By Mark Brooks
Updated January 14, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

Capt. Jean-Luc Picard may have easily outsmarted the Borg, but he just might yank out what’s left of his hair when faced with the latest challenge to the three-decade-old Star Trek franchise: finding a way to attract new audiences without alienating hardcore Trekkies. The latest skirmish in the Neutral Zone is Star Trek Hidden Evil (Activision, $29.99), a PC game that attempts to please non-Trek joystick jockeys as well as those wearing Vulcan earpieces. The result is a weak hybrid of puzzle-solving adventure games and simplistic shoot-’em-ups that are bound to disappoint both crowds.

Evil does get some of the elements right. Its graphics capture the familiar Trek look, and it features the images and voices of Patrick Stewart as Picard and Brent Spiner as Commander Data. The story, which takes place nine months after the events depicted in 1998’s Star Trek: Insurrection, calls Picard back to the Ba’ku planet to investigate newly found ancient structures that hide a sinister secret. No Trek adventure would be complete if the fate of the galaxy didn’t hang in the balance, and Evil does not disappoint in that regard. This time the antagonists are the film’s alien Son’a and classic Trek baddies the Romulans, who are set to give the Federation a headache even Dr. Crusher couldn’t remedy.

You assume the role of Sovok, a human raised in the Vulcan tradition, who ends up doing most of the grunt work in helping to foil the Romulan plot. Sovok is a bland character whose only interesting trait is his ability to knock out enemies with the always-cool Vulcan nerve pinch. Sadly, playing Hidden Evil almost has the same effect.

Don’t be fooled by the huge, misleading images of Picard and Data that adorn the game’s box and imply they’re its stars. While the digitized captain and android look very much like their real-life counterparts, they share less than two minutes of monitor time.

And except for two plot-advancing puzzles, the majority of Evil‘s conundrums are way too easy — most life forms smarter than the average Tribble should be able to finish all nine levels in four or five hours. Awkward controls and a phaser that takes frustratingly long to recharge further detract from the already short action sequences.

To compensate for the lack of challenging gameplay or interactive characters, Evil‘s developers make a highly illogical decision, forcing Sovok into navigating a series of look-alike mazes set on a Romulan starship and on the Enterprise. This should have been fun, but the scenario doesn’t allow for any sight-seeing of good old NCC-1701-D. And working through these mazes seems to take up more than half the entire game.

If there are any die-hard Trek fans who have never played an adventure-action title, Hidden Evil might serve as a rudimentary intro to the genre. But most gamers will find it a wasted journey to a less-than-final frontier. C