The relaunch of the Star Trek franchise has done wonders in finding ways to market it to a wider audience. True, some old fans were alienated, but they’ve got hundreds upon hundreds of episodes to watch, as well as ten freaking movies to hold them over. As such, I don’t feel too bad for them. With this newer, more flashy approach, the gate was left open for a new rash of video games. This game, which could have feasibly come out in 2009 with the movie, was held off, most likely because they weren’t sure how the relaunch would go. However, it’s apparent the franchise will be a sizable hit for years to come, and a sizable hit needs a video game. It’s just how these things work.
This set of circumstances made for an interesting lead up. The game seemingly wasn’t rushed, doesn’t directly tie in to the new movie, and has a respectable developer at the helm. There was hope. Licensed games, though traditionally the bane of any gamer’s existence, have been doing a fair job of upping their overall quality. Many critics called The Walking Dead the best game of last year. They were incredibly wrong, but it still shows that the licensed game stigma might just be going the way of the dodo.
Sadly, this game takes all that progress and flushes it down the toilet. This is licensed gaming at its worst.
The story starts off as ninety percent of all Star Trek stories do: with a distress call. Said distress call is coming from a space station using a powerful MacGuffin to speed up the terraforming processes on a nearby planet. Basically, the few remaining Vulcans are trying to create a new home planet, and they don’t have a lot of patience. This is odd, as they are highly logical, not prone to emotional reasoning, and long-lived. One would think patience would be something they have in spades. The MacGuffin works wonders, but has the nasty side effect of opening rifts through space. Turns out the rifts lead right to an area of space dominated by a race of lizard people known as the Gorn. The Gorn waste no time in going through the rifts and starting a full scale invasion, with the MacGuffin at the center of their plans. It’s up to Kirk and Spock to team up and put and end to things before galactic war is brought upon the Federation.
The story is decently serviceable, but pretty cookie cutter overall. Nothing is done to further the characters, as they just spout off one liners and make observations. The pacing is terrible, and you’ll often go long sessions without anything of note happening. The writers shoe-horned a corrupt Starfleet official in for good measure, but that whole part of the game feels hackneyed. The character has practically no introduction, and the heroes are bad mouthing him from the start. If they were trying to make his involvement with the troubles a surprise, they failed. It’s a popcorn movie type of game. If you’re okay with that, you might enjoy the story. Otherwise, you’ll find a shallow tale that attempts to fill itself up with jokes and explosions.
Oh yeah, and there’s this one scene that drove me bonkers. It involves Kirk and Spock idly chatting while a crew member is viciously attacked. They casually chat about the attacker’s attributes instead of attempting to intervene. I know red shirts got to die, but this is the wrong way to go about it.
The presentation is about what you’d expect. The cast reprise their roles and do decently, but occasionally sound phoned in. Musically, the movie’s soundtrack is put to good use, with the main theme being as catchy as always. The effects are authentic as well. It’s the visual parts of the game that let you down. While the models look like their real life counterparts, they suffer from a low polygon count and poor facial animations. Canned animations run rampant, and look dreadful, especially since they also suffer from clipping issues. The environments attempt to look good, but are bogged down by repetition. In order to mix things up, the game resorts to using a location, and then reusing it with explosions. It’s a cheap tactic. Essentially, all of the good bits are taken from the movie, while the original stuff falls flat. This is typical for tie-ins, but disappointing nonetheless.
For gameplay, Star Trek uses tried and true cover shooter mechanics. The left stick moves, the right stick aims, the shoulder buttons aim and fire, there’s a button for grenades, you can snap to cover with the press of the circle button, and so on. In this attempt to use standardized controls, the game also falls prey to the issues of the games it borrows from. Getting out of cover can be tricky, and it’s very easy to to get killed while doing so because of this.
The shooting is handled fairly well, and it’s pretty easy to line up shots. You can only carry two weapons at a time, though one of them must be your character’s trademark weapon. This really only gives you room for one secondary weapon. There are various Starfleet weapons, but you can also pick up Gorn weapons as well. Each gun has a secondary fire option, and these can be interesting. The most interesting is the stun feature, which both pistols have. Stunning an enemy pops them out of cover, making them prime targets. However, you can also run up to a stunned enemy and take them out with a melee strike. This is useful if you’re trying to take out a target without killing them.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that it’s odd that you would want to spare an enemy. Well this is Star Trek, and they don’t kill unless they have to. Also, a prominent enemy type is infected humans and Vulcans. These guys can be cured, so killing them is just plain murder. To further entice you to play as a Starfleet representative, the game offers bonus experience for sections where you don’t kill anyone, avoid detection, and find alternative routes. You don’t get experience points for killing things, which is a nice touch.
The game does not want to be called a generic shooter. It aims to tap into the action-adventure style. Therefore, the game has climbing, swimming, and â€œpuzzleâ€ sections to mix things up. On all three accounts, the game fails miserably. The climbing sections are a buggy mess, which I’ll get to later. The swimming sections suffer from sluggish controls and also feature a hacking mechanic that is inconsistent with the rest of the game. I call the third mechanic â€œpuzzlesâ€, but that’s taking the term very loosely. One puzzle type simply has you plugging a power cell into a slot. You might have to hack a panel somewhere in there. In order to hack things, you must perform one of a few different mini-games, none of which are interesting, and all of which are easily interrupted by an enemy attack. You also take damage on a failed hack for some reason. It makes no sense.
Tricorders are a big part of the Trek universe, and they are a big part of this game. You bring up the tricorder by holding the L2 button. This activates a special filter that works just like Batman’s detective mode in the Arkham games. You can see enemies through walls, ferret out areas of interest, and perform hacks when using the tricorder. However, you can’t use your weapon during this mode, which is a pain. Also, you’ll need to abuse the device constantly in order to scan objects for experience points. Those points are needed to upgrade your tricorder and pistol.
One can’t say this game doesn’t put forth an effort. Thematically, the bonuses you get for playing more thoughtfully are intriguing. Kirk and Spock are not blood thirsty space marines, and this game does not make them out to be in any way. That’s commendable. I appreciate that there is some variety to this game, even if it doesn’t really pan out. However, the game ends up feeling a bit bland. The shooting mechanics, though solid, are bland and uninteresting. The stunning weapons are easily the most interesting thing in the game, but they don’t do enough. The game also suffers from bland level design that relies too much on empty corridors and vast hordes of enemies. While there is strong effort to mix things up, the game is just too long. There’s a lot of padding in this game, and a lot of repetitive scanning, hacking, running, and shooting. The parts that stand out are too few and far between.
Of course, the biggest problem with the game is the insane number of bugs and glitches. I encounter new ones with each gaming session, but I’ll list some of what I’ve gotten so far.
I’ve killed an enemy, only to have the model pop back up and act as if nothing were wrong. While the baddie was still technically dead, it was unnerving to watch him scan the room for me.
I’ve had the tricorder out as a cutscene started. Normally, the blue haze that accompanies the use of the device goes away, but on a couple of occasions, it stayed. Also, my character kept bringing up an empty hand, as if the tricorder were being used.
There was one section where the characters used wing suits to glide down a canyon. My AI partner failed to deploy his suit, and died every time.
I’ve gone to climb up a box, only to warp back down to the bottom.
Kirk once rolled off a ledge and grabbed onto an invisible ladder in the middle of the sky. I couldn’t jump off the ladder, but started climbing down, only to randomly die.
During a boss battle, my AI companion refused to move out of the way, or attempt to find cover. He stood his ground, and got brutally murdered each time.
While hacking mines, they’ve exploded for no reason. I didn’t fail the hack, and I wasn’t interrupted by any sort of attack. This happened more frequently than any other bug.
The absolute worst glitch I’ve had was encountered while playing some online co-op. Everything was going well, until a checkpoint loaded and I suddenly discovered that my tricorder and pistol had disappeared. They were not on my quick-select, and in fact were not even visible on the character model. This also meant I couldn’t use them, and was stuck defenseless until I was able to pick up an enemy weapon. Even then, I couldn’t remotely hack anything, I had to hold back on firing because I could run out of ammo too quickly, and I couldn’t scan anything to get experience. Restarting at the checkpoint did not return the items. They only came back after we had made it through several more checkpoints.
I also encountered numerous problems when trying to set up an online match. Firstly, you can’t create a lobby, so asking a friend to join you before you start the game doesn’t work one bit. Secondly, the custom rules you put in don’t work. I told the game I wanted to start at the very first chapter. I got connected with a player, only to find myself watching the final cut scene. I saw Spock’s log entry without ever so much as using him in the game. I also had a friend get dropped from a game at one point. When I tried to invite him back in, it told him the session was no longer valid. This wad despite the fact that I was still playing the game, and no other player had joined.
The bottom line is that this game would be a mediocre shooter at best without these problems. With these problems, however, the game is an absolute mess. It is simply not worth a quarter of the asking price, and is in desperate need of some patching. I honestly had a good amount of hope for this game, but I’ve been let down quite harshly.
Short Attention Span Summary
The Star Trek reboot might be working out well in terms of the movies, but the video game is a complete mess. At best a bland shooter, the game is plagued by poor design, glitches, bugs, and other issues. I’ll give the game some credit for attempting to add some depth to the proceedings, but that attempt seems to have kept it from paying attention to the little things. This game either needed more time in development, or simply a more streamlined approach. As it is, I can’t recommend this game to even the craziest of Trekkies. It’s just no good.