To hear game publishers talk about it, there’s simply no room in the rapidly changing marketplace for mediocre titles. If that’s true, it’s hard to understand why Star Trek – the video game – got released.
I tried to like the game, both because I’m something of a fan of the series and out of patriotism for London, Ont.-based developer Digital Extremes. It’s evident that some serious effort went into parts of Star Trek, but some of the key elements – like how the game looks and plays – got short shrift. At best it’s a mess that looks and feels dated, and at worst it is frustrating and unplayable.
The game is set after director J.J. Abrams’s 2009 franchise reboot and before his upcoming follow-up Star Trek Into Darkness, which hits theatres in May. Kirk, Spock and the rest of the crew learn that a new doomsday device has been hijacked by the villainous Gorn, whom you may remember from the classic sixties TV show. This time, though, the lizard people aren’t just actors in cheesy costumes, they’re full-on creepy crawlies who can climb walls and leap long distances.
In single-player mode, you’re asked at the start to play as either Kirk or Spock, who have minor ability differences. Not that it matters, because they game plays largely the same regardless of who you choose. One of Star Trek’s key selling points is that you can invite a friend in to play co-op online at any point, which is kind of neat. The offline split-screen version, however, is clumsily implemented. When I started up a game with the wife – me as Kirk, she as Spock – we couldn’t just pick up where I’d left off in single-player, we had to start over from the beginning.
In any event, there are numerous points in the game where the two protagonists must work together, regardless of whether you’re playing solo or with a friend. In the first act, for example, Spock must hack a console with his tricorder to slow down some giant spinning rings so that Kirk can blast them with his phaser. Or, on a few later occasions, Spock boosts Kirk up to a ledge. Overall, you won’t work up a sweat since the teamwork is pretty basic and not very challenging.
The game is otherwise primarily a third-person shooter, with the heroes using a variety of rifles and grenades to fight off a few different types of Gorn enemies. None of them are particularly tough or intelligent, nor are the weapons particularly interesting, which makes combat a bit of a slog. The cover system is also wonky, so you often get blasted even when you think you’re safe.
The hum-drum action does get spiced up with the occasional bit of hacking, which generally involves a mini-game of some sort. In these, Kirk or Spock must match up different frequencies using their tricorders, or direct an electrical charge to a node on a square grid. The mini-games are kind of fun, but there isn’t enough variety to them so they eventually get pretty easy to beat.
Rounding out the gameplay are a few spots of platforming, where the heroes end up climbing walls and ledges, Uncharted-style. To say these sections are dismal would be an understatement. I actually gave up on the game about three-quarters of the way through after spending an hour trying to cross one chasm. With the jump button lagging, I kept missing my mark and plummeting to my death, which meant repeating the long section leading up to it. Over and over again.
That’s too bad because I would have liked to have seen how the story – one of the game’s few high points – turned out. Marianne Krawczyk, who won a BAFTA award for writing God of War II , penned the script, which definitely has a very Abrams Star Trek vibe to it. The story is also helped by stellar voice acting from the movie’s full crew, including Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and the rest of the gang.
It’s too bad the visuals aren’t as good as the audio. The game looks like something from a few years ago, with the characters, animations and even backgrounds feeling very dated. After seeing how far recent releases such as Tomb Raider or Halo 4 have pushed current console graphics, Star Trek looks positively anachronistic.
To conclude my litany of complaints, it’s really too bad that Digital Extremes didn’t do anything with Star Trek’s nearly 50-year history. A game such as this seems ripe for all sorts of collectibles or homages, but there’s virtually nothing of that sort. Spock and Kirk can upgrade their tricorders and phasers by killing enemies and finding a few hidden audio logs, but that’s about it.
There’s really no depth to this game at all, which means it’ll likely disappoint even the most ardent fans of the series. Here's hoping the movie can live long and prosper a little better.