Review: Star Trek The Game (PC)
by Ashe Collins on May 3, 2013

boxStar Trek The Game
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Digital Extremes
Genre: Action
Release Date: 04/23/2013

Star Trek The Game set out to venture into that harried space full of disease and danger, wrapped in darkness and silence, the “licensed game tied into an upcoming film” market.  The developers, the publishers, and Paramount were trying to make something that fit in between the two films, had that flair from both which is this blockbuster, amped up, and a bankable version of Star Trek but didn’t suck like many film tie-ins tend to do.  The plan was to give the developers time to make a game that looked great, played well, and delivered on the blockbuster experience with a sort of buddy cop game between Kirk and Spock that had co-op play but could still be played on your own.  While the PC version visually and audibly, most of the time, matches up to this vision, gameplay in a few areas along with both the enemy and partner AI needed a bit more work which makes this harder to recommend despite the things it did right.  Let’s take a look.

The plot of the game picks up some unknown time after the first film and will follow right into the second film, at least according to the Captain’s Log delivered by Kirk at the end of the game.  The game starts with a flash-forward with Kirk and Spock in a brief firefight getting overwhelmed by giant two-legged lizards with big guns who get knocked out and seem to end up waking up in an arena and instantly start fighting each other.  The game fades to white and we end up starting in Spock’s quarters with he and Kirk playing Tri-chess and Kirk losing.  The game is interrupted by a distress call from a space station that is orbiting a binary star that’s located within the star system where the Vulcans have decided to set up their new home.  The station has special shields built in to protect it from the sun’s radiation, but they are failing due to the power being cut.  Kirk and Spock work together to try and get everyone off the station and get things back up and running but they find out from T’Mar, one of Spock’s colleagues, that will be impossible.

2013-04-23_00127The station is built around a device that would capture energy directly from the sun and send it to New Vulcan to be used to help speed up the process of settling the planet for them to settle.  Of course things have gone wrong and the device has instead opened up a tear into another part of the galaxy, a wormhole through which an alien species is invading from.  This is a species that Original Series, Enterprise, and Star Trek Online fans will be familiar with, the Gorn.  Redesigned from their original man in the rubber suit look, the Gorn have a variety of looks and are big and mean.  They’ve decided that they want this device for themselves so that they can use it as a weapon to conquer more worlds.  Their weapons and tech is very much organic based and has a very different feel to it than the Klingons, Romulans or Cardassians we usually end up seeing. 

Kirk tries to enlist help from a nearby starbase, realizing the Enterprise might be in over its head, but the nearby base commander is a bit of a classic Trek megalomaniac and his station is quickly overrun by the Gorn, leaving Kirk and crew to try and go after T’Mar and the Helios device so the Gorn can’t use either to take over the galaxy.  Kirk and Spock have to go through a variety of challenges and areas to get things done and the banter between all of the crew members is fantastic and really well done.  There are a few typical traps the writer fell into, such as using the female characters to be rescued, but to be fair, they use that on Chekov as well and T’Mar is technically a civilian and not Starfleet.  Other than answer the phone and be a love interest as well as bait, Uhura isn’t given much to do in this which is a shame given she was far more pivotal in the 2009 film and looks to be in Star Trek Into Darkness.  Overall though, it fits well within the amped up universe J.J. Abrams and his writers have come up with to make Star Trek more appealing to the masses.  Long time Trek fans who didn’t like the 2009 reboot probably won’t like this game as it keeps this up, but for fans who like the reboot and newcomers to the series, this game will definitely deliver on the story end of things.  That’s one of its better strengths, actually. 

2013-04-27_00059Visually it’s a bit of a mixed bag.  Lighting is a little strange but it matches the films for the most part.  There’s some weird angles in a few scenes, but again matching what we got with the 2009 film which is their intent.  The cast looks like the cast with only a few disconnects as the digital versions don’t quite make the same expressions as the actual cast leading a bit into the uncanny valley.  The one that really stands out is when they’re speaking their mouths have a tendency to open a bit too wide, especially when they’re saying “Spock”.  It looks like they’re yelling it when they’re not, so it can be a bit jarring there.  The ships are designed really well and the layout of the ship feels like it fits with the new super-sized version of the Enterprise we got in the ’09 film even though Engineering does seem a bit bigger than we previously saw.  The Gorn design is fantastically alien with a sort of organic mix thrown into it.  The Gorn have a good mix of designs amongst them so you’re not seeing the same lizard people coming at you over and over again.  My inner Trek continuity nerd got riled up at some of the unconvincing ship damage and the reuse of the Galileo shuttle on one of the starbases, but that’s me being nitpicky. Most people aren’t going to care.  You can fudge with the settings a bit in game, which is good. No need to worry about screen tearing either, as the vsync actually works.  All of the screenshots in this review were taken on my laptop running on the highest settings.

All of the main crew cast returns for the game and none of them seem to be phoning it in although there were a few moments where Chris Pine’s delivery seemed off, more giving small orders while climbing around than anything else so it can be over-looked as the banter is spot on and fantastic.   The Gorn have their own language which feels way overblown and loud but suits them.  The audio effects match what we heard from the ’09 film.  The music, though, is the perfect blend of throwback to the 60s TV show for some of the boss fights and the new themes we heard in the ’09 film.  I want an OST from this game in the worst way.

2013-04-28_00022Controls are pretty standard fare for an action game.  I used a 360 controller for this, although the mouse and keyboard seemed to work okay.  Most of my games, if I can get away with it anymore, I use the controller.  Left analog stuck moves you around, and pressing it puts you into a run.  The letter buttons control jumping and interaction with objects as well as climbing and cover.  The directional buttons handle hot-swapping between weapons and grenades you’re carrying.  Hitting select brings up the RPG element to the game allowing you to spend experience to unlock tricorder and weapon options for Kirk and Spock and change them out.  Start brings up the main menu.  The LB button activates the tricorder, the LT brings you into a scope mode for better aiming.  The RB fires off the alternate fire for your weapon and the RT is standard fire.  The right analog stick lets you look around with the camera as well as getting into crouch.

Gameplay handles for the most part, like a third-person action game with an emphasis on shooting combat.  There are bits with climbing, swimming, sneaking, hacking, and then other bits where you’re controlling a free fall through space, taking charge of the Enterprise’s weapons to fire on enemy ships, and remote piloting a shuttle to crash into another ship.  The shooting, hacking, remote piloting, Enterprise weapons, and space jumping work pretty well.  The climbing, jumping, and swimming sections will leave you frustrated and actually forced me to turn the game off because it handled so poorly.  Hacking usually involves a few different sets of mini-games that help break things up a bit and will often involve your partner.  Space and cliff jumping involve you following a predetermined path but you have to avoid the junk.  The remote piloting section is similar but you have to stay on target.  The Enterprise firing on enemy ships involves tracking targets and laying into them with your phasers and torpedos trying to nail them before they take your shields down.

2013-04-28_00173The cover mechanic works okay and is about as expected.  You’ve got choices with your secondary weapons, either going with Starfleet issue or picking up Gorn weapons along the way.  Starfleet rifles have neat shield options that let you pull those up between regular shots.  Phasers give you stun options although not using the upgrade stun doesn’t work very well.  The game is definitely designed with co-op in mind and you have the option of going with a friend or picking up random people to play with on the net.  I recommend this over the partner AI if you can help it.  While Spock isn’t terrible as a partner and only mildly annoying at his pathing choices to get to you, the AI version of Kirk is like running around with a small child who wants to look at everything and doesn’t quite know what you want him to do because he doesn’t speak your language. So if you’re playing alone you’re probably better off playing Kirk so you’re not as hamstrung as you are playing Spock.

The Gorn themselves aren’t particularly challenging, nor the enemies that get converted to fight for them.  They generally follow set paths and don’t deviate unless they see you or hear you and you can make distractions to get them off those paths.  They are however, quite stupid. Six Gorn in a room.  I stun the closest to me into unconsciousness. The other five don’t react at all as I take them down one by one. Yes, they can see each other. If I’d walked into the room it would have been a different story, but the AI lacking intelligence can be off-putting to players, so fair warning.  There are a number of boss fights against bigger Gorn types that involve you using the environment to keep them away from you and even using the environment against them, which was a nice break from wading through enemies.

2013-04-28_00218My least favorite part is the climbing, jumping, and swimming mechanics.  They all feel clunky.  Jumps that you try that would work normally don’t get you far enough and you plummet to your death. Jumps you hold way too long out for get you across when you should be plummeting because you’d have ran out of room below your feet.  You have to fight to get your character to see ledges and move across sometimes.  Other times it moves right along with you.  Swimming felt like I had no control over anything.  Up was down, there’s no good way to surface quickly, and diving has no real direction at all.  The brief segments you do have to swim through are an exercise in frustration.

The game uses an experience system to unlock options for Kirk and Spock.  A few cross over between the two but plan on working to unlock each individually as they don’t have exactly the same skillset.  If you do things the Starfleet way, meaning not running into a room all trigger happy, and follow along playing smarter, which in this case is harder, you get commendations that translate into big experience gains that help you unlock options that make the game easier to play.

As far as replayability, there are some achievements to unlock that are going to require you to play through a few times as you’re not going to get them all in one go. Being able to play with someone else plus different difficulties should help. I do like that you can go in and select specific chapters to play through though alone or otherwise. Realistically though, you’re not going to change how the game plays or the actual results by playing it again, so your mileage may vary. It’s not very difficult and will be about ten hours for most people to play through solo. Playing through with other people may reduce that time a bit so it’s about average for most action titles these days.

2013-04-28_00256While the game does tread on ground we’ve visited before with the Gorn, it’s a different take on them and we get far more into their species and how they work than before, plus it’s a look at the revamped Enterprise and crew. That being said, it’s just a high octane version of someplace we’ve gone before. Some of the boss fights even make plays on the events in the original episode which, while cute and a neat homage, don’t really chock the game up to do anything new. The mechanics themselves are basic action shooter only with broken climbing and swimming added in for good frustration. This might appeal to the new crowd of people from the ’09 film. If you’re a long time Trek fan that didn’t like the ’09 universe jump then you’ll want to stay away from this. Action game fans will find it kind of generic as far as gameplay goes since, as I mentioned, it doesn’t do anything new. It is easy enough that causal players can have some fun and using the buddy system is amusing as well. As far as being addictive I was interested enough to get through it to try to escape one of the crappiest weeks I’ve had in awhile, but probably won’t touch it again except to play with other people or wander around the ship after offing all the enemies in a level.

I really had high hopes for this game. It does some things really well and then turns around right after doing that and falls flat on its face. There are too many bugs to really recommend at full price and it feels way too rough around the edges. I like the amped up Star Trek here and it ties in with the new film universe well enough, but after getting all those things right, the parts that are broken just completely ruin what could have been a really fun game. If you’re still interested in it, I say wait for a Steam sale (it runs Steamworks so you’re registering through there to run it anyway) and pick it up then. Before then you’re risking regret.

Short Attention Span Summary
While not entirely bucking the trend of movie tie-ins completely sucking, Star Trek does manage to do a number of things right even with the few broken things that might completely ruin the game for some like the climbing and swimming mechanics and completely brain dead AI on both the enemies and your partner. The story does a good job of reintroducing the Gorn and adding to them, but they still feel like random lizard aliens that are far too generic for their own good. The dialogue and banter between the crew is fantastic and I love the little send-offs to the old show for the fans, but this isn’t a game that’s easy to recommend with all its faults.




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