Star Trek: The Video Game has a lot working against it. It’s a licensed game in a world where people know they usually suck, a third person shooter in a market stuffed with them, and it hasn’t exactly seen much attention or positive word of mouth leading up to its release. All signs to point to another rushed dud in need of sucking out the airlock.
With all that being said, I’m certainly open to the possibility of being pleasantly surprised, especially when the game is being helmed Digital Extremes, the developers responsible for the sublime The Darkness II and parts of Unreal which, need I remind you, is the best game of all time. With them in the captain’s seat, will Star Trek be polished, exciting and imaginative enough to be considered worthwhile, or would it have been better named Star Blech? Join us and find out as we boldly go where pretty much every review has gone before.
Taking place after the 2009 Star Trek film reboot but before the upcoming sequel Into Darkness (what creatively bankrupt fool thought up that title?), Star Trek: The Video Game gets off to a surprisingly decent start. The game Kicks off in medias res, showing you Kirk and Spock preparing to fist-fight each other in some sort of rocky pit. Why are they fighting? Where? Who will win? All interesting questions. As the plot warps back to the ‘present’, wherein the two are sent to investigate a distress call from a nearby space station, you’re eagerly interested to see how the game will circle back to the moment you just saw.
However, it’s not long before the story starts losing steam, and that’s probably because the game is padded like the walls of a gym, sporting a runtime that’s several hours too long for its own good. Look, I’m not against the concept of long games per se. It’s only when the extended length hurts the game’s pacing and sense of flow when I start to get concerned, and unfortunately, that’s very much what happens here. For every moment the plot has a satisfying sense of momentum, there’ll be a segment where you have to shut down three of some doodad (always three of them), scan three of something else, or hack one of the game’s many doors via the same minigame of frequency-matching or Snake every single friggin’ time.
It’s a real shame, because the dialogue and voice acting here are well above average for a film tie-in. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto reprise their respective roles, as do the entirety of the Enterprise’s supporting cast, and although there are a few spotty lines, for the most part they do a fine job. They’re all paired with a script that is fairly brisk and quite witty at points, even if the writers do end up whipping out the incredibly tired “thanks for pointing that out, Captain obvious” comeback too many times. The plot feels rather significant despite being a side-story, even though the various side characters as well as the antagonist could have been fleshed out more.
But how’s the actual gameplay? Well, in its first hour or two, you’d be forgiven for thinking Star Trek wasn’t actually a third-person shooter at all, as you’ll be mostly be doing running, ledge-climbing, stealth, scanning and otherwise walking down corridors. It definitely serves to give a sense of variety, but it soon also makes you hunger for some actual shootouts, which is why they feel disappointingly lifeless when they do come about. The gunplay here, while not broken by any means, is just a bit too stiff to compete with the likes of Uncharted and Gears of War, not helped by a loose cover system, pedestrian weapon loadout and uninspired enemy types and level layout.
However, the biggest thing holding Star Trek back is its lack of imagination. For all the various gameplay mechanics thrown at you, none of them are used in particularly inventive scenarios, and there’ll be too many times where you’ll say “gosh, this would be so much cooler if __”. You’ll run across the outside of a space station taking cover from timed solar flares, but there’s no combat during this sequence, making it just a game of ‘Simon Says’. You’ll fight a few minibosses, but all of them are simple bullet sponges. You’re given a tricorder, but it’s never used as anything other than a long-range ‘use’ button. You even get to do space combat in a few instances, but they’re simply glorified turret sequences with a slo-mo feature. There’s even an experience system that affords you upgrades, but they’re so trivial as to make the whole thing feel entirely unnecessary.
Star Trek heavily advertises a co-op feature, playable both online and in splitscreen, but even this feels rote and tacked on. During the game’s most inspired segment, one where Kirk and Spock are given teleport guns and asked to warp each other to teleport pads in outer space, you’ll do so during quiet moments where no action is going on whatsoever, drowning any potential the feature had for interesting combat tactics like flanking or evasion. Outside of the obligatory partnering up for ledge-boosts and door-prying that we see in all co-op modes these days, you’ll never have to coordinate any kind of strategies between the two leads, making the entire affair feel like a massive missed opportunity. At the very least, your partner’s AI in single-player is very much competent, able to keep up and revive you efficiently. I wish I could say the same for unimpressive enemy AI, which is all too keen on getting hung up in the environment and wandering about in the open.
I can’t bring myself to completely hate Star Trek, since the game does have its charms. The game’s environments are certainly colorful, and I’ll even admit to having chuckled at some of the exchanges between Kirk and Spock. There’s also some cute references, such as a humorous homage to the campily staged Kirk vs. Gorn scene of the original series, and some of the action sequences, such as the occasional chase or freefall segment, were legitimately exciting. However, too often I would get frustrated by the drawn out fetch quests or unengaged with the derivatively designed combat portions, and even in its best moments, Star Trek doesn’t really feel like, well, Star Trek. The game simply doesn’t have the confidence to differentiate itself from its shooter brethren, to be something that is more closely and deservingly tied to its license. Digital Extremes made (or were forced to make) a wannabe Mass Effect or Uncharted rather than a faithful and unique adaptation of the franchise, and that’s what’s truly disappointing.
Visually, the game is incredibly inconsistent. At times it can look legitimately pretty, displaying vast and vibrant vistas and some extensive facial and body animations, but at others it just looks downright dated thanks to pop-up, iffy texture work, a lack of visual feedback during action and those other, much less impressive cases of animation. It must also be said that the actors’ likenesses look incredibly jarring when placed alongside the more stylized characters created solely for the game. I can at least say that I didn’t encounter any notable bugs in the 360 version, and composer Michael Giacchino’s score is surprisingly engaging, managing to evoke the more understated and whimsical feel of 60’s and 70’s pulp sci-fi and giving the game a little bit of much-needed identity.
Star Trek isn’t quite the black hole of a disaster is could have been. It’s perfectly functional, relatively bug-free and competently designed to the point where compared to abhorrent recent efforts like 007 Legends and Aliens: Colonial Marines, it can definitely be described as ‘above average’ for a licensed game.
Of course, that still doesn’t mean it’s particularly good. Plagued by repetition, incessant padding, inconsistent presentation and overall unimaginative design, it’s still overwhelmingly eclipsed by the planet-sized dominion of other games currently on the market. You’ll rarely feel as if you’re playing something distinct and daring, and it’s even rarer that you’ll feel like you’re playing an actual Star Trek game. Die-hard trekkies may find some enjoyment with the story and references here if they set their phasers to low expectations, but everyone else has little reason to beam in. The game lives long, for sure, but it never really prospers.
(Reviewed on Xbox 360. Game was rented/purchased by the reviewer.)