Namco Bandai GGD 2012: Star Trek preview
I'm a whore for J.J. Abrams. Yea, I said it. From Bad Robot to Alcatraz to lens flare — I love it all. So you can imagine my excitement when Namco Bandai, Paramount, and Digital Extremes got to the Star Trek part of their Global Gamers Day in Las Vegas. Throw in the fact that the presentation was in 3D and I was more excited than Kirk when a new female alien with double d's appears.
While some of the other games journalists there complained that they already saw some of the things that Digital Extremes and Paramount were showing off, this was my first time being up close with the game. Brian Miller, game producer and senior vice president for Paramount said that they are working with everyone from the film on the game. They want to capture that J.J. Abrams' Star Trek feel in everything they do. Miller said that “it would be wrong to have a game that wasn't very Star Trek.” The animations are stuff you've seen straight from the movie, and their goal is to make it feel like the Abram's film. He even joked that they have 40 developers just working on adding the right amount of lens flare.
Speaking of the new movie, Miller said that the game will take place after the events of the 2009 movie, and they chose to make a unique storyline instead of just making another movie tie-in game — because they rarely turn out good. To accomplish this, they have the screenwriter from the God of War series, Marianne Krawczyk, working on the script and creating dialogue between Kirk and Spock that are very true to their characters.
This is very important because Miller considers Star Trek to be about the relationship between Kirk and Spock. Yes, there is the exploration, but it's how the crew works together, and specifically these two, that makes the movie what it is. That goes for the game, as well. That's why Star Trek is designed as a co-op drop-in drop-out third-person shooter. You play as either Kirk or Spock, and you get a different perspective on the story depending on who you play as. Not only does this encourage two play-throughs, but it allows them to show how each of these characters look at what is happening and how they respond.
In addition to viewpoints, Spock and Kirk both play differently. Spock and Kirk are complimentary characters with different strengths. They each get different abilities, which they didn't go that much into, but here's an example. Kirk has weapons like a phaser that can stun or kill — kind of like a revolver — and he gets an assault rifle later on. As he levels up, he unlocks new abilities for these weapons that won't be available to Spock. In comparison, Spock's weapons allow him to play more up close and slug it out. One example is when he unlocked his mind-meld ability. He went up behind an enemy and mind-melds with that enemy so it fights for them while he can do other things. That is an ability that won't be available to Kirk. There will also be shields and hyper sprays and a bevy of badass weaponry, because that's what you need in a good shooter.
While the weapons level up and get abilities, Brian Miller was clear to point out that the progression we saw was just a vision of what it could be. While I'm sure these things will be in the game, it is not known how many abilities and you will get and how you will get them. Miller did say that other crew will be prominent in the game, and that crew is a big part of it; something they love is Scotty's ability to tinker with items, so we can expect something along those lines in the game. Exploration and collection will also be a big part of the game, but they're not giving details on that until E3.
So the demo itself was in 3D, and it looked awesome. No one got to play it, except the two developers who were playing it for us, but the animations and visuals looked really good. First thing I'd like to point out is that the voice acting was not done by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. Steve Sinclair, Creative Director for Digital Extremes, did say that they are placeholders, and they're hoping to get (they'll probably get them) the real voice talent from the movies. I think a lot of the game's dialogue success will depend on that. So the Enterprise is snared, and in real-time, you guide Kirk and Spock through space in a method similar to what we saw in the 2009 movie when Kirk and Sulu were diving toward the drill on the Vulcan planet. It looked exactly like it.
Kirk and Spock get to the ship and they immediately see a dead red-shirt (or what Trek fans know as “someone about to die”). They use the tricorder to scan the dead crewman and find a toxin. The use of the tricorder will be huge in Star Trek. Scanning comes in to play a lot, as it reveals information about enemies coming up and moves the plot along. They encounter some enemies, and the cover-based shooting looks a lot like Mass Effect but with its own Star Trek flare — mostly thanks to the movie-inspired animations. Since the characters in Star Trek aren't badass space marines, Miller said it was a challenge walking the fine line of making a shooter that doesn't alienate Trek fans. And the comparisons to Mass Effect? They mostly dodged the question, but they did say that they're inspired by Mass Effect and its team, and that anything great for sci-fi is great for Star Trek.
Anyways, after watching some awesome shooting combat, Kirk gets infected with the toxin that they previously scanned for. This brought on a co-op element where Spock had to pick up Kirk and move him through the level to the med bay while Kirk provided cover fire. The problem I had with this is that it was very on-rails. I don't think there was a way to avoid getting infected with the toxin. I understand that as a story and character-driven game, the plot will advance accordingly, but I hope that the player is able to affect the outcome of some things. Kirk's screen is all blurry and yellowish while he's shooting down enemies, and Spock starts removing the toxin using surgical tools.
It really all looks like a ton of fun and a cinematic experience, but it is really co-op reliant. AI will take over as players drop-in or out, but the buddy AI that the team is working on will have to be on-target to make this game a success. Remember Operation Raccoon City? Yea, good and fine when you're playing with other people, but the AI was awful. Since there are story pieces that require the AI to operate in a certain manner, I get a little nervous about this. Obviously, playing with another person will be ideal.
There's a lot more info coming at E3, like who the enemy will be and if the movie actors will be providing voice work. But so far, the game looks promising. From the combat and animations to the Enterprise itself, which is remodeled directly from movie assets. It's still a ways away with an early 2013 release date, but I'm hyped for it and can't wait for more information at E3.
You can follow Lance Liebl on Twitter @Lance_GZ