realize there are no interesting places to go and do anything outside of your current mission. My dreams of exploring the galaxy were quickly dashed.
The engineering station allows you to conduct repairs on the ship by allocating resources to various systems which slowly repair, and I cannot stress enough that it is sloooow. While you can visit starbases to make repairs and replenish your torpedoes, sometimes field repairs are imperative when your warp drive, shields, or other critical system is damaged to the point that you are either stranded or extremely vulnerable.
Away team mission are where you will likely spend much of your gameplay. Before beaming down you have the chance to assemble an away team with your favorite senior officers as well as a large group of junior officers. While you may choose Troi, Data, Worf, or even Picard for your team, if too many of your senior officers are critically injured, it’s game over. In Picard’s case, it’s an instant game over. The junior officers, however? They’re all essentially red shirts and we all know what they do best.
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Each officer type has different skills. Tactical officers are best at shooting things, though everyone can shoot a phaser, and no one does it especially well. Medical officer do what you’d expect, and science officers can use tricorders to scan stuff.
Some strategy is required when assembling your team, and a balanced composition always works best. I remember feeling especially cruel using one junior officer to open air vents on one mission. Not only was he suffocating, but weird mole creatures kept attacking him. It kept me from losing, Data, though, so…
Space combat is the other main aspect of gameplay. In this mode you control the Enterprise from a top down perspective on a grid. I’m guessing that this is what combat looks like from Worf’s tactical station book shelf thing, at least for the purpose of this game.
You have phasers which need to recharge, torpedoes which need to be loaded into fore and aft bays, and then shields which absorb damage but need time to return to full strength. You also have auxiliary power which can be shifted to either phasers or shields. This is pretty basic Star Trek stuff and works just as you’d expect.
What doesn’t work as you’d expect, however, is controlling the Enterprise. Moving the ship in this mode feels like… ice hockey. There must be something off with the thrusters or inertial dampeners or something. Most of the time the Enterprise is constantly careening, strafing, and swiveling around the grid. Sometimes you can maneuver a sharp turn to avoid incoming torpedoes, but often enough you’ll just as likely slide right into an enemy alpha strike and watch your shields melt like butter.
Occasionally, the enemy will hail you to surrender, but most of the time it’s a fight to the death. Making matters worse, battles occur randomly while traveling. While that is something to be expected in a game like this, the experience of space combat is prohibitively frustrating, and it affects most of the rest of gameplay.
All hands abandon ship!
Remember the freedom to explore the galaxy at the conn? Get ready for random attacks. Remember the engineering station? Get ready to spend excessive amounts of time waiting for your ship to repair. I realized that the ship’s computer station which has all that data about Star Trek was there to give you something to read while you wait.
The space combat is so unbalanced and the repairs are so slow that the flow of the gameplay suffers. I might expect difficulty and down time such as this in something like the infamously detailed Eve Online, but in a mid-90’s console game? While I did enjoy most of my time playing this as a kid, I still remember the anxiety that the klaxon induced when I was waylaid by yet another Romulan warbird.
Having said that, for what it was it provided me with the chance to experience how it could be to control a starship and away teams and manage the ship’s systems. It wasn’t great, and at times a bit harsh, but it filled a niche that would ultimately be replaced in the future by other games like No Man’s Sky, Elite: Dangerous, and Star Trek Online, of course.