Star Trek Review – Beam Me The Hell Out of Here!
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Digital Extremes
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Release Date: April 23, 2013
ESRB Rating: Teen
Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way. I’m not a Trekkie. I don’t dislike Star Trek. I’ve just never been a fan. I grew up in the TV show rerun era. I’ve seen most of the movies. They range from really good to laughably bad. J.J. Abrams pulled off a miracle in rebooting Star Trek while tying it into the original universe. It was fantastic. It was so successful that a sequel movie was a no-brainer. It also made sense to produce a video game based on the rebooted hit. I just wish the game was as successful as its movie inspiration.
The game opens with a rather nondescript title screen, which foreshadows things to come. But that Star Trek theme played and anticipation washed over me. You sucker. Movie licensed games suck, right? This one has to be different. It’s Star Trek. Production teams from the movies assisted with the creation of this game in order to create an authentic Star Trek experience. It’s fair to say the production values should have been much higher.
Star Trek (the video game) is a new story set between the first Abrams movie and the upcoming sequel, Into Darkness. What’s left of the Vulcan race are trying to find a suitable planet to colonize. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. In order to do that, the Vulcans have some kind of experimental contraption that the reimagined Gorn, who go around enslaving other races and destroying their planets, have stolen to use as a doomsday device to threaten interstellar peace. Enter Kirk who rushes headfirst into the “burning building” with his plucky sidekick, Spock, in tow. That pretty much sums up Star Trek the video game and standard sci-fi tropes throughout time.
The cast of characters brought over from the movie look accurate enough. Then they start moving and speaking. The dialogue and facial animations don’t always sync up. The characters’ vacant looks make them out to be nothing more than hollow mannequins. They’re attractive, but they lack soul. This is emphasized dramatically by each disinterested line the voice actors deliver. It is fully apparent that the lines were recorded individually. That strips away any pretense of acting since the cast aren’t interacting with each other. Delivering lines badly is one thing. Bad writing from the writers involved in the movies combined with bad delivery is unforgivable. I don’t need to hear Spock repeatedly tell me what to do at every single objective or informing me that I’m injured as I’m down waiting for him to revive me. The rest of the cast might as well be nonexistent. They’re just around for background noise, not much else. That seems to be Star Trek’s theme.
Visuals aren’t necessarily bad, they’re just dull. They don’t leave a lasting impression and that is distressing considering the material they have to work with. Sure, the Enterprise looks pristine and exactly like the movie sets, but the brightly lit hallways all look the same to me. If you’ve seen one starship corridor, you’ve seen them all. The Gorn home planet isn’t any better. The color palette is muted and washed out. My expectations might have been set too high when I take the movies visuals into consideration. This is some real wasted potential.
Star Trek’s deficiencies don’t end with the overall lackluster visual presentation. It suffers from identity crisis. It seems Digital Extremes couldn’t decide what kind of game it was supposed to be. They’re guilty of cramming too much into the package, all for the sake of breaking up the monotony of the third-person action which actually makes sense because the action is so vapid. It turns out none of Star Trek’s elements blend into a positive, memorable gameplay experience. It’s kind of weird since Digital Extremes developed the vastly underrated Dark Sector and The Darkness II and had a hand in porting BioShock to the PlayStation 3. It isn’t like these guys have a terrible track record.
On the surface, it’s supposed to be a third-person “bro-op”, but the game is missing a key ingredient to the whole bro-op concept, cooperation. The A.I. is frustratingly, ridiculously cretinous in almost every facet. I am constantly at odds with my partner. When he isn’t in my line of fire, he’s usually nowhere to be found because he’s literally stuck running in place against an object or a wall. I’ve had to reload checkpoints because I couldn’t progress in a level until we were both present and accounted for. Gears of War worked because A.I. stays out of the way, soaks bullets, and provides needed revives. Kirk and Spock make for terrible, uncooperative bros.
When you aren’t dealing with piss poor pathing and collision detection, you’re dealing with piss poor shooting gameplay. I figured out early on that the easiest way to get past most enemies is to stun them with the phasers and run up to knock them out. It makes the hardest difficulty easy. It also doesn’t make sense to be playing a cover-based shooter that encourages breaking cover in a firefight to go knock generic lizard men unconscious effectively negating the cover and shoot aspects.
It turns out Star Trek isn’t a good 3D platforming game either. Imagine playing Assassin’s Creed without any clear indication of where you are supposed to be jumping to when navigating ledges. If you are on a ledge and need to jump backwards to another ledge, the character makes no indication that is what you are supposed to do. The end result is making educated guesses and literal leaps of faith. One level in particular was extremely frustrating because of the combination of poor platforming and obtuse objectives. I spent a long time circling the same room before I realized there was a ledge I needed to grab onto. It was so indistinct that I don’t know how anyone would know by first glance that’s the objective.
The misadventures are exacerbated by poor design choices like using the tricorder to scan for objectives like the detective mode in the Batman: Arkham games, hacking minigames that are the same every time, a goofy swimming level, and an even goofier turret shooting level. Here’s an opportunity to pilot one of the most recognizable ships in sci-fi and all I can do is spin 360 degrees and shoot down incoming missiles and Gorn ships.
There some things Star Trek gets right. Kirk and Spock possess uniquely different skillsets. If you don’t stun/kill combo through the game, you might appreciate that. As bad as the A.I. partner is, drop in co-op with other players is a good feature. Even the worst of games can be marginally better with a buddy. Fortunately, that is the extent of the multiplayer. The soundtrack was recorded by a live orchestra. I know it seems like a reach to find any positive, but the soundtrack is great.
I wouldn’t recommend this game to the most diehard Star Trek fan. It is a poorly conceived licensed game that perpetuates the “licensed games suck” stigma. It is a waste of movie production, actors, and video game developer talent and resources. Just forget its existence and stick to enjoying the Abrams films. It’s a better investment, financially and emotionally.