Star Trek: The Video Game manages to achieve the impossible. The developers have harnessed some hitherto unknown anti-dimensional black-matter pseudo-science particles to make a barely seven hour game feel like an eternity when you are slogging through it. Impressive, considering the licence and support behind the title but once again this conveniently timed release feels like nothing more than a cash-in.
Instead of choosing to directly adapt the recently released Star Trek Into Darkness, developer Digital Extremes have created an entry that fits into the canon of the new alternate universe created in the original 2009 film. Slotting into the timeline between the two movies, Star Trek: The Video Game follows the Enterprise crew as they battle a race of vicious alien lizard-men: The Gorn. Players take on the role of either Kirk or Spock with full online and offline co-op supported.
There was undoubtedly huge potential for this game given the unprecedented access to the film's cast for voice over work, materials and artwork from the movie and having a largely blank slate to work with. To give the title credit, the voice acting is fairly solid and only rarely do thoughts concerning "contractual obligations..." spring to mind. However, there is little else to compliment in what consistently feels like a by-the-numbers game spat out to make some money on the back of the new film's popularity.
At its core, Star Trek: The Video Game is a cover-based third-person shooter with elements stolen from about every popular game from the last few years. Climbing and platforming from Uncharted and Tomb Raider: check. Space jumps and debris avoidance from Dead Space: check. Hacking mini-games from Deus Ex: Human Revolution: check. The list goes on to the point where every time a new gameplay element is introduced you are immediately reminded of where it has been "borrowed" from. What drives the point home even further is that every element has been done far more smoothly and competently than it is here.
The majority of the game centres on third-person combat with the controls and cover system proving not only painful but frustrating in the extreme. Playing as Kirk or Spock is a chore with their movements choppy, erratic and never comfortable. Getting in and out of cover is unnecessarily troublesome with characters frequently getting stuck on corners and sliding around like they're recovering from a Vulcan neck-pinch. The platforming sections and half-hearted attempts at delivering height-options during combat are painful. The camera usually ends up getting stuck inside Chris Pine or Zachary Quinto's oddly lifeless face as you vainly attempt to manoeuvre into a good firing position.
With co-op gameplay very much in vogue it is another disappointment in how poorly this mechanic is handled. Co-operative actions are usually restricted to boosting one another into ceiling vents, working together to unlock certain doors or temporarily raising one another's shields during particularly heavy gun battles.
When working with another human player the game slowly moves along but it never feels stronger or more engaging for having a companion. Equally the story fails to make much out of the contrasting personalities of Spock and Kirk with much of the dialogue feeling forced and, occasionally, painful.
Arguably the biggest downfall is the presence of the second character if you are forced to depend on the companion AI. It is some of the most rage-inducing and frankly shoddy programming in this generation of consoles. The problems come to the fore during the many, many lengthy stealth sections. While these are optional, completing them nets you more experience with which to upgrade your weapons and gadgets so there is a definite incentive.
Stealth is made slightly more appealing by the presence of your Tricorder, a gadget which can be used to detect enemy life signals through walls allowing you to assess your moves before you make them. Unfortunately, while you may sneak around like the best infiltrator known to man your AI colleague will likely be about as effective as Geordie La Forge with two Tribbles stuck in his eye sockets.
Occasionally he will walk straight into patrolling guards: to the point where he will be moving against them as though they were a wall. Astonishingly, much of the time they carry on without noticing. At other times the hapless idiot will move straight into a camera, turret or an actually conscious enemy ruining our chance for an optional objective. As if this was not enough to send a vein throbbing in your head he will usually berate you for not adopting the Starfleet strategy of stealth and pacifism. Seldom has a game managed to instil such feeling of virtually uncontrollable venom and hatred towards an entirely fictitious being.
While the optional objectives help to add some spice and variety to the game, much of the time they are recycled with such strikingly original gems consistently appearing as do not kill any enemies, remain undetected, find a secret passage etc. Equally unimpressive is the experience-based upgrade system. It is possible to upgrade your Phaser or Vulcan Repeater and the Tricorder but none of the effects really have a meaningful impact when combat is usually as simple as point the gun and pull the trigger.
In an attempt to spice up the gameplay variety there is a space combat level early in the game that pits the Enterprise against a number of enemy vessels. Sadly, it is an underdeveloped nightmare of confusion with even worse controls and the excitement of watching lots of flashing lights and colours. If it had been given more time and attention it could have been a genuinely exciting addition. Instead, it feels dull, monotonous and overlong: then comes the realisation it is five minutes in length. Ouch.
There are a plethora of audio logs, research items and facts strewn throughout the levels and scanning them with the Tricorder yields extra experience. However, the audio recordings and the characters who speak on them are usually so bland and lifeless there is little real point to finding them. Star Trek: The Video Game presents a reasonable story but it never engages and the brevity of the narrative and limited locations mean it feels more like a chore than a form of entertainment.
This lack of involvement is exemplified by The Gorn. The game would like to paint them as a terrifying and ominous foe: brutal and scary. Yet when they were originally seen being punched by William Shatner in a quarry during an episode of the original series, it is difficult to view them as anything other than a bit, erm, useless. Their AI is poor with three primary modes: shoot, stand or crouch still and finally become stuck in terrain and vibrate copiously. None of the above presents any serious challenge or satisfaction. With a very limited range of alien types there is seldom any need for strategy and combat is woefully boring.
Graphically the game looks primitive with countless glitches, camera problems and even bizarre animation issues that occasionally give Spock extra feet. While the orchestral score is composed especially for the game it is incredibly intrusive and often ill-fitting for the scene it accompanies. There are numerous bugs that prevent progress and having to reload a checkpoint or restart a level to avoid these was sadly all too common. It feels rushed and outdated, especially surprising considering it has been in development for some time.
It feels extremely harsh to be so critical of Star Trek: The Video Game but it is difficult to get away from the fact it is a bad game. Almost everything is so poorly implemented, underdeveloped, unresponsive, tedious and repetitive that is quite staggering the game made it to release in this state. Even for a quick film cash-in this is a remarkably poor standard from a noted publisher and developer. At a shockingly short six or seven hours this is an incredibly limited experience with little-to-no replayability whatsoever.
There is only one thing to say about the prospect of having to play this game again. I cannae' take it.
- Poor controls
- Repetitive, dull, unoriginal gameplay
- Six to seven hour length
- No replayability
- Terrible companion and enemy AI
- Focus on co-op gameplay is largely meaningless