I sit down in the Captain’s chair. Captain James T. Kirk spins round and mutters “Don’t get too comfortable.” In my skin tight blue attire, I am playing Spock and I imagine there is an in-joke involved somewhere in there. Pacing over to Uhura, Spock mutters “I may have to cancel our date tonight”. And that rather sums up Star Trek The Game - an upcoming venture by Paramount Pictures and Namco Bandai - a third-person shooter filled with in-jokes.
“This story, set between the recent 2009 film and the upcoming release, is canon” announces Brian Miller, Senior Vice President of Paramount Pictures. I think that means that the story is part of the Star Trek universe and should be considered accurate during those deep conversations about who would win in a fight in that universe. I wouldn’t be much use in those conversations however, I barely have the knowledge to make basic Trekker puns. So let us assume for the purposes of this hands-on preview that I know nothing about Star Trek and that the clever in-jokes and references with which the game is littered with bounce off me like phasers off a Klingon’s back. The question instead then is: does Star Trek The Game look any good?
Well, it’s a third-person shooter with clumsy cover mechanics and requisite chest high walls, the animation seems awkward and the textures look as if they have been ripped from a previous generation. It is not going to change the world of gaming but at the same time, for a film tie-in release at least, it looks like it still has a lot going for it.
The main emphasis of the game is co-op, in a similar manner to Army Of Two, which makes sense as the perils faced in the universe of Star Trek are usually resolved through a team effort. Most of the campaign is played out with your partner, solving puzzles or gunning aliens down together. Your main heroes are obviously Star Trek’s two most prominent characters who run along together filling the void with witty banter, acted out by their film likeness (Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock, indeed Paramount have managed to get the entire cast back into the studio to take up their respective roles).
You will find yourself in many situations that rely on your partner pulling his weight to survive. In the short period of gameplay we fumbled through, I was called upon to help Spock several times (I was obviously the essence of suave sophistication known as Kirk at this point) using my TriCorder to hack terminals or stopping an errant giant laser gun from slicing the half-Vulcan in half. Despite this session being purely solo, I can imagine teaming up with a friend to save the universe vastly improving the experience. To enhance this prospect, co-op is thankfully drop-in and drop-out with split-screen options available on console versions.
It is not just a Kirk and Spock buddy fest however, at points throughout the game you may end up playing other characters and, as Brian Miller points out, “there’s this one point where, playing as Spock you brain meld with the Gorn and see the universe from their perspective” and up on the presentation screen pops a disorientating first person view, presumably looking through the eyes of the Gorn.
These Gorn, bipedal lizard-like creatures which astute Trekkers will know appeared in just one single episode of the original series, are the main antagonists of the game. Perhaps a strange choice considering their lack of appearances in Star Trek lore, yet they make an ideal enemy for a game concentrating on shooting monsters - their sharp claws able to carry all manner of weapons with which to return fire, or simply to charge in and rip you apart.
Speaking of weapons, Brian Miller was pleased to point out that there would be more than twenty weapons in the game each with their own alternate fire mode, meaning players will be able to set their phasers to stun (for whatever reason) if they so choose. Many of these guns will of course be true to the series, so fans should be able to pick up their favourite pulse cannons or phase pistols and go blasting on their merry way.
And judging by the footage shown in the presentation there is so much more that the demo barely scraped the surface. Upgrades, climbing sections, swathes of mini-games, even a part where you fly around the Enterprise on... erm... space bikes... developer Digital Extremes seems to have bundled as much as they can into the game, but we shall have to wait and see how well they all gel together.
For the Star Trek fan I can imagine this being a day one purchase. Not only does it contain a story that is canon to the universe (and thus essential to all completionists), it also neatly bridges the gap between the new JJ Abrams’ Star Trek films. Furthermore it also offers the chance to wander around the Enterprise from the bridge to the engines via the turbo-lifts in a way that has not been attempted since 2003’s Elite Force II. And don’t forget the reams of banter between the crew and references galore. It’s even got an awkwardly digitised model of Simon Pegg. Simon Pegg!
Yet I can see the game being met with a wave of apathy from anyone viewing from outside the Star Trek universe. Perhaps it is simply because the gameplay did not excite me particularly. From what we saw, there is very little that has not been done better before from the likes of Gears of War and Halo and the lacklustre animation and textures seem to be screaming for a bigger budget. Sure, the potential for some entertaining couch co-op is always a positive prospect and the game may while away a few hours of downtime, but don’t expect this game to set its phasers to stun you. Owch.