Captain’s Log, Stardate 2009.129. JJ Abrams releases into the wild his reboot of the classic sci-fi TV series, Star Trek. A commercial and critical success and one which was accepted by fans and non-fans alike thanks to its refreshingly modern take on the classical characters of Kirk, Spock and the rest of the gang. It was a Summer blockbuster with all that comes with it, action movie, comedy, sci-fi and more all at once. It was never in doubt a sequel would one day arrive and this Summer Star Trek Into Darkness has opened in cinemas globally. With such a massive franchise for Paramount it was always likely a videogame movie tie-in would arrive sooner or later. In fact the studio had been planning for quite some time having acquired the rights to Chris Pine (Kirk) and Zachary Quinto’s (Spock) likenesses in 2011 and signed them up - and the rest of the cast - for voice duties in 2012.
Star Trek: The Videogame is a third-person action adventure with optional co-op play. You can choose to play through as Captain James T. Kirk or Mr. Spock, although for completionists a run with each is needed to get all the trophies. We soon learn that the Vulcans are trying to find a new place to call home after the events of the first film and have developed a way to terraform a suitable planet into what they need. Unfortunately in doing this they’ve caused various problems in the space-time continuum and have attracted the attention of the Gorn, a lizard-like bad guy seen before in one episode of the original series. What happens from here on in is too enjoyable to spoil as the story, and the way it plays out, is the best part of the game. The production values are in this regard clear to see but annoyingly absent in others. It is excellent to see the effort and resources put into transferring these new films into an interactive game. The story is written by Marianne Krawczyk whose previous credits include God of War but she developed the plot alongside the producers and writer of the second movie in the rebooted franchise. This not only assures a certain level of quality to rival that of the cinematic busters of block, but also continuity. The events of this game are in fact described as canon and fill in the gaps between the first and second movies. All of this shines through, delivering a fun and engaging narrative told through the interplay between our main two characters (the bromance and bro-op as described by one of those involved in its production) and the supporting cast. The fact that each looks and sounds like the real thing only adds to the excellence of what you hear and see and do. It’s a shame then that this high level of production value in ensuring the right players are involved and the right quality of script is available is let down by the merely average graphics, textures and animations. Such a dichotomy jars often and always and lets down the good work to some extent. Such feelings pervade much of the game.
The actual gameplay is also a mixed bag, with some serious breadth but minimal depth. The characters move quickly enough but feel lightweight meaning there’s rarely a sense of control of them and what they’re really doing. This isn’t helped by the seemingly awkward ability to quickly identify and lock-on to your preferred target, (there is no auto lock-on either) or the complete lack of awareness regarding your orientation when coming out of cover facing left when you’d have expected right and vice-versa. Alongside the typical mission objectives of getting to point B, eliminating all the baddies and so on, you’ll find things mixed up all the time either by the need to hack a locked door mini game stylee or shooting spaceships down or completing one of the de rigeur platforming sections. There’s a pseudo-RPG aspect to the game in that you can collect XP by scanning various items in rooms or vanquished foes and use these to upgrade weapons or equipment. Your Tricorder for instance is something very important as it enables hacking and scanning and if playing as Kirk allows direction of Spock to do a mind-meld to learn valuable information. Upgrading this powers it up allowing you ultimately to scan a whole room rather than an individual item. This is invaluable for efficiencies but also makes the Tribble and trophy hunting that bit easier. The collection of XP though is involved and as such tedious and repetitive. Why not collect it naturally for doing things as opposed to having to scan a dead enemy? This is not helped by the fact that every action requires you to hold the action button for a few seconds (Square on PS3). Why can’t we just press it and save considerable time across one or more playthroughs?
Star Trek: The Videogame is fundamentally a cover-based shooter which has looked at all the successful games of this generation and taken a piece of each of them because it was really good but forgotten to actually fit that aspect into this game. Sure when Kirk goes all gung-ho and ends up hanging off a ledge what he says makes you chuckle and gets you through the next section but the climbing is slack and awkward with no signposting of where to go, nor do we even get accurate collision detection to provide feedback to the player that they are doing the right things. Normally it’s only in there to showcase the differences between Kirk and Spock - Spock soon realises an alternative way through. Funny the first time but worryingly samey the times after that. What this means is that parts of the game feel out of place, don’t work very well or just don’t work at all. You’ll find yourself from moment to moment flitting between entertained to nonplussed, to confused to downright annoyed. The game knows what it wants to be but doesn’t choose that alone and it means you’ll always be thinking the game was rushed to fit in with the film’s release or has suffered from requests from studio executives. A blast from the movie/game tie-ins of times past.
Consistent throughout the game in single player mode is the frequent frustration due to a technical lack of polish with the AI and the regularity of bugs. In the very first mission we found ourselves falling of the outside of a ship in space but magically hovering in mid-blackness suspiciously able to move around as if we were on the platform a hundred feet or more above our heads. Amusing at first but eventually we were screaming at the game to just show the kill screen and restart as there was nothing we could do. Another instance on the same level found us just waiting for our AI partner to do his part of the two-man job we were attempting yet nothing was happening. Spock had just decided he wanted to do the same thing we were doing but he didn’t come over and make this apparent until we went looking for him. In the second mission we were in a room and our navigation told us we were on top of our objective but going around the entire area to try and interact with something yielded no progress. Suddenly we realised our partner wasn’t there. He’d managed to get flummoxed by a door which had shut on him because we had raced ahead. As soon as we let him in the cutscene started and we moved on. The poor AI of Spock (or Kirk if playing through the other way around) is light years away from Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite or even any of your team in the Mass Effect series. Think Resident Evil 5 and that’s pretty much what we have here. In fact, so much of this game looks and feels like something from 2009 or before.
There’s a lot of game here for those who can stomach it. There are a number of chapters which will last around seven to ten hours depending on ability and chosen difficulty level. None are particularly hard but there are one or two dizzyingly frustrating spikes on hard difficulty level purely down to the game design and buggy code. To get one hundred percent you’ll need to play on hard at some point but you’re unlikely to choose to do so for a second go at the game. If you do want to get the most value out of it you will play it twice and if each of those times is alone there’s the option to play it in co-op mode locally or via drop-in online. You can look around the visually sparse Enterprise and chat to the crew members for the little you get out of it. Like the whole game everything’s just so bland and basic even when regarding something so essential for fans’ buy-in. There are over twenty weapons and each has an alternate fire mode but if you can aim (questionable - Halo this is not) accurately then really anything will suffice. To gain a commendation you’ll want to set phasers to stun at times anyway, and this allows you to bring into play close-up finishing moves and the like. Nothing snazzy, just a wrap of the arm around the neck. There are other commendations available as these are really just optional objectives scattered throughout each mission but again it adds to the bulk of the game.
What we have here from Digital Extremes and Namco Bandai is an Enter The Matrix for 2013. A movie tie-in set between a pair of the cinematic entries and canon in their narrative as endorsed and indeed developed (in part at least) by the movie’s creatives. It brings everything else about the 2003 tie-in into play also. We have the unintentionally basic and retro graphics, the bugs, the third-person mismatch of action and stealth and all in-between. We have key game mechanics lifted from modern blockbusters with Batman’s detective vision given life through the Tricorder, Nathan Drake’s rampant climbing, any Assassin’s stealth and Commander Shepard’s exploration gameplay as well as a tiny little bit of the RPG elements from there. The ideas aren’t bad, they’re just poorly executed and rushed to market in a bed of unfinished and rocky code. A jack of all trades rather than a master of one. Had the developers made a co-operative adventure game with the strong writing herein then they could have focussed on polishing what was there in time for release. As it is we have something that is good for little more than use as an interactive movie.