E3 2012 Preview: Star Trek

June 25, 2012

I have to say, one of the biggest surprises of last year’s E3 had to be the reveal of the new Star Trek game by Digital Extremes – not just because it’s rare to see a Star Trek title these days, but because it actually looks good. Really good. With the best production values the series has had in the video-game world since… well, probably forever. E3 2012 brought an expanded look at the game, as Tom, lead designer on Star Trek gave a behind-closed-doors presentation on the game with a good 15 minutes or so of gameplay. The presentation was shown using some new kind of digital projection technology, that allowed two projected screens to be run simultaneously in 3D, with the audience needing only the one pair of glasses to see both.

These two screens were necessary to demonstrate the essential element of Star Trek – the co-op gameplay. This two-player game sees gamers take control of either Kirk or Spock, with both bringing their own distinct gameplay styles. The game was made with the close co-operation of Bad Robot, the production company now in charge of the Star Trek franchise, which means that this game also takes place in the new rebooted universe (as opposed to the ‘prime’ continuity featured in Star Trek Online). It takes place between the events of the last Star Trek film with Eric Bana as an alien Chopper, and the upcoming 2013 Star Trek film. All current cast members have also provided their voices to the game, which means you’ll be getting to hear Karl Urban’s spot-on Bones impression once more.

Much like what the Wii-U is touting, Star Trek features ‘asymmetric co-op’, which basically means you’ll have to play through the game twice – once as Kirk and once as Spock to get the full experience, as each character experiences events differently. The demo started on the Enterprise, with the ship heading towards New Vulcan, where a colony of Vulcan refugees has been set up after the events of the last film. As we start on the bridge, you get a feel for how much Bad Robot has contributed to the experience, as it looks dead-on for the sets, costumes and lighting featured on the big screen (lens flares and all). The Enterprise has received a distress call from the colony, so Kirk and Spock beam down to check it out. On the planet, there is some funny banter between Kirk and Scotty over the communicator about how, in Star Trek, characters always seem to be beamed a long way away from where they need to be going. “If we were any further away, I’d be back in Iowa,” Kirk complains. Scotty offers, “Well, next time I’ll beam you right in the middle of the danger, then.”

It became apparent that Kirk’s gameplay style was much more action-oriented, while Spock had more cerebral, puzzle-based challenges. Spock is always the character who scans for information using his tricorder, and who can better prepare the duo for what’s coming up ahead. To get inside one of the buildings on New Vulcan, both Kirk and Spock had to contribute to a mini-game which overrode a control panel on the door. Once inside, the two were attacked by Vulcans, apparently possessed by The Devil from Alone in the Dark, judging by the glowing cracks on their faces. A small firefight ensued as Kirk and Spock were forced to stun the Vulcans with phaser fire. The action is fast, reminiscent of Gears of War to an extent with cover-based mechanics, but with the ping-pang ‘Wild West’ quality the new film possessed. After this, Spock was able to mindmeld with one of the fallen Vulcans to learn more about the situation, and what seemed to be infecting the locals.

As the two progressed, they came across a gap in a walkway between buildings. A cutscene began in which Kirk attempted to jump the gap and failed miserably, just catching the edge of the other side and almost falling, with Spock tasked with rescuing him. In the next building, an old Star Trek enemy returned – The Gorn. The Gorn, for those who are awesome enough to remember, were the lizard-like species that Kirk encountered in the Original Series episode, ‘Arena’. You know, the one with the most unconvincing fight of all time. However, their appearance in this game is much closer to their Star Trek: Enterprise incarnation, although still quite different – they’re almost dinosaur-like, and very pissed off. In the ensuing fight, both Kirk and Spock got into situations where one was incapacitated and needed rescuing. While Kirk fended off Gorn, Spock could scan for weak points, as the two players worked together. It turns out the Gorn are infected by whatever was controlling the Vulcans, too – very mysterious indeed.

More and more Gorn arrived as Kirk and Spock had to make a hasty retreat. With Scotty having difficulty beaming them out, Kirk and Spock boarded the roof of a passing Gorn ship for another firefight, before the ship was shot down by other Gorn. Hurtling into a Vulcan building, Spock and Kirk barely survive the crash, as Scotty informs them of an area they must head to in order to be extracted. Rather than take on even more troops, Kirk ordered a torpedo strike from the Enterprise, which cleared out the beam-out area and allowed the two to escape, ending the demo.

Star Trek looked very promising indeed from this short demo. The production values were sky high, allowing the game to look and feel just like the new movies. The humour was spot-on, and the gameplay looked entertaining, with big set-pieces and interesting twists and turns. The only concern I have at this stage is that Spock seems to have more to do than Kirk – although, this may just be the case with this particular level. If the developers can make Kirk’s gameplay as interesting as Spock’s, then we may just have the first truly good Star Trek game since Bridge Commander and Klingon Honor Guard. And maybe the best part is, you don’t have to know what either of those games are to enjoy this one.