By Steve Wright
I’ve never felt like I was writing an obituary instead of a game review before. Alas, that’s where I find myself with Namco Bandai and Digital Extreme’s Star Trek. The worst part is, I REALLY wanted to like the game.
Instead, we find ourselves today mourning the idea that was first presented to us in early 2012. An idea that a Star Trek game didn’t have be a ship-to-ship space battle simulator. An idea that a Star Trek game could go back to its Star Trek: 25th Anniversary-type roots. Most importantly, an idea that a licensed Star Trek movie tie-in could be great.
I’ve had my hopes dashed before, so I went into a Star Trek preview at last year’s E3 fairly sceptical. I felt like a moron doing so as I left the hands-off presentation; clearly, Star Trek was going to be amazing. It featured voice acting by the same cast who starred in J.J. Abrams’ film reboot. It was supervised by Paramount Pictures, who were just as essential in getting the new movie franchise off the ground. Best yet, Digital Extremes had recently released Darkness II, and it was a phenomenal title in its own right. Leaving that Enterprise-shaped booth in LA, it was as if the stars had all aligned.
Playing the game today, I don’t know what went so horribly wrong.
Digital Extremes had almost a year from when I had my hands-off preview to polish the game. Instead, the sequences I saw – pure adventure and shooting bits, mind you – were exactly the same upon release. Those sequences on their own? Amazing. The trouble (with Tribbles... oh, sorry. Geeky Star Trek fan habit…) with the game is that it does some things fantastically – or at least in the case with its third-person shooting, competently -- and then throws a massive spanner in the works with buggy functionality, obscure objectives and uninspired design every ten minutes or so. Just when you’re ready to love the game and really get into it… BAM! You’ll die over and over again because you’ll fail a timed sprinting bit tied to an exceptionally dodgy camera. Or, BAM! Now you’ve got an underwater breathing sequence, just for fun. Hell, it could even be a simple little thing like noticing that EVERY Starfleet shuttle in the game is branded as the Galileo, cause who has time to develop different textures?
Star Trek runs about ten hours long, and features a well-written story that fits in between the rebooted first film and the upcoming Into Darkness. Characterisations are spot on, and while the dialogue is a bit corny at times, so too is Star Trek; it works. The plot does borrow quite heavily from several old Star Trek tropes, but it’s a new adventure that lets you get back into the world and reconnect with much-loved characters before you hit the movies. Fans will love that aspect of this game.
The problem is, there’s all that ACTUAL game getting in the way of Star Trek’s story.
As you control Kirk or Spock, playing solo or in a co-op team, you’ll instantly notice that the characters seem weightless. At times, they can jump across a shuttlebay (with gravity on, before you heckle me), and at others, they can’t clear the narrowest gap because you’re supposed to use a tricorder somewhere. Level design is bland, repetitive, unintuitive, and you’ll struggle to know what to do quite frequently when traversing through chapters.
Star Trek does make great use of the franchise’s familiar tricorders though, which essentially act like Batman: Arkham Asylum’s Detective Mode. By holding L1 or LB, depending on your console of choice, you’ll scan the area around you, looking for systems to hack or technology to scan into your database. That aspect of the game is great fun – though it does ruin pacing as you’re basically forced to scan every room you enter -- and makes you feel as if you’re an actual Starfleet officer. That right there is what I want a Star Trek game to make me feel.
The game tries to further that notion with the introduction of Commendations that encourage you to act like a member of Starfleet; quite frequently, you’re challenged to use non-lethal force on enemies as Starfleet is an organisation of peace and exploration. While that’s all well and good, non-lethal force usually means you’ll have to go into cover to stun an enemy, only to have to pop out of cover to go and neck-pinch or punch them, depending on your character, to actually take them out. This action means you’re opening up yourself up to gunfire from enemies around you in order to capacitate someone. That, and half of the bloody achievements in the game are for getting a certain number of kills with the different in-game weaponry. How’s that for hypocritical achievement design?
Oh, and I should add that Star Trek’s weaponry – apart from the phaser and phaser rifle -- all look and handle the same. Boring. Stick to familiar weapons, or add some actual variety. It should be simple, but Digital Extremes never quite gets it. For some unknown reason in the middle of the game, you get a Portal-like Transporter Gun. It should have been cool, but the opportunity was wasted. You’ll end up walking ten steps, using the gun to get to a patch of land that’s LITERALLY just above you, and then transport to the new location where you’ll walk forward and repeat that scenario. You’ll do that about fifteen times before ditching the gun.
The only good thing that I’m able to say about Star Trek is that it has a FANTASTIC soundtrack that feels fresh yet still pays homage to the classic 60s Trek, and that the game plays marginally better than Aliens: Colonial Marines. It certainly makes far better use of its franchise than that Gearbox stinker did.
All up? This one is for patient Star Trek fans. It’s a mostly-decent third-person shooter plagued by buggy functionality and half-baked ideas that pad the game out (which thankfully subside as the game winds down, but by then it's a bit too late), and ultimately should be avoided by the general populace.
You can’t imagine how much it pains me to say that.