In the time since 2009′s Star Trek film by J.J. Abrams breathed new life into a franchise that had started to grow rather stale, there has been little to experience in that chronologically-altered, new-possibilities-abound version of the Star Trek universe, as we awaited the 2013 release of Star Trek Into Darkness. The one shining beacon of hope for fans of “Abrams Trek” was a new video game, also simply entitled Star Trek, from Namco Bandai. We were excited, eager, and thrilled to see a new Star Trek game that previews made look leaps and bounds better than most games for the franchise.
Then, of course, we actually played the game.
Star Trek diverts from previous continuity (something that the reboot film itself purposely avoided in making this a divergent timeline, rather than an entirely different universe with entirely different rules). It does so in turning the classic television Gorn species into beings that are more saurian in appearance and hailing from a different dimension, where they have decimated and enslaved their own galaxy’s inhabitants. They have emerged into the Trek dimension through a rip in space.
The 2009 Trek reboot version of the Enterprise crew face off with this re-imagined Gorn force aboard a Vulcan space station, where they also run into Spock’s old friend T’Mar, who is assisting in the colonization efforts for New Vulcan. (This, of course, directly ties into the destruction of Vulcan in the 2009 film, reminding us that this is a whole new ballgame.) The Gorn steal the so-called Helios Device, which they could utilize for nefarious ends, forcing Captain James T. Kirk and Commander Spock, along with the rest of the crew, to battle them across a Starfleet space station, the Gorn homeworld on the other side of the Rip, and aboard both a Gorn mothership and an Enterprise under siege. While few direct ties would appear to exist between this game and Star Trek Into Darkness, a post-credits sequence sends the crew to the planet on which we first see them in the new film.
Star Trek is a third person shooter with other elements thrown in to change things up from time to time. You will play as either Kirk or Spock for the entirety of the adventure, traveling through six major environments, in a total of more than thirty mission segments, some quite short and others longer than one might expect in a film tie-in game.
The shooting mechanics are functional, allowing a player to handle a phaser (almost always equipped), a secondary weapon (all variants of classic shooter weapons, albeit often in Gorn varieties with different appearances, even for those that are just glorified shotguns, sniper rifles, etc.), a few grenade variants, and the like. Kirk and Spock can slide into cover, move from cover to cover somewhat easily, and generally make good use of their surroundings. On the other hand, they cannot carry out melee attacks at all, suggesting that Starfleet Academy took that out of their training program, and all of those punches delivered by the characters in the 2009 film were just the daydreams of delusional fanboys.
The most useful non-weapon mechanic is the Tricorder, which can be used to scan surroundings to determine the awareness of enemies, the health of the other player character, activate or initiate hacks on devices, and scan for databank information that rewards XP (which can be spent on weapon and Tricorder upgrades that never really feel like they make any difference in gameplay). Think of the Tricorder as Star Trek’s answer to Metroid Prime’s scanning function, and you’ll hit it on the nose.
Play can be handled in both single and two-player co-ops modes, though the single-player option simply provides a second player (as whichever character you did not choose) as an AI partner. When working correctly, the AI partner works well enough to not get you constantly killed, and the AI is decent enough in a firefight to assist from time to time, though not enough to allow you to sit back while they slaughter Gorn with abandon.
Hacking computer terminals becomes a dull chore after a while, based around only a few standard types, one of which is a variant on the snakes/worms/eels game that old Basic users might remember.
Flying the Enterprise into a brief combat mission in space would seem like a hugely entertaining event, but controls are too vague and frustrating to make it more than a chore.
On the plus side, when the game briefly interrupts the run and gun gameplay for stealth, it works well, and you really feel like you are following Starfleet orders when avoiding gunplay or stunning crewmembers who aren’t in their right minds, rather than killing them. In the few times that the game decides that it wants to be Uncharted (in Spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace) with climbing and leaping segments, it works well, though the visual design always makes it look like you have missed your handhold before you are shown grabbing it.
Perhaps the most thrilling, albeit brief, bits that deviate from shooting are the few segments when Kirk and Spock must either use winged jumpsuits (of the type Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 players will recognize) or small thruster objects to either glide through a planetary environment or zip through the void of space. These are fast paced, non-combat breathers that might take some practice but are a nice chance of pace.
All in all, Star Trek’s substantial campaign is fun, if sometimes repetitive, when it works correctly.
Wait, “when it works correctly?” What does that mean?
To say that Star Trek is the most “glitchy” game that I have played in this console generation would not be an exaggeration. Granted, I never had Kirk (my chosen character) fall through the scenery into nothingness or had my Playstation 3 crash into a hard reboot, but I gave up on counting the number of times I had to reload a checkpoint or restart an entire level due to a glitch after the fifth time I nearly threw my controller through the screen.
The objective marker will sometimes decide not to notice that you have passed through it, leaving you heading blind into new areas without a guide. This would not be a big deal, except that sometimes these objective markers are linked to events that are required to proceed, such as Gorn charging out of a door you need to enter, which will otherwise remain closed indefinitely.
More often, you will find your AI partner simply going insane, or forcing yours to go insane in his stead. Kirk might randomly start running into a wall, continuing to run as if trying to push down the wall with sheer stubborn athleticism. Other times, you might reach a door that requires two characters to pry open, yet your AI partner will stand there doing his best impression of a Renaissance era statue in a Starfleet uniform. Once, I even encountered a glitch that had Kirk, under my control, activate a turbolift, followed by Spock and T’Mar entering . . . which somehow caused Kirk to start running in a desperate, sprinting circle like a Borg with a new prime directive that read simply: “Ring Around the Rosy.”
Do not go into Star Trek expecting a smooth ride. You will encounter glitches, and you will have to restart checkpoints from time to time. Either approach the game with Vulcan patience, or be ready to feel like the glitches are treating you about as well as Uhura’s friends treated Kirk when hitting on her in that bar. I half expected the game to glitch, then hear a voice from within call me “Cupcake.”
With this being a licensed game that is meant to lead up to a new film, the atmosphere is absolutely nailed for this game. All of the film actors reprise their roles as the voices and character models for the Enterprise crew, though the graphics of this game look more like a very high-end Wii game or a very early Xbox 360 game than something released in 2013. (Kirk and Spock look fine in most pre-rendered cutscenes and in normal gameplay, but when dialogue runs in-engine, they look like bad Claymation characters, and Kirk looks like someone grabbed his mouth model back when he was puffing up like a balloon during McCoy’s plan to sneak him aboard the Enterprise in the reboot. “Numb tongue?” No, but how about “baboon lips?”)
In terms of writing, the script nails the characters and their banter in the same way the 2009 reboot did. (Now, if only the same lines weren’t repeated over and over again during play. Not everything is “fascinating,” Mr. Quinto. I mean, “Mr. Spock.”)
Sound effects, music, and almost all dialogue is all top-notch. Someone listening to you play without looking at the screen could quite possibly wonder if you were watching a new Star Trek film they hadn’t heard about. (Of course, someone watching the game without listening would wonder if you had broken out your last-gen system for one more go-round.)
If it seems like I’m bashing Star Trek by emphasizing its flaws, allow me to channel the president with an emphatic Let Me Be Clear. This game is a fun Star Trek romp, and one of the first times I have ever really enjoyed a Star Trek video game. In its story, campaign length, voice work, and audio authenticity, this is one of the best film tie-in games that I have played in quite a while. On the other hand, frustrating glitches and graphics that seem woefully out of date are a body blow to what should have been a rather good game that could have been a great game without a film premiere deadline looming over its head during production.
As it stands, while I did enjoy playing through Star Trek, I cannot say that it justifies its sixty dollar retail price tag. If you are a die-hard fan of Abrams new take on Trek, wait until this one hits thirty or forty bucks, and you will feel better about the purchase that I have. If you are a casual Trek fan looking to experience Trek’s Abramsverse to scratch a Trek gaming itch, this one justifies a rental, but not much else.