Star Trek

August 10, 2013

After seeing Star Trek  presentations for the last two years at E3, I thought I was already sold on the game. The game was promised as an unmissable co-op experience, in development long before the soon-to-be-released film was in production, as its own unique chapter in the Star Trek reboot saga. A polished co-op adventure that you’ll need to play twice to fully experience? Cool! Kirk’s gameplay is action-packed, while Spock’s is more cerebral? Sounds about right! The writer of God of War, Marriane Krawczyk,  is on board to deliver an engaging story that re-introduces classic bad guys? Sign me up! The game was delayed a year to coincide with the new film’s release – the extra time no doubt going towards ironing out all the bugs and making sure the game is ready for release, right? (The punchline is the rest of the review.)

Set (improbably) just before Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek tells a remarkably basic story. The Enterprise is sent to New Vulcan to render aid to a space station orbiting its sun. However, an experimental device which can cause rips in the fabric of space unfortunately opens one leading directly to the reptilian Gorn, who take the opportunity to launch an attack, steal the device and a Vulcan scientist babe, and begin their plans for invasion of our galaxy. Playing as either Captain Kirk or Commander Spock, your goal is to shoot all of them until you get the MacGuffin and babe back.

Remarkably little else happens in the story to make it more interesting. You shoot Gorn on New Vulcan, you shoot them on the Enterprise, you shoot them on a space station, you shoot them on another planet. The problem is, the Gorn have never been an A-list villain, and are really considered more of a joke. Still, they were at least intelligent and civilised on the show (and not a war-mongering army from another galaxy). Star Trek reduces them to generic monsters. I was expecting some kind of reveal that the Gorn were being manipulated by another, more interesting bad guy (seeing as the game makes a point of introducing a toxin which controls life-forms), but no – the story really is that simple.

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(What this screenshot doesn’t convey is Kirk running back and forth in the background, endlessly)

What the game does get right is the interaction between Kirk and Spock in the rebooted timeline. The dialogue is witty, though not quite as sharp as the film, but captures their dynamic, as well as many of the side characters. Bones actually gets more screentime in this game than he did in the last film, while Uhura (elevated to a more prominent position in the films) gets very little to do. The main cast from the new films all return, and all deliver great performances, from Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, to Karl Urban and John Cho. There are also lots of nice little callbacks and touches for Trekkies, including Tribbles to collect, chapter titles referencing old episodes (even if thematically they have no connection) and a showdown with a Gorn that involves lots of Styrofoam rocks and improvised weapons. Occasionally, you’ll get a thrill from hearing the new Star Trek theme, or from seeing Spock pull a Vulcan nerve pinch on a foe. The graphics of the game are also pretty decent, especially if you’re playing on PC. The Enterprise is convincingly duplicated, lens-flares and all, and there are some cool environments you beam down to. Some of the crew members look a little potato-faced, but overall it shows off its high production values pretty well.

That’s about where my praise ends, as from here on in, it gets rockier than Shatner’s alternate ending for Star Trek V. At launch, the game’s co-op function on PC was broken, preventing players from experiencing the main selling point of the game. The issue was eventually patched, but its indicative of the game as a whole – it’s unfinished. In single player, your AI partner is almost a complete joke. I’ve seen Kirk sprint away at maximum warp after a cutscene ends, in the opposite direction to our objective. Spock regularly gets caught on doorways, glitching back and forth and unable to continue without restarting from a checkpoint. Thankfully, they’re usually competent when it comes to co-op puzzles that require both players to interact, but the moments of bizarre behaviour that your partner gets up to are hard to forget.

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Character models often snap back into their default state, hanging motionlessly in the air with limp arms and legs. Snapping into aiming mode creates a weird effect where your character is always in the foreground, but doesn’t move according to the rest of the environment. This means that when you get closer to objects, they continue to get larger while you stay the same size – or they appear to be beneath you if you aim down over them. Certain jumps can’t be made without a run-up, but they aren’t signaled and they require you to hit a certain ‘sweet spot’ to make it. Taking out an enemy with a stealth attack results in your character briefly hovering above them, before snapping back to the floor.

This whole review could just be a list of the game’s glitches. But I think you get the general idea.

While ostensibly a story-driven co-op adventure, the game’s really just a basic third-person cover shooter. There are a variety of Starfleet, Vulcan and Gorn weapons to collect, but once you unlock some upgrades for your standard phaser, you’ll barely use anything else. The phaser can be upgraded to stun enemies and reveal their weak points, allowing you to one-hit kill them with melee or from a distance. To be fair, the rhythm of stunning an enemy first, then taking out their weak spot works well and is helped by the cool sound design on your weapons.

Gunplay is broken up with ‘hacking’ sections, as you scan panels with your tricorder and participate in one of three mini-games, of which you’ll soon tire. The tricorder can also be whipped out at any time to scan the environment  – Metroid Prime style. In theory – this sounds awesome. Immediately, you’ll try to scan the your crewmates, that sample of blood on the wall… until you realise it only works with certain pre-selected objects highlighted in the environment, which is really disappointing. However, it’s also your only way to gain EXP to upgrade your equipment – this means you’ll have to keep taking it out and wandering around for the one object you can scan if you want to unlock new abilities.

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There are also a handful of other gameplay types – you’ll experience ‘diving’ sections as Kirk and Spock speed through space with a booster rocket, or through canyons with wingsuits. These portions of the game are all quite short with poor controls – but they do look visually impressive. There’s also one level where you get to defend the Enterprise, by rotating around its hull like a turret, firing on incoming Gorn ships. What would be a simple mini-game is made confusing through the addition of lock-on targets that only sometimes work, and shields which can only go up some of the time.

Perhaps most disappointing is the total lack of interesting co-op gameplay. There are barely any moments when Kirk and Spock are separated, or required to do different tasks. Tellingly, the only real times they are (Spock healing Kirk’s leg while Kirk provides cover fire and Kirk firing on a Gorn strangling Spock) are both from last year’s E3 demo. Most of the time, when playing with an online partner, your interaction is limited to “Do you want to hack the console, or shall I?”, and opening doors together.

If you’re playing on PS3, then stereoscopic 3D is also an option, but it’s a real mixed bag. Certain sections, like the wingsuit levels, impress with cliffs and debris whizzing past you. Most of the time, the game just feels like it’s been pushed back into the screen, with a fairly shallow sense of depth. Your reticule, cursor and tricorder icons also don’t blend into the 3D environment, but instead sit on top of it, creating a very disconcerting illusion that makes it hard to focus on them (and seeing as your reticule is on screen 90% of the time, this kind of ruins the 3D).

Even with bugs aside, Star Trek feels like an unfinished game because it doesn’t capitalise on its premise. Controlling Kirk, or Spock, with different styles of gameplay, helping each other out and getting through unique co-op situations in the Star Trek universe sounds great. But, aside from a few, brief moments, this game just does not deliver on that. It’s a passable cover shooter with impressive production values, but it feels like it’s stuck halfway on the path to becoming a great game. I really wanted this game to succeed,but this game has made me realise that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.

Positives:

Captures the feel of the reboot | Some nice Trek references | Standard gunplay is fine

Negatives:

Hilarious bugs, unfinished design | Atrocious friendly AI | Underdeveloped co-op | Bland story

Overall Score: