Star Trek Online, the latest massively multiplayer online (MMO) computer game from Cryptic Studio, the company behind the successful City of Heroes and Champions Online, is offering cut-price subscription rates to those who take the plunge and pre-order the game ahead of its February 2 release.

The game is currently in Open Beta until January 26, which means anyone signing up at StarTrekOnline.com can download a program and play a sizable chunk of the game for free, allowing Cryptic Studios to tighten it up prior to release, as well as giving potential buyers a good taste of how the final game will play.

Like most commercial MMOs, Star Trek Online has a standard monthly fee of $14.99 / €12.99. In addition to three- and six-month subscription bundles which cut the average monthly charge to $13.99 / €11.99 and $12.99 / €10.99 respectively, those who pre-order the game ahead of time also receive a code allowing them to access further discounts.

Players convinced that the game will become a major time-sink can, on receipt of that code, make use of a limited time offer that runs only until 11:59 Pacific Standard Time on February 1 (7:59am, February 2 GMT).

For $119.99, a 12-month subscription package puts the monthly average rate down to $9.99, while for the most serious fans there is a lifetime subscription option weighing in at an initially astronomical $239.99. At one-month rates that equates to a 16-month subscription, or three six-month bundles. Fans of the game determined to play for more than the next two years will be laughing at their relative saving.

Star Trek Online is released on February 2 in North America and February 5 in Europe. If successful it could become a considerable rival to EVE Online, the current kingpin of space exploration games. The MMO genre gained mainstream popularity following 2004's fantasy-set World of Warcraft which has since been challenged by Guild Wars, The Lord of the Rings Online, and Aion.

In terms of other science-fiction games of a similar ilk, Star Trek Online will need to establish a substantial and loyal subscriber base before Star Wars: The Old Republic launches in 2011, and beyond that Warhammer 40,000 Online in 2012.

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