Klingon Honor Guard

Klingon Honor Guard
3
Game Name: Klingon Honor Guard
Platforms: Windows 98
Publisher(s): Microprose
Developer(s): Microprose
Genre(s): First Person Warrior Simulator
Release Date: 1998
Availability: Second-hand

Let’s talk about Klingons for a moment. Originally, these were just shifty fellows with pointy facial hair and generic “bad guy” uniforms, with no characterization beyond sneering and taunting Captain Kirk. When Worf was added in The Next Generation, the race’s role was greatly expanded. We learned their society was made up of houses that don’t much like each other, they all contributed to a council government, and Klingon politics consisted of much more betrayal and subterfuge than you would expect from a species outwardly obsessed with honor. It’s important to note because the game hangs heavily on your interest in all this. For example, if you don’t care about watching a lengthy intro video telling how Kahless brought freedom to the Empire, or have any opinion at all about running into Lursa and B’etor, you’re going to be at a disadvantage already.

AI enemies try to be nimble little pests.

Klingon Honor Guard has you playing as a new member of the title force, fresh from the academy and ready to prove yourself as a warrior. An initial holodeck training mission is interrupted by an assassination attempt on Chancellor Gowron (again, and it’s only Monday…) The head of the Honor Guard declares you too new to the Klingon military to be suspicious, so tasks you with finding and eliminating the traitors. This takes you on a galaxy-hopping quest of 25 missions, across ships, stations, icy Rura Penthé, a surprising number of alien pubs, and through a whole lot of vaporized bodies of the House of Duras.

Missions start similar to Dark Forces, with specific objectives and targets within the world. Video briefings from surly Commander Kurn (Tony Todd’s character from the show – he does provide the voice) will keep you abreast of the plot and explicitly point out in-world panels and machines that you are expected to interact with. This is often not really enforced – you can easily stumble through the linear levels while the doohickey at the end just acts as another key to unlock the exit door. However, you’ll certainly want to pay attention to the plot. Barring a couple in-engine cutscenes (a la Unreal’s expansion pack), the plot is rarely referenced in the levels themselves. I stepped away for a few days and had to rewatch a cutscene off the disk, because I had no idea who I was chasing or why.

Levels are generally expansive and dynamic, reflecting late 90s FPS sensibilities. You’ll see some push-button puzzles, deadly fans, a series of track-switching mine carts, crumbling walls, monorails, falling stalactites, debris that must be shot to open a path, and similar attempts to make the otherwise static levels come alive. There’s even some (frankly, weird) Indiana Jones-style puzzles in a late-game Klingon temple. There are no particularly memorable action sequences, and most environmental chaos happens on the periphery – Half-Life, this is not – but you can still hang back and watch enemies fall off a platform, or guards try desperately to control rioting prisoners. A couple of timed levels even show up to keep things mildly tense.

This is rare enough that it never, ever gets old.

By far, the marquee effect is the zero-gravity sections. There are only three or four levels where this is an option, but a combination of vacuum armor and magnetic boots will let you stomp around the exterior of a space station or a ship at warp. Space-suited foes will be out there as well. Killing them sends them tumbling off into the final frontier, spinning and spewing pink blood globules in a reasonable recreation of the effect from Star Trek VI. The same will happen to you if your suit takes too much damage, or if you blow yourself out an airlock without the proper gear equipped. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can turn off your mag boots to float ahead at a faster speed, and turn them on again to relatch to the deck. But there are no jetpacks here, so miscalculations guarantee a lonely death.

Honor Guard runs on the Unreal engine, and you’re going to see quite a lot that’s familiar if you’ve played the first Unreal game. Limited areas of fog, occasional reflective floors, and frequent use of colored lighting all feature. Most of your guns shoot glowing orbs that light up the hallways as they travel through them, or light up a small radius of the walls on impact. Quake II style pain skins will show damage on enemies after a few hits. The engine’s ability to handle both narrow facilities and huge outdoor areas gets showcased, but not quite to same degree as its progenitor. You’ll be sticking to the interiors of ships or colonies, and hardly ever venturing outside of alleyways or corridors.

Other weapons use a lame fade effect, but the assault disruptor gives you the full on vaporization

Weapons mostly follow FPS tropes. There are the canon-friendly disruptor pistol and rifle, and these come early in the game. From there, the team gets creative. Unreal’s Razor Jack (a gun that shot spinning discs) now becomes a catchable razor disc like something out of Predator 2. It will bounce off walls and dig into enemies before loyally returning to you. Another favorite is a disruptor shotgun that devastates at close range. A rocket launcher with a heat-seeking option becomes surprisingly useful in the late game, and the sole hitscan weapon – the Sith Har Blaster – is often low on ammo but graciously negates foes’ ability to dodge. Secondary fire for all weapons usually trades more ammo for a stronger shot.

It also seems like you can now goad the AI into fighting hand-to-hand. Most every humanoid enemy has a ranged and melee weapon – some start with one and seem to prefer it, but they will generally switch if you’re directly in their face, or brandishing a knife. Your initial knife is fairly useless for anything beyond squishing bugs or opening crates, but the mighty Bat’leth soon appears in your inventory, and can kill just about anything in two frantic swipes. This system is never so tight that you can rely on melee exclusively – some enemies will just step back and shoot you, and hit detection at close range is far more spotty than it should be – but it’s a nice, thematic inclusion.

There are also inventory items to collect, though these are largely useless. The magnetic boots are the best inclusion – required for zero-g, and being able to switch them on and off is great. A set of zooming goggles is also handy for sniping, if paired with the Sith Har. A tricorder that will mark enemies through walls is pretty unnecessary at the game’s combat pace, and a communicator that will call in two AI reinforcements usually just results in getting them killed quickly. There’s a camera you can mount on walls and take peeks at, but beyond deathmatch, I can’t think of a purpose for this. It’s also worth noting that the vacuum suits used for spacewalks will also count as armor, and sometimes that’s the only armor available, so you’ll be seeing that restrictive helmet and Darth Vader breathing far more often than you would expect.

A random Rite of Ascension chamber is one example of the frequent fan service.

As a Star Trek game, the fan service here is pretty strong. You’ll get to roam the interiors and exteriors of both a Bird of Prey and a D7 warship. A squirmy, worm-filled bowl full of Gagh overcharges your health, and a goblet of Bloodwine puts you in a melee rage. Locations and effects look the part, to the best the technology will allow. Characters from the show appear and leave unscathed, there’s nothing here that’s going to add to the lore, but as a piece of fan fluff, it generally works.

I say “generally” because there are definitely flaws in the execution. Bugs are still present, even after the last patch released. You will occasionally see stuck elevators and corpses frozen upright. Enemies sometimes won’t notice you, or that you just shot their buddy. Trying to climb any ladder is going to be fiddly. There’s no “use” key, and doors have a very narrow detection area, so they will frequently slide shut in your face if you’re trying to use them as cover. When the game tries to do something out of the norm (like a shuttle door you can open to blow everything inside out into space), it often breaks the physics of nearby enemies or objects. And I’m still not sure the mid-game boss battle with Krax was supposed to take place in zero-g.

Like Daikatana, the game has a miserable opening as you knife bugs and shoot a slow-firing energy pistol in a boring brown cave. The compound in the next stage (complete with nuclear green sewer level, of course) isn’t much better. You’ll run into brutal turrets and sentry bots before you have the weapons to easily deal with them, and it will be about four levels until you first get to take a spacewalk. Expect to keep falling back to the frustrating energy pistol, as it’s the only ranged weapon with rechargeable ammo, and melee isn’t a smart idea until you get the Bat’leth about midway through the game. It’s not a great first impression, and especially if you’re looking to jump right into the good stuff.

Enemies don’t teleport in as often as in Terminator: Future Shock, but be prepared for steady surprises.

Meanwhile, the further you go, the more repetition sets in. A lot of this is probably restricted by the license – the TNG timeline dictates that the Klingons and the Federation have a truce, so you’ll never come close to playing the villain. Your enemies are strictly traitorous Klingons and humanoid pirates, who all use the famous Skaarj AI from Unreal essentially verbatim. They will move behind boxes for cover, run backward while shooting to keep distance, roll out of the way, and occasionally play dead just to shoot at you from the ground. Interactions with beasts or any other kind of enemy is kept limited, so firing an energy orb and having someone with a weird face and two legs leap to the side feels like the entire game. There aren’t any different behaviors to keep combat fresh.

Finally, like most 90’s games, the ending is a bit of a wet fart. After a grueling gauntlet of five or six levels against the toughest enemies with the strongest weapons, you’ll fight an awkward arena battle against the Big Bad taking place in – literally – the second deathmatch map. All of the bosses use botmatch AI, so they’ll be running, strafing, and hopping non-stop while you try to collect weapons and unload into them. I encountered another likely bug with two of them, where they seemed invulnerable to damage. The only thing that would put them down is shooting a Ding Pach disk and exploding it while it sawed them. For detonating the dissident leader’s midsection, I got a medal in a cutscene and the credits.

I will note that I played through on the hardest difficulty, and it absolutely was not worth it. My strongest overall memory of the game is abusing the quicksave button, and it does seem like lower difficulties are a little better balanced. If nothing else, melee won’t get you killed quite as readily, so charging around like a Bat’leth banshee is more viable and makes the game move quicker.

Multiplayer is messy, chaotic, and as generic as it gets.

Multiplayer is included, but not worth coordinating a match. Deathmatch (called “Deathrite” here) has 12 maps they didn’t bother to name, and two player models. Half of the levels are sections of the main game. Corridors are too cramped for great movement, and if you think you had trouble hitting things with slow moving projectiles in the single player game, wait until you try to pin down an erratic player or bot in Deathrite. Messages contain 90s faux-macho posturing (XXX took both barrels from XXX) that seems as generic as it does out of place. It comes off like something Microprose included because they “had to,” with any creativity rightfully directed to the single player campaign.

Klingon Honor Guard is the last Star Trek FPS I’d recommend, and given that there’s only three of them, that means virtually nothing. If you’re insistent on donning your may’luch and killing petaQs, you’ll find a competent shooter that wears its source material well, but isn’t much beyond fan candy. Weapons annoy more than they satisfy, enemies move around spastically more than they’re able to be hit, and locations are brown and routine more than they are dazzling. Unless you specifically want to play as a Klingon, check out Elite Force instead.

 

The Good

Nice fan references, from weapons to locations. Lighting is pretty excellent, locations and models are low poly but functional. Good spread of missions and sights keeps the story interesting.

The Bad

Non-canon side story, so it’s not going to add anything. Average shooter that gives you the experience of playing as a Klingon, if all Klingons do is travel and shoot or stab other aliens.  If you don’t know your d’k tagh from your asshole, probably not the game for you.

 

Qapla’ THIS! – Andorian mercenary

 

3+

6 Comments

  1. Rik says:

    As always, great to see you back in the review zone!

    This was kind of on my longlist to revisit one day (which will probably never happen). Haven’t played it since it was released but I remember finding the extremely iffy opening levels at odds with the very favourable reviews it received (well, from my gaming magazine of choice anyway). And couldn’t shake the feeling that it played like Unreal dressed up for a Trek convention.

    • The J Man says:

      Thanks! I’d like to keep it up, but we’ll see how that pans out. Eyeing more Wizardry, but probably can’t just pick up where I left off in the sequel.

      I’d still like to read your thoughts on KHG, if you ever decide to tackle it. I worry playing on the hardest difficulty soured a lot of my opinions.

      This was also the review I was complaining about on Twitter. Rewrote and shifted around the second half, so it’s better, but I’m still a little “ehhh….” about it.

      • Rik says:

        Well, you needn’t worry, in my view. Good stuff, as always.

        I normally have the most impetus when I’m actively trying to say something and tend to run out of steam when I feel I should be providing more info on the game’s features and it sort of comes out like quite a dry list in the first instance. (Especially if my notes omit some detail I probably should know/mention and then I have to go back and investigate.)

  2. Stoo says:

    This review brings honour upon your house!

  3. The J Man says:

    Before I forget, because I definitely will, the tagline on the front page is supposed to say

    “Read this, dummy! For the glory of the Empire!”

    I didn’t trust the online translators, so I looked up actual Klingon dictionary references to try and piece the phrase together. I’ve learned nothing, and probably gotten it wrong, but now I feel like Uhura and Chekov in Star Trek VI. So that’s neat.

  4. Mr Creosote says:

    “The head of the Honor Guard declares you too new to the Klingon military to be suspicious, so tasks you with finding and eliminating the traitors.”

    Quote a mental jump from this setup to the game being a shooter, but I guess this is the 90s we all “loved”.

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