The Fiery Gaze of Judgement: Star Trek
So, Star Trek: The Game of Star Trek. Any good? I employed byzantine trans-Atlantic Internet witchery to find out. Hours of play later, I present, for your inspection, my judgement.
First off, I’m an unrepentant Trekkie, and I enjoyed the Star Trek reboot as an action movie. For those who say it wasn’t true to “the spirit of Star Trek”, I say to you: Bah! From the original pitch of “Wagon Train to the Stars” through the Wrath of Khan’s “Horatio Hornblower in Space” to the Next Generation’s comfortably upholstered therapy suite flying through space, Star Trek has always been a changeable beast, and since the very beginning diplomacy has been supplemented by hitting the bad guys over the head with styrofoam rocks and two-fisted punches. The promo “making of” videos sold it as an action buddy movie, so I went into this hoping for blasting, wisecracks, and a chance to see some of those rather fancy sets up close.
A lot of people will be wondering if the game is Lens Flare: The Game. It is quite flare-happy, but not to the extent that the movie was. It doesn’t step quite so heavily on the lens-flare pedal as, say, Mass Effect 3 did. On the other hand, bringing Mass Effect 3 into the conversation shows up the first of Star Trek Game: Star Trek‘s glaring (literally) flaws: the characters’ faces. They stare awkwardly into the camera, flip from deadpan to PATHOS in a heartbeat, and generally do a poor job of conveying emotion. The faces themselves, presumably in a misguided quest for textural authenticity, look pitted and acned and nearly as rugged as the face of Adama from Galactica. This matters less than you might think, since unlike the facial focus of film and TV, this is a third-person game. There are also odd contrasts between scenery and props of breathtaking texture fidelity and the occasional part which looks like it was textured in MS Paint. This is combined with the rather peculiar use of textures here and there that would not have been out of place in Star Trek: Voyager Elite Force, especially in the Gorn areas, which stand out as relics from a bygone era.
The voices of the characters are surely the easiest part of the game to get right if you’ve gone to the trouble of hiring the actual cast. Or so you’d think. I suspect they spent so much money on the actors that they only had enough left over for a digital dictaphone (£12.99 from Currys, bargain fans!) to record the voices. There’s also more than a touch of “I’ll say what you want, just mail me the cheque” as they say their lines. As for the lines themselves, they can be pretty good. The writing portrays Kirk and Spock as two men who are better friends than the movie did, but they still needle each other more frequently than Shatner and Nimoy’s duo. Their banter elicited the odd chuckle, which is more than can be said for most games.
I’d consider the gunplay to be roughly comparable to that in Mass Effect 1, which is to say, lightweight, floaty, moderately unsatisfying. The tricorder gets a surprising amount of use. Every thirty seconds you’ll be whipping it out to scan for upcoming enemies, follow power conduits, and hack things in Mass Effect 1-and-2-style minigames. Oddly you’ll also be using it to order your co-op buddy around. Kirk and Spock have no trouble making wisecracks out loud, but in order to get each other to do something, Starfleet regulations apparently require all orders to be given through the tricorder.
The game is also loath to give you any freedom it hasn’t sanctioned, which is surely missing a large part of the point. The new Enterprise is a deliciously stylish creation that I’d like to explore. Want to walk around the Bridge? Not going to happen. Set one foot on the Bridge and you’re launched into a non-interactive cutscene. Want to walk around the Enterprise’s shuttle bay? Nope. In the future, there are no fire safety regulations so it’s perfectly okay to use crates to block off 85% of the space. Want to walk around the halls of the Enterprise? Nope. There are two odd-looking aliens standing in the hallway staring into space and you’re too polite to even ask them to step aside. At least Mass Effect let you explore the Normandy to your heart’s content!
Have you noticed a theme yet? Mass Effect. Mass Effect. Mass Effect. The comparisons are inevitable, and unflattering. Star Trek: The Star Trek Game is Mass Effect Minus Talking. It tries to make up for it by including some variety, like an on-rails shooting section using the Enterprise’s phasers and torpedoes as you chase a Gorn ship, which is a brief but moderately entertaining diversion, or a jaunt in the deadly sunshine under an intermittently failing sunshield. There’s even a part where Kirk and Spock get a hand-held transporter device with which they can beam each other around. That got me all excited hoping for some Portal-style co-op environmental movement puzzles in freefall with magnetic boots. Sadly, the designers chickened out and restricted the device to only transport you to large and carefully signposted transporter pads, of which you’ll only see one at a time. There are also surprisingly many ledges for you to “Assassin’s Creed” your limited, grunting way around walls. Helpfully all the clingable ledges are colour coded with yellow and black stripes, which is thoughtful of them.
I’ve seen the odd bug here and there. While playing a “Private” game my character would occasionally stop… And wait, patiently, in the middle of a firefight. I assume there was some sort of network issue going on, although it’s not one I’ve seen in other games, and once I thought of that I switched the game to “Offline”. Online singleplayer, thy name is suck. At least it had an option for offline singleplayer, but I’m not going to start handing out cookies for that or I’ll forever be rewarding people for things like “not punching me”. That way lies madness. Also I had a few moments where Kirk appeared to forget he was carrying a thigh-sized power unit and stood in front of the power socket for two minutes lamenting his lack of power while Spock helpfully suggested I find a way to power the door. There doesn’t appear to be a button for “drop the power unit”, so that was fun. Talking of buttons, the constant onscreen admonitions to “Press the (F) to sprint!” were clearly written by somebody who accidentally the whole thing.
So, any good? Star Trek: This Is A Game is damnable with faint praise. It gives the impression throughout that there is a better game that can be made by these same people with these same elements, but somewhere along the line there is a terrified executive ruthlessly pruning back design ambition in the name of mass-market appeal. I am therefore required to don my hat of preliminary judgement (actually it’s a fez) and say that it is a game that is more than the sum of its parts, it’s just a shame that the parts are so underwhelming that that’s not saying much. In closing, the best thing I can say about this game is that at least it is not the absolute nadir of Star Trek gaming, which is to say, it is not Star Trek: Legacy. The DVD for Legacy I have honed to a razor edge in anticipation of one day meeting the gentleman or lady responsible for its creation. Sadly we must wait longer for a worthy successor to Bridge Commander, Elite Force, or Starfleet Battles.
Because I can’t think of a good place to put it, I’d like to also mention that the phaser pistol’s stun shot “thwip” sound is my favourite sound from the last few years.