Star Trek’s history with video games is not a particularly illustrious one. Over the years, Trekkies have had to deal with buggy action games, space battles with questionable controls, and blatant cash grabs. When I heard about Star Trek Timelines last summer at the Star Trek Convention, I thought we might finally be getting a Star Trek game that could buck the trend. And while Timelines doesn’t reinvent the mobile game wheel, there’s enough content here for a fan to be entertained.
The hook of Timelines’ story and gameplay is that an anomaly has caused alternate realities to begin colliding, and Q recruits you, as a new Starfleet captain, to travel the galaxy to settle disputes and answer distress calls. Exploring the Galaxy and experiencing alternate versions of characters and events are the main draw of Timelines, and on that the game delivers. Stopping an alternate-reality Worf from annihilating the Vulcan homeworld because in his timeline Spock was a tyrannical dictator is pure fanservice, and it’s generally a blast.
The graphics are surprisingly good; this has to be one of the best looking mobile games I’ve ever seen. Taking your ship into warp is oddly exhilarating, even though it’s just a glorified loading screen. Space battles look incredible, even if they do seem to suffer a graphical glitch here and there (in one battle my ship went momentarily invisible whenever I suffered damage).
Space battle gameplay however is less exciting, with player activity limited to pressing a button when a certain characters’ ability becomes available. You can upgrade your ship to be able to use more abilities, so I could imagine it becoming slightly more complicated, but waiting for a timer and then pressing buttons wasn’t the most fun to me.
The away mission gameplay is much more substantial however. Choosing the right crew members for the mission is crucial, and my first few missions were an unmitigated disaster. Your crewmembers will have stats for certain attributes, including Medicine, Command, and Engineering. Of course not all crewmembers will have all of the attributes. I chose Picard when I began the game, who possessed Diplomacy, Command, and Science, a fitting group of traits for the captain of Enterprises D and E.
Every mission will feature tasks that require some of these different attributes, but don’t worry, you won’t need to take crew members that cover every single one. The screen where you choose your away team has a map of the mission, where the different paths are laid out. Taking a certain route will let you complete it without resorting to covering every attribute with a limited number of crew. For instance, in one of the more difficult missions I encountered, I took crew members that excelled in Engineering and Security and took a path that only involved those attributes.
These away missions are the best gameplay element of the game, and kept me coming back to find more crewmembers and equipment with different combinations of attributes. Unfortunately, with more playtime, the novelty of the characters and the setting began to wear off and the game faltered slightly.
As away missions and space battles become more difficult the player needs better characters, and sometimes the only way to progress past a mission is to hope for new characters with high stats in the right attributes. At the beginning, as you complete missions and space battles, you will accumulate credits, which you can then spend in the time portal (Timeline’s store) to acquire random items. For 10,000 credits you can buy one “pack”, which contain either a character, item, piece of equipment, or starship schematic. This progression is fairly smooth until you run into a mission or battle that seems impossible to beat without replaying levels to gain new items or learning the faction system where you send crewmembers on missions for items and equipment.
The fastest way to find what you need is the kryptonite of many mobile games: spending real money on the game. Even though Star Trek Timelines is free to download, you can spend real money on Dilithium crystals, which allow you buy a pack that contains “rare” items. These items will always be better than what you can buy with regular credits, and without them the game can quickly become a grind.
Even if you do manage to get what you need, Star Trek Timelines suffers from what most graphically-intensive mobiles games suffer from: consistent crashing. Throughout my time with the game I suffered many crashes, and since the game’s load time is significant every crash means more waiting. I’ve confirmed this with other people playing the game on all sorts of devices, so be prepared for crashes when playing for long periods.
With the crashes and “pay to get ahead” nature of the game, Timelines might seem like it’s not worth it. But if you’re looking for a fun romp through the Star Trek universe, Timelines should absolutely scratch that itch. I wouldn’t expect it to change the landscape of Star Trek games, but if you are at all interested in seeing characters from all the series interacting, or taking Picard, Seska, and Sulu on away missions, then Timelines is worth the download.
2 and 1/2 out of 4 stars