In the forty plus years that Star Trek has been a thing, the franchise has seen a few games. Not too many of those games were all that memorable. There was the 25th Anniversary Edition game, which was by far the best example, and maybe Starship Commander. Then you had games like Voyager: Elite Force, which while technically a decent game I ignore because, well, Voyager. And then there were the games that had Star Trek in the title but little else going for them. Shattered Universe is a good example of this. So unlike Star Wars, which has had more than a few excellent games to go along with the dregs, Star Trek fans have had to make do with whatever they could get. Mass Effect? Totally Star Trek, right? I mean come on, Shepard was totally fighting the Borg. Anyway, you get my point. On with the review.
Star Trek the game takes place after the first reboot movie and before the second reboot movie, and tells a completely original tale from that version of the universe. You play as either Captain James T. Kirk or Commander Spock. Seems that after the events of the first reboot movie what remains of those zany Vulcans have decided to find a new planet for themselves and rebuild. Titled New Vulcan, this planet will be a place for the remaining 10,000 Vulcans to call home. However taking a barren planet and making it livable is hard and takes time. Those long lived Vulcans don’t got time for that! So they develop a device that will harness the power of two suns to help make things go a little quicker, all behind the back of Old Spock, who the Vulcans think would frown on such an endeavor. Gee I wonder why he would frown on a terraforming device that could be used for ill. Anyway, guess what? That device causes a tear in the fabric of space allowing a very hostile race to pop in and attack. USS Enterprise is nearby and rushes to answer a distress call, and the adventure is on.
Overall I was entertained by the story the game told. The writing was at worst fairly good, and excellent at times. The interaction between the different members of the crew, especially between Kirk and Spock was very fun to listen to. All of the crew were voiced by their actual actors and have been modeled to look like them as well. Most of them even sound like they cared about what they were saying. The music is excellent, and nothing else really needs to be said about it.
The main enemies in the game are the Gorn, and sadly they are the weakest part of the game. They have gone from a guy in an admittedly goofy looking rubber suit to looking like terribly generic lizards. Worse still they look like crap. I mean the character models look bad. The lesser enemies, the cannon fodder if you like, just look like geckos with laser rifles. The higher up the food chain you go the bigger the enemies get but they don’t exactly waste much time making them look a lot more interesting.
Anyway, if the enemies don’t look that interesting the environments usually make up for it. This game is a Star Trek fan’s dream if you ever wanted to see what the rest of the Enterprise looked like, or if you were ever curious to see how the turbolifts worked. While the ship is not at all completely rendered, it was a treat to start a level in Engineering and have to make your way to Sickbay. I did have a little difficulty banishing my disbelief a few times due to the sheer size of the levels. The engine room is bigger than the ship should seemingly be able to contain for example, but sometimes its best to just not think so much about things.
The gameplay is not terrible, but it could have been so much better. The game is right from the start meant to be a co-op experience. You start the game as either Kirk or Spock, and you can play online with some random person, or with your friend via the web or in the same room via a split screen. Lastly you can play on your own with the computer handling the other character. For the majority of the game I played through as Kirk and let the PS3 handle Spock. Ally AI is not the greatest, but except for a few instances the game felt like Mass Effect when one of your party members was down and the other one was useless. And if the partner AI is occasionally bad, the enemy AI is almost always bad, verging on terrible. I’ve shot patrolling enemies in plain site of their allies, and no alarm. Sometimes when they are rushing at you to attack you they will run up to you and then stand still, as though trying to decide if they are going to rip you in two or shoot you. Very unusual experience.
When I did play online I found it to be a functional online experience that is demands both people co-operate (I know, quite the concept in a co-op game) and have headsets. The major problem with the online game is the cinematics still play, some of which are unskippable. If I’m playing the game online I’m not interested in watching the story over again. Just hurry up and let us play the next sequence.
What went through my mind as I was playing was how much this game did in fact remind me of Mass Effect 2. More precisely it occurred to me that this was what Mass Effect 2 would have played like had they abandoned the RPG elements completely when they were deciding how to make that game. The story is linear so you don’t have a choice in where you go next. You move from place to place, fighting your way through battle after battle. You are given a Tricorder that is mapped to the L2 button and you can take it out to scan your surroundings. Often this will come in handy as you can scan for enemies when they cloak and hack into computers to disable turrets or security cameras. Basically you are encouraged to try and play the game in a more stealthy manner, because as Starfleet Officers you are not supposed to be blood thirsty. You are supposed to find the non-violent alternative if you can. Doing so will earn you Commendations. The primary benefit of earning Commendations seems to be earning bonus XP which can be directed to the upgrades on your phaser and Tricorder. Unfortunately the bad AI can hamper this experience. Some of the missions require a little more stealth in order to achieve a Commendation. You would think that ducking behind cover would cause your AI partner to also hide behind something but sadly they will just as often decide that being stealthy means standing in plain sight of everyone. Maybe the AI thinks the Gorn see like Tyrannosaurus Rex did I don’t know.
The shooting controls are fairly solid, but while the gameplay reminded me of Mass Effect 2 it certainly isn’t as polished as that game was. Your phaser overheats quickly and takes too long to dispel that heat. You can purchase upgrades to mitigate those problems but you can only equip one upgrade per category on your phaser, and frankly the upgrade you would be replacing with those is too useful to lose. You can hot-swap upgrades if you like but that just gets to be a hassle after a while.
I don’t understand a few of the developers choices either. Your phaser has a secondary fire option that stuns but that setting is initially so weak that you have to beat your opponent’s head in after hitting them to knock them out. Scattered around each of the levels are health stations and energy stations that can be used to recharge your weapons and your health. The energy stations definitely serve a purpose, but your health automatically recharges so the health stations are superfluous.
I liked a lot of what I found in this game. You can clearly see that the developers are fans of the series. Tribbles have been hidden as collectables in the various levels. One of the fights you get into requires that you combine different materials to defeat a Gorn Champion. Sadly not the ingredients for gunpowder but I did appreciate the allusion. And the little dude that Scotty was stranded with in the reboot movie makes an appearance too. The little touches that make for enjoyable playthroughs are clearly there. I won’t lie though, I was wishing that at the end of my playthrough I’d be able to unlock a William Shatner and Leonard Nemoy skin, and I was disappointed this didn’t happen.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Walking around with your tricorder out scanning things just felt right, and I wish the game had enabled you to use it more to escape by using science instead of your phaser. Like let me disable the gravity in a room I’m trying to clear of enemies, or something like that. Instead the game takes the approach of guns blazing almost all of the time, and that just doesn’t feel like Star Trek to me, again falling into the trap of Star Trek games everywhere. Play it and be entertained, but don’t go in expecting peaceful negotiating, and don’t expect smart AI either.
What Video Game Release for January 2014 are you most excited for?
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