So there’s this preconception going around that movie licensed games will necessarily suck. All’s the while, the same people who hold that opinion with such fervor lament the closure of Lucas Arts, a studio famous for (among other things) making incredibly awesome Star Wars games. A lot of these people are saying things like “well it’ll never be as good as Star Trek: Elite Force”. Elite Force is most certainly a game that has about as much in common with any Star Trek movie as 2013′s Star Trek game. Star Wars and Star Trek have a good track record for quality games, so let’s not jump ship just yet. Put aside the Tron‘s, Green Lantern‘s, and Thor‘s of yesteryear, and let’s look at this knowing that Star Trek games have been historically good more so than they have bad.
I received my copy of Star Trek: The Videogame on the UK release date – the 26th of April. That means I narrowly avoided ‘Operation Kenneth‘, with no problem connecting to any of our review team. Indeed, in the immortal words of Mr Lindenbaum: “Works fine for me.” I’m not excusing the shambles of a US launch, I’m saying that the product I played came after that. I’m reviewing that product. If you have a problem with that, stop reading now.
Six hours was spent making this decision.
I’m making excuses, a critical reader will point out, and you’re not wrong. I’m somewhat nervous, because I enjoyed Star Trek: The Videogame, thoroughly. I don’t want this to be a ‘contrary to popular belief’ review. It’s not. This is just myself, my team, and the game. In one paragraph, here’s what I loved about Star Trek: The Videogame:
The entire game, including its story, felt authentic and ingrained. Whilst the graphics weren’t outstanding on PC, the lighting at times was beautiful, especially when contrasting the red-alert lights with the blue phaser fire. The pacing, for a third person shooter, was superb. Star Trek isn’t just about gunning down swarms of enemies. For quite long stretches, you’ll find yourself at the foot of some glorious exposition voiced by some of the cast. Shooting, too, is absolutely fantastic, with all of the guns sending enemies flying back, with sound that popped through my headphones like a boot hitting the ground. That glorious thump. There’s a lot to do in Star Trek: The Videogame, and whilst it’s seemingly generic on paper, well… what AAA third person title isn’t? It knows what it is, and aside from a few bugs, it’s a well executed side story in the Star Trek universe.
I sat down to play it at 10pm, and I finished it by 5.30 in the morning. Sue me. Now let’s get back to the appropriate format.
Coop platforming is about hoping your friend falls and dies, so you feel better about yourself.
If you look at the titles’ Wikipeida page, contrary to popular belief, Star Trek: The Videogame is “a single-player action game with cooperative gameplay elements.” This means that if you go into the experience expecting some superfluously intertwined duality of sorts, you’re going to be disappointed. Don’t be a sucker for marketing, this is as cooperative as F3AR. Aside from unlocking doors together, and cracking a few codes, there’s not much in the name of “cooperation” other than “dude… seriously… get to the door already.” Is that a bad thing? Does that make Star Trek a bad game? Absolutely not.
When people ask me “well, what does multiplayer actually bring to games?” I always reply with “that depends entirely on the quality of your social life, doesn’t it?” I’d say the same thing in this case. We actually played without voice communication for “absolute immserfications“, nodding to each-other whenever we saw something we found hilarious, or noticed a reference to TOS. I was Spock, and he was Kirk. That’s who we were. I enjoyed the fact that he was playing his role, and he enjoyed the fact that I was doing mine.
The developers made good use of three-dimensional space, with some very stylish moments.
In discussing exactly what the cooperative experience entails, and why it even exists, it’s really no more complicated than the fact that the Spock/Kirk duality is a fascinating one in the Star Trek universe. You get to play as Spock, or Kirk, in a game. What’s more, they do the entire campaign together. What does it bring to the table? Spock… and Kirk… playable together for 10 hours. This is a heavily story based game, and devoting 10 hours purely to the Kirk/Spock relationship is something we’ve not seen in the Star Trek canon – it is unique, although it is iterative.
As Spock said to Kirk. before you entertain your “seemingly relentless desire to stretch your legs,” let’s talk about what the game actually is.
The story focuses around the Gorn – a slimmer, much more heavily stylized Gorn. Having attacked “New Vulcan”, the home of the Vulcan people after their home-world was destroyed (seen in the movie), the Enterprise is sent to investigate. They come across a station not known to the Federation, and investigate exactly what’s going on. It soon becomes apparent that this station is a Vulcan structure, and before you know it, the Gorn are here to ruin the party.
Everything oozes with authenticity.
Much of the game takes place on the Enterprise, the space station, New Vulcan, the Gorn planet, and the Gorn ship. It should be noted that every location is rendered in exquisite detail. There’s a lot of the Enterprise to explore, although not of your own accord, and it’s a painstakingly accurate replica of the films version. I found a surprising amount of pacing for the sake of authenticity, for example you’ll be walking through the hallways, and up the turbo-lifts of the Enterprise much more than you’d expect, making your way from the bridge to the shuttle bay on your first mission. By no means does Star Trek look like a cheap game, but to some extent it is still a relatively buggy one.
The primary bugs our team faced were few but important. For instance, after a cut-scene, it was quite usual for one of us to be unable to move once the scene was over. This wasn’t as annoying as it might seem – although of course it is inexcusable – because clicking “restart checkpoint” from the menu will plonk you back exactly where you are, all things working. In reality, that’s the biggest bug right now in Star Trek, and to Digital Extremes‘ credit, when playing single player, your AI teammate is surprisingly tactical, and not at all a burden. He is both useful, and manages to path-find and stay alive extraordinarily well.
Strafing and shooting is visceral brilliance.
Starting the game, you’re able to choose either Spock, or Kirk. This doesn’t change the game in any meaningful way, although if you’re playing alone there are a few times where your experiences will differ. For instance, Spock has the ability to mind-meld certain opponents to get access to door codes, and he even has stealth elements, where he can use the Vulcan nerve pinch to stealthily take out enemies. There are certain levels dedicated to the possibility of stealth, and playing as Spock you can orchestrate them well. As Kirk, however, you’re much more run and gun. You can still be stealthy with Kirk, but Spocks freeze-phaser makes this much easier. It’s also a quieter weapon.
You’ll have to contend with few too many cooperative hacking mini-games, and it’s not ever fun to need two people to open a door (but this isn’t nearly as bad as in Resident Evil 6, for example), but those iterative cooperative mechanics in no way define the cooperative experience – at least, they didn’t for me. It’s not a game about opening doors together, it’s a game about enjoying the story, dynamic, and adventure as a duo.
Playing in a duo, however, you can if you so wish orchestrate a stealth approach, mapping out where the enemies are with your tricorder, looking for alternative routes around the level, such as vents and Jefferies tubes’. There’s an element of Uncharted in the game, with very competent platforming mechanics that, whilst animated beautifully, can be a little janky to use. It’s tempting to press ‘W’ and ‘space’ to shimmy up on a ledge, but you only need to hit ‘space’ on its own, with ‘W’ often making you wiggle around corners until you remember you’re ‘doin’ it wrong’. I guess that’s not technically a bug, but it doesn’t feel great until you really get used to it.
Running forward and shooting is also viscerally brilliant.
We were also surprised that the game included swimming sections, and even moments of free-falling and gliding, or using small jet-bike type apparatus to bob and weave around the Enterprise as it engages in fights with the Gorn. At times, Star Trek looks absolutely beautiful, but it comes into its own more in the shiny hallways of space-ships and stations than it does on organic land.
There are a few things that seem awry with the title, such as the inclusion of an upgrade system which seems… unfinished. Throughout the entire game, I upgraded only my pistol power. You earn exp as you play, but that isn’t really something I found to be integral to the game. I don’t recall ever even being how much I earned, or how much I got per kill. What’s more, we only received enough exp to upgrade a couple of things, only once respectively though-out the entire game, which is a shame because it’s possible to unlock more settings on your phaser, for example, or better support skills.
The absolute best thing about Star Trek: The Videogame – combat
Running and gunning. I know, I know, run-and-gun is almost a derogatory term now, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen combat from a film executed so accurately in a game. The character movement is totally organic, and strafing around enemies, using the phasers, as lens flare, epic music, and pulsations of light from all the weapons go off around you is authentic and atmospheric. It literally never got old. The shooting is Star Trek is fantastic. And, surprisingly, there’s just the right amount of it.
All this shooting is broken up with a little bit of exploration serving as time for exposition fed to you from the cast, some platforming, and a lot of cut-scenes. The aforementioned interactive sequences such as gliding and jetting through space are also a welcome break, but what wasn’t so welcome was the relatively tacked on sequence where you both control the guns of the Enterprise. These guns did not feel good, and the whole thing was confusing as all hell. As Gorn missiles and suicide ships slammed into the Enterprise, I had no idea what the hell I was doing, and there was little explanation as to how the shield controls worked – which I had to time with every strike perfectly. Still, this was a short experience I guess they added just to let us integrate at least a little with the iconic ship.
Hell, the shooting is just visceral and brilliant… okay?
The dynamic of: short burts of combat, cut-scene, interactive element, exposition, platforming, rinse, repeat gave the experience a level of fullness and consistency that a lot of games are lacking at the moment. There’s no pivotal X% moment part where you think “well, the game is coming to a close here on in”, prior to the Gorn ship, that is. There’s a lot to be said about the quality of the writing, too, and although at first, for some reason, the voice acting is incredibly wooden, that straightens out as though they recorded it in chronological order and the cast gradually got used to what they were doing.
Is Star Trek doomed as cash-in. Is it really just fan service?
The games pacing and dynamic is too well thought out, and its story too well written to be accused of such a thing. The combat is fantastic, if iterative (I mean, it’s a third person cover shooter), and there’s actually a surprising amount to the whole thing. I can’t objectively call it a bad game… it’s just a little samey on paper. The thing is, it totally gets away with it because it’s Star Trek. It’s not getting away with being bad, it’s just getting away with the same thing that every other third person action game gets away with: having cover mechanics, platforming, and a lot of cut-scenes. Tomb Raider seems to be doing pretty well with those.
Star Trek won’t appeal to people who don’t like Star Trek. To those people, you’ll find absolutely nothing new. Given the game’s called Star Trek, however, it’s probable that Digital Extremes know who their demographic is: Star Trek fans. With solid mechanics, a fantastic dynamic, and gameplay that genuinely had me sitting down of my own accord for 10 hours straight, Star Trek is a must have for fans of the films, the show, or the prior games - now that it works.
Everyone’s concerned – a redshirt must have died. Plenty more where that came from.
There are bugs here, but none of them break the game. For now, the worst I had to put up with was restarting a checkpoint I was sitting on – and that was just 10 seconds of loading screen. Network issues were fine upon UK release, and dissecting those seems superfluous at this juncture – a review isn’t a place to retrospectively criticise consumer rights. Star Trek works, and it’s good, and I know you might not like me saying that, but I can’t help but be honest. I had a blast, and although the ending was a massive middle finger raising questions over the inevitable sequel, I’m genuinely looking forward to going over the footage for the video-review to show you why I had so much fun. There are a lot of people who are going to criticize Star Trek for being “more of the same” – let’s see them apply that logic to Assassin’s Creed, or Call of Duty, for once. It’s a shame, although inevitable, that this release will unfortunately be the legitimizing punch-bag for the reviewing masses – it deserves more. A straight, enjoyable play-through in 10 hours suggests that I’m being more honest than I am too kind; I have the back-ache to prove it, and it was worth it.