Captain’s log: I’ve talked with Mr. Spock, and we feel we need a movie tie-in game for Star Trek: Into Darkness. We want the crew to be a part of it, but I hope they don’t go thinking they’ll get to be a playable character, not even Bones. They’ll get a few lines of dialogue, and good pay. Spock and I, though, we are co-operating through this one. The Enterprise has been in contact with Digital Extremes about re-creating our adventure. During our downtime, I played The Darkness II and that was really good. Since we are now able to travel back in time to 2013 and talk to the team, we should have a solid experience. Spock, of course, is sceptical since the game ties in with the upcoming release of a Star Trek movie, and movie tie-in games are typically mediocre. My observation is that Spock is just a negative-Nancy and Star Trek: The Video Game will be excellent. After all, it stars James T. Kirk, the best Enterprise captain EVER!
Star Trek: The Video Game takes place directly after the events of JJ Abrams 2009 Star Trek reboot. Thanks to the dialogue and voice acting it’s a solid entry to the Star Trek universe and, although the script follows a linear path, the characters, via their unique and authentic vocal talents, keep the game’s story moving along at a decent pace. The narrative starts out as the U.S.S. Enterprise responds to a distress signal on New Vulcan. Your job is to save New Vulcan and its technology and research data, keep the Enterprise intact, and combat the Gorn army. The main crust of the story revolves around the relationship between Kirk and Spock. Their interaction is key, and the reason the game is billed as a co-op experience. Kirk and Spock respect each other and work together just like in the movies, and the game does a good job of exploring the evolution of their relationship during cut-scenes and co-op sequences. While the dialogue or the story can get a little too much at times, the artificial padding-out of the game’s length makes it feels like you’re near the end way too often.
If you were to look at the back of Star Trek’s box at the available gameplay mechanics, it would sound like a possible classic. Of course, like much of the game, these bullet points aren’t fully realized to the point where they become memorable. Star Trek is truly a co-op game. There is never a time where Kirk and Spock get separated. Even when you’re playing solo, when you move to a new section, your AI partner will appear next to you. You can also issue commands, which is necessary as some of the gameplay mechanics require both players to work simultaneously. At times, however, playing the game in single-player will hold you back. The AI partner will cause some glitches and bugs, he always seems to get caught in sections where stealth is an option, and he can be reckless in taking cover during firefights and become injured. When one player gets wounded, the other can heal. Luckily, if you get hurt, your partner is routinely available to bring you back from your down-but-not-out state. Working with another human, a lot of these kinks aren’t an issue, but those playing solo will get frustrated by Star Trek’s focus on co-op game in almost every sense.
At its core, Star Trek features three main gameplay mechanics. Most of the time, you will be playing a third-person cover shooter. Many will compare it to Gears of War, but a better comparison may be previous Digital Extreme title, Dark Sector. Despite some occasional bugs and fighting for cover space with your AI or real-life partner, the mechanics work well. Holding your cover, you can move from point to point fairly easily and the slick sliding between each cover-placement is reminiscent of Vanquish. The weapons are disappointing in that many feel, look, and work similarly, despite different names. Other than the re-chargeable phaser that you always have, there is little advantage in choosing your main weapon. One frustrating point that will work even the most calmest person is, after many cut-scenes, your weapon is defaulted to the basic phaser and you have to switch back to you primary gun. Don’t people quality test this stuff, or did they just not care? Basically, combat just boils down to picking up a gun, taking cover, and firing away. Not much strategy here.
One of the first items you receive in the game is the Tricorder. Being a gamer who looks for every secret in games like Batman: Arkham City and Metroid Prime with similar devices, I started to scan everything in sight. Unfortunately, there was little available to be scanned. Most of the items that are scannable are either obvious, or given to you as a task. It’s purely a puzzle-solving tool. Sure, there are a few items spread about like cell phones and other gadgets and they do give XP, but the whole concept of having this device seems unrealized. I started off scanning for anything and everything, but ended up only scanning the necessary things to complete the game. Adding the ability to record required pathways with the Tricorder would’ve been a nice addition.
Another important part of the game is hacking, which Digital Extremes have at least offered some variety in. My favourite is the system where lines appear and you use the right and left sticks to move up and down and match the frequency. While there is a process to complete this rather quickly and without much effort, using this hacking process the way it was intended felt satisfying. Another hacking method has you moving a line across various shapes to get to an end point. The first thing I noticed was the wonky control scheme that makes this task much more difficult than needed. After gaining XP via scanning and other tasks, my first upgrade was the option to command my AI partner to complete this for me. On a side note, other than the upgrade to reduce the cool-down time for the laser gun, every other upgrade seems of little value. Needless to say, I never tried to complete it myself again. The final hacking mechanism is a co-op process that will remind you of hacking or lock-picking methods found in several other games. One partner finds the right frequency and the other keeps the the point in a small circle. This hack is probably the easiest to complete and won’t affect your experience much.
The final major gameplay element is platforming. Honestly, I have no idea why developers decide to shoehorn platforming elements into games that don’t need them. I can understand it for games like Uncharted and Tomb Raider, but Star Trek is mostly a third-person cover shooter. Imagine if Epic threw platforming into Gears of War – the complaints would be endless. This is honestly the most frustrating part of the game, and it occurs way too often. When your AI partner is climbing and jumping, he will neither live long nor prosper, since the camera goes crazy at times and you will miss a jump and die. The checkpoints in the game are pretty generous, but during these platforming sequences they seem too far apart. Dying because of a crappy camera and having to restart a long segment made me wish my controller was that PlayStation 3 boomerang prototype, so I could throw it. This brings up another issue with Star Trek: the game is simply too long. Taking over 10 hours or so is absolutely fine for a good game, but the length seems artificially enhanced by these dumb platforming elements and all too frequent hacking minigames. Star Trek would be much better if it trimmed this fat and focused the experience.
If there is one category where Star Trek excels, it is in the audio department. When J.J. Abrams and his film crew cast the Star Trek reboot, it was expertly done with actors and actresses who fit the role they were intended for. The full cast reprise their roles in voice form in Star Trek: The Game. Considering the amount of dialogue, the voice acting is high quality, and the banter – while not laugh-out-loud funny – is an enjoyable diversion. The orchestral score seems to fit the universe and is another pleasant addition. The only real disappointment is that some of the voice clips repeat; for example, when Kirk or Spock is knocked down, they say the same one or two phrases. Also, the grunts and other sounds made by the Gorn repeat often, but the voice of the infected officers seem to be more unique in each encounter. Overall, the sound can set the tone for a game and Digital Extremes has made a great effort to have Star Trek sound as authentic as possible.
But as much as I am willing to praise the excellent sound, it seems that’s where almost all the graphic/sound budget went to. The characters – even the two leads – appear barely recognizable from the rest of the cast. Not even the Gorn enemies are spared; there are the regular Gorns, the crawling Gorns, and the blue Gorns. Other than the crawling ones, they pretty much act the same and do the same routine. The best way to describe the graphics is that they are of early Xbox 360/PS3 quality. The cut-scenes appear to be a little sharper, but once they end, the lack of graphical polish does as well. The environments also offer the same bland looks and are hard to differentiate from one another. There are only a few locations and they offer little in graphical or gameplay variety. With an environment as rich and potentially unexplored as Star Trek, a few different planets or ships would have added a lot. The whole game just looks bland.
VERDICT: I feel any game based on a franchise with a long history and lots of fans deserve a summary pun. So, Star Trek boldly goes where so many have gone before: to the not-so-deep space of generic movie tie-ins. A wise man once said that it’s the little things that count, and that is Star Trek’s biggest problem: every time you get into a groove and settle in, there are annoying platforming sections or a bug that frustrates you. Star Trek appears to have its heart in the right place, and you can tell the team wanted to create a solid entry to the long-running franchise, but it just falls too far short. If you’re a massive Trek-fan, Star Trek is worth taking a spin for the story and presentation. For those less interested, there is simply too much else to recommend before trudging through Star Trek; it is simply too bloated for its own good. And besides, after the initial movie release fever, this is likely to warp speed straight to a bargain bin near you.
AVERAGE. The epitome of a 50/50 game, this title will be unspectacular but inoffensive, charmless but amiable. We aren’t condemning a game by scoring it a 5, but we certainly aren’t championing it, either.