Review: Star Trek is all mass with no effect
In 2009, J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek, effectively recasted an iconic crew and revitalized the franchise. It went more towards an action sci-fi film with Chris Pine as a young, handsome Kirk (yet Han Solo-esque) that you could build a new movie franchise around. It was a beautiful, stylistic movie that made new Trek fans, and pleased current ones. Obviously, since there’s a much-anticipated sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, releasing May 17, it was only a matter of time before a Star Trek video game appeared.
And so we have Star Trek the Video Game, an original story that takes place after the events of the 2009 film and before the 2013 film. After their home planet is destroyed, the Vulcans are trying to settle on their new planet, cleverly titled ‘New Vulcan.’ The story involves a mysterious device/weapon that powers colonies and tears holes in space; the return of the classic, reptilian, warlike race, the Gorn; and a shadowy Starfleet upper-man who has his own plans for the device. For a story that's only mediocre, the gameplay needs to be the thing that carries this game, and it fails to do so.
Namco Bandai and Digital Extremes have molded Abrams’ take on Star Trek into a third-person cover shooter shell, along the lines of Gears of War and Mass Effect. Unlike those games, Star Trek lacks originality -- which is sad considering it helped pioneer sci-fi. Combat is uninspired, animations are a mess, and the AI is lacking, combining to make a game that should play one way but plays another.
I played Star Trek on PC; with that in mind, I didn’t have nearly the amount of bugs that some others had, but I encountered my fair share of annoyances. My concern with this game when I first saw it was that it was too dependent on co-op. Since the whole game has Kirk and Spock battling the Gorn together, the AI would have to be superb for when players aren’t playing with another human. And that’s the first problem with Star Trek -- the AI. When Spock isn’t busy running in place stuck on a wall, he’s repeatedly getting shot down by enemies as his pathing destroys any sort of combat strategy I was going for. Many of the problems with your companion are solved when you play with another human. However, that doesn’t help the AI of the Gorn at all. Simply put, they’re stupid. Quite often, my firing at them wouldn’t even draw a response.
I guess I wouldn’t care so much about the AI if the combat was fun, but it’s not. It is unimaginative and lacks originality. It has generic cover and shooting mechanics, but at least they work. It ultimately comes down to this: There’s no diversity... no life to anything related to combat. The game claims to have two unique playstyles by choosing to play as Kirk or Spock, yet there’s barely any difference in how the two play. Kirk is supposed to be more of a gunslinger, while Spock is well-equipped in hand-to-hand combat. But they both play exactly alike. There are numerous skills that you can unlock with experience points, but there’s so little that different between Kirk’s and Spock’s combat abilities. There are a few different types of weapons in the game -- each with two firing modes -- but none of them make much of an impact on how you play.
Also, as a co-op game, I was disappointed that there aren't really any branching paths. The two characters work together in the same space throughout the game. I was hoping for a part where Kirk would be on one deck doing something, with Spock doing something else in another. Instead, the co-op has one person walking as Spock carrying Kirk, while the other plays as Kirk providing cover fire. I’m sad that co-op is boiled down to opening doors together and waiting for each other in turbolifts -- something you’ll do quite often. Digital Extremes had the opportunity to make a unique Star Trek game, and they squandered the opportunity.
That said, the one mechanic I did end up enjoying was the tricorder. The tricorder is at the heart of everything you do in the game. You scan objects with it to earn XP, learn about your enemies, see their weaknesses and advance the story. You can see enemies in another room, find a line of power running to a conduit you need to get to, or hack an enemy drone to fight for you. It’s the most universal tool in the Star Trek universe, and it holds up to that in the game.
As quickly as the game gets something right, though, it leaves you wondering what went wrong in other areas. The animations of Kirk and Spock are best described as wonky; they just don’t make any sense. When you’re space diving through debris, it really captures the style that Abrams had in his film. But then you see Kirk jump over a box and it looks like he’s floating over it. I’ve gotten caught mid tricorder-scanning, and even though I stopped using the item, he continued to hold it out. There’s no sense of fluidity or physics to the way characters move.
The star of this trek is the sound. The voice acting, soundtrack and sound effects are superb. The entire cast from the film is present -- from Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto to Simon Pegg and Zoe Saldana. Specifically, the back and forth between Pine’s Kirk and Quinto’s Spock really captured the essence of the relationship the two have. They bring the dialogue to life, which was penned by God of War writer Marianne Krawczyk. She really understands the characters of Kirk and Spock. Likewise, the sounds of the game -- from the music to the phaser fire -- is distinctively Star Trek.
The visuals also have some ups and downs. Digital Extremes -- working closely with Paramount -- has captured the stylistic approach in camera work and art style that J.J. Abrams' 2009 film had. The inside of the Enterprise is exactly as sleek as the film, and yes, there’s just the right amount of lens flare. But then you look at the other levels, and they’re drab and dull in comparison. The character models look great. They look just like the actors that played them. But then you look at the lip syncing and it’s a mess. Some of the lighting effects are superb, but, at the same time, textures are less than stellar far too often.
Ultimately, Star Trek fails to leave a lasting impression. It’s like the developers couldn’t get the warp drive online so they conceded to just cruising at impulse. Diehard Trekkies will enjoy the story and the signature Star Trek look of the game; the gameplay is serviceable enough for that. That said, why not just wait for the film to release and just see that? Star Trek isn’t a good enough shooter to be appealing to anyone else.
[Reviewed on PC]