Star Trek: The Game was a tough game to review. Many licensed video game tie-ins to movies, television shows or books tend to be approached cautiously or avoided completely by avid gamers with good reason, as the past has taught us that these adaptations are rarely exceptional, let alone worth playing.
However, it’s clear that developer Digital Extremes worked tremendously hard in translating the rich universe and characters of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot and the influential television shows that inspired it, toiling away for three years and securing the likenesses and voices of the reboot’s cast. The fresh energy and exciting new direction that the reboot managed to pull off is an obvious inspiration that the team hoped to replicate.
But Into Darkness is one of the biggest film blockbusters of the year, and a successful video-game tie-in needs more than likenesses to execute true justice to the brand; unfortunately, this game doesn’t quite find what it needed to appeal to more than just the most hardcore of Trekkie fans.
The story of Star Trek: The Video Game is set sometime between the reboot film and the upcoming sequel, Into Darkness. It involves Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise investigating the malicious galaxy-devastating plans of the Gorn, a race of lizard-men hell-bent on turning everyone into husks and zombie versions of themselves and using the Helios device — used by the Vulcans to terraform their new planet, New Vulcan — to control the universe. So, it’s the usual thing.
Being the man of action he is, Captain Kirk insists on leading the away team to meet the Gorn threat head-on, and being the cautious thinker he is, Spock insists on accompanying him, if only to prevent him from causing another intergalactic mess, though the two find themselves in one nonetheless.
From here, you get to choose to play as either two, with the second companion becoming A.I. controlled if solo or playable if opting for co-op, though the actual gameplay differences between the two are negligible save for Spock’s mind techniques, used to discover information or codes for doors.
“…a successful video-game tie-in needs more than likenesses to execute true justice to the brand; unfortunately, this game doesn’t quite find what it needed to appeal to more than just the most hardcore of Trekkie fans.”
Thankfully, the characterisations of Kirk and Spock are spot on and unique, and the dynamic relationship between them, as shown in the reboot — Kirk’s brash, often careless nature and Spock’s intelligence and monotone caution — translates well into the game, helping push the otherwise stock-standard narrative forward and keeping things interesting.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the majority of the gameplay, which is essentially a stock standard third-person shooter with plenty of inspirations that fall short. It’s clear that Digital Extremes lifted many gameplay concepts from other successful titles, and the end result is a mish-mash of these ideas executed a little less smoothly than its benchmarks. There are several climbing sections clearly inspired by the Uncharted series and its various platforming elements, and a cover-system akin to Gears of War.
These mechanics are a lot less fluid than its benchmarks and feel robotic and clunky in comparison. You’ll often find it difficulty to find cover while being shot or chased by enemies. The shooting sections are actually solid, but the characters movements are often jerky which can make firefights frantic when you’re wrestling with the analogue stick wondering why the slightest tap rendered your aim or your sprint way off.
The shooting sections are solid and enjoyable enough but don’t expect anything too different.
Thankfully, there are plenty of exotic weapons to keep firefights at least mindlessly engaging, and each one of them has a primary and secondary function. The staring Phaser has a ‘Kill’ and ‘Stun’ option, and other weapons such as the Arc Blaster have devastating charged shots.
An XP system is also in place that reward players with minor upgrades for Kirk’s phasers or Spock’s mind techniques, though these skills don’t provide many variations in gameplay and didn’t seem to have much of a significant effect on the overall gameplay experience.
One great gameplay mechanic that helped enhance the story was the use of the iconic tricorders. Akin to Detective Mode in Batman: Arkham Asylum, Kirk or Spock can scan the surrounding area for clues, information on weapons and enemies, and audio logs which expand upon the universe and characters present. When using Kirk, the reports on such acquired info are humorously written in his trademark smart-ass approach to things.
The tricorder is also used to access or hack through doors and computers or sent your A.I. companion if playing alone to perform such actions. I enjoyed the extra lore gained from scanning, but it ruined the pacing of the game when having to pull it out every minute or so to hack or open a door, and the context-sensitive actions occasionally required a few attempts in order for the tricorder to register. With several levels set inside bland corridors and space stations, expect a whole lot of doors.
Perhaps the best aspect Digital Extremes put effort into is commendations, which emphasize the importance of acting like a proper Starfleet Officer. You’re encouraged to complete sections non-lethally and stealthily, if possible — stunning and sneaking past enemies is the humane way, after all. Where it fails is the lack of rewards gained from the XP, and the fact that a massive amount of the game’s achievements/trophies are geared towards killing ‘x amount of enemy with x weapon’. If you’re not a completionist, the latter won’t be a bother, but it’s still something which bugged me.
The camaraderie of Kirk and Spock translates well story-wise, but as a co-op shooter, it’s far from ideal.
As a co-op marketed title, Star Trek is one you can miss. Most of the co-op specific actions are reduced to boosting each other into higher ground, hacking puzzles where both players match wave length patterns to unlock doors, or help the other open a closed one with brute force. Playing through the story and blasting foes with another player is always a lot more fun, but there is not enough to distinguish this game as one to try with a friend or a partner over the multitude of other unique, more polished co-op titles on offer.
Speaking of polish, I will disagree slightly with plenty of other reviewers in their criticism of the graphical fidelity and bugs of the title: for the most part, the game is visually impressive and I encountered a few amusing and somewhat irritating, yet no game-breaking bugs in my playthrough. The character models themselves look decent enough save for some awkward jerky movements and some lifeless looks in the face models and their likenesses, but the environments themselves aren’t anything too terrible, with New Vulcan being a standout.
The bugs are definitely present and should be noted, but they aren’t as terrible as some mainstream titles which get slack because of their franchise (I’m looking at you, Fallout: New Vegas) and mainly are related to the A.I. companion failing to remain stealthy or perform certain actions, or glitches in waypoints that can be remedied with a quick reload of the checkpoint.
I hoped for more in Star Trek: The Game, but it wasn’t a disaster or unplayable as I unfairly pre-judged it to be. In fact, the story, characterizations and soundtrack were extremely enjoyable to experience as a fan of the Star Trek reboot (don’t hate me, long-time Trekkies) and it’s clear Digital Extremes spent a lot of effort in securing likenesses and respecting the franchise in their design. The gameplay is the stock-standard third-person shooter with plenty of ideas borrowed from other series’, so don’t go in expecting anything but what you’ll get: an average, but enjoyable co-op shooter designed for the Star Trek fans.