Star Trek: The Videogame REVIEW
26th Apr 2013 | 08:00
[caption id="attachment_85616" align="alignnone" width="610"] A good Star Trek game... the final frontier.[/caption]
Release Date: 26 April 2013
£49.99 | Format reviewed: Xbox 360
Also available on: PS3, PC
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Star Trek is boldly going where it’s never gone before… a world where an oddly animated, but unmistakable Kirk and Spock (of the Pine and Quinto variety) take cover behind convenient waist-high pieces of scenery scattered throughout the galaxy and shoot Gorn in the face. That’s right, they’ve beamed down to Planet Third-Person Shooter!
Only the latest Star Trek videogame, an Abrams-verse adventure set between the 2009 film and Into Darkness, isn’t just a third-person shooter where you and a buddy can step into the shoes of Kirk or Spock. For the first hour you’ll barely fire your phaser, in fact - and then only to stun, or risk a ticking off for breaking the Prime Directive. Exploring each new area and scanning the environment with your ever-present tricorder for hidden documents and audio logs soon becomes habit, and it’s well worth the extra effort, because there’s a wealth of insightful and entertaining information to be gleaned from these “bonus” scraps – everything from warp core specs to the diary of a lowly Starfleet officer.
The fact that everything you see and hear in this Star Trek videogame not only feels authentic, but is part of series canon goes a long way to making up for its shortcomings as a somewhat clumsy shooter. For starters, it tells a brand new story written by God Of War’s Marianne Krawczyk and silver-screen scribes Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. After an attention-grabbing opening flash-forward which sees Kirk and Spock overwhelmed on some alien world and forced to fight in an arena, much like classic original series episode “Amok Time”, the narrative kicks off chronologically with the Enterprise odd couple beaming down to Vulcan space station Helios-1, which is being ripped apart by nearby twin suns. Turns out a powerful “Helios” device being used to speed up the rebuilding process on New Vulcan has been nicked by the Gorn, the famous original series foes reimagined for the Abrams timeline as a race of world-conquering space-lizards. It’s up to Starfleet and Vulcan scientist T’Mar to get the device back before the Gorn use it to tear a hole in the fabric of space and time. And all this happens before you’ve even seen the title card.
Though developed by Digital Extremes (who most recently made the superb The Darkness II) Star Trek was a Paramount Pictures production from day one, so it’s little surprise the game strives for cinematic spectacle. At times it achieves it. There’s an undeniable thrill in the moments where you escape from a collapsing space station with seconds to spare, or observe the Enterprise from miles away as it’s entangled in massive Gorn energy beams. It’s a shame, then, that so much of the game is spent skulking round endless caves or corridors waiting for the moments where it opens up. A zero-g section where you have to use an Engineer Transport Tool (a handheld teleporter!) to traverse the outside of a ship is inspired, but such moments of invention are too few and far between.
Instead the game breaks up the generally dull ground-based mission objectives with occasional one-off (or, er, two-off) setpieces, such as a sequence where you pilot the Enterprise (which, oddly, is over before you really get a handle on the controls) or deep space base jumps, where dodging floating debris is the order of the day. Hacking mini-games to disable security cameras or open pathways are a fun distraction at first, but quickly become repetitive and are a chore by the end of the 10-hour campaign.
[caption id="attachment_85617" align="alignnone" width="610"] They never did THIS in the sixties.[/caption]
The story is good, but suffers from a few pacing problems. Where the writing really impresses is in the banter between the characters, particularly Kirk and Spock, who spend the entire game bickering as only sci-fi’s BFF’s know how. Everyone on the bridge puts in an appearance at some point, even if typically only for a fan-pleasing cameo, and each character is voiced by their respective actor, though the quality varies from person to person. Pine’s Kirk can sound a little off at times, but Quinto’s deadpan delivery is spot on throughout. What really lets down the performances are the comically wooden animations and the awkward way characters interact with the environment. Try to dismount a ladder, for example, and you’ll kind of float in the air a little bit and hover off. Uncharted this ain’t.
Speaking of Uncharted, the game attempts to ape that series’ climbing mechanic (as seems to be the norm for every third-person action adventure since), but the endeavour was ill-advised, with simple movements proving wearingly clunky. This extends to movement on the ground as well. Kirk and Spock are not the most agile avatars, which becomes particularly frustrating later in the game when smaller Gorn dogs and exploding Gorpions (Gorn scorpions, geddit?) start rushing you in large numbers, while the cover mechanic is a bit too floaty to really satisfy. The same goes for most weapons, which don’t seem to have much of an effect on the bullet-sponge bad guys. We found ourselves sticking to the Gorn assault rifle throughout (you can only carry one extra weapon at a time), until later in the game when our powered-up phaser finally made the gunplay as entertaining as it should have been from the start.
Fortunately, there is an alternative. Most encounters give you the option of adopting a stealthy approach first, before you’re spotted and your cover is blown, while others actively encourage it, granting additional bonuses for not setting off alarms. Phaser upgrades dramatically improve your chances of success with stealth, allowing you to muffle the sound of your footsteps or cause sonic distractions. It’s simple, but effective enough, and as Spock you can sneak up behind people to Vulcan nerve pinch them, which never gets old.
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[caption id="attachment_85618" align="alignnone" width="610"] We like the way this image accidentally looks a little bit like the Gorn on the right is wearing a tiny hat.[/caption]
There are nine different Gorn classes in the game, including a handful of hulking mini-bosses, but they aren’t the smartest enemies. A delightfully honest bio you unlock after scanning a lowly Gorn Initiate describes them as “cannon fodder”, but acknowledging it doesn’t excuse the fact that they rarely offer much of a challenge beyond sheer numbers and an unusual stance which necessitates a different approach to shooting them in the head (you have to aim slightly lower). Play on your tod and your AI partner proves to be a bit of a numbskull too, falling miles behind, standing in the way or dying constantly in combat. Your best bet is to play with a friend and avoid these problems completely.
The game is given potential replay value by the fact that you’ll have a slightly different experience when playing as Kirk or Spock. Kirk, for example, can call in airstrikes at opportune moments and has much cooler phaser upgrades (brilliantly, his phaser looks more like a six-shooter than the standard issue model), while Spock can nerve pinch and mind meld enemies, including one specific Gorn: the potted history of the species which follows is arguably the highlight of the entire game. The differences aren’t big enough to demand a second playthrough, but if you missed any collectables (including a fun, eight-part Scotty/Tribble story) it's warrants a second look.
Star Trek might not offer the polished experience you expect from a AAA game nowadays, particularly with the pedigree behind it, but it’s one of the better movie tie-ins since GoldenEye on the N64, and certainly the most ambitious. Production and sound design is superb throughout. Film composer Michael Giacchino scores the entire soundtrack which, though good, is relentlessly bombastic. There’s a healthy range of environments – including a trip to the Gorn home world – and one level, which has you chasing a runaway Gorn around the Enterprise, offers a delightfully unexpected change of pace. It never quite impresses enough as a shooter for us to recommend it if you have no interest in Star Trek whatsoever (so knock at least half a star off if you don't), but in spite of all its flaws by the time the credits rolled the experience of stepping into the shoes of Kirk and Spock left us with a rictus grin on our face. It aims for the stars and gets agonisingly close, but by the end never quite reaches them.