In 2007, we all got to experience the wonders of the best Star Trek video game ever conceived. It had traveling to different planets, more alien races than you could hope to see in a game that could fit on one DVD-9, an epic science-fiction plot and an enemy that could have come straight out of a brilliant Trek script from a writer like Paul Schneider, D.C. Fontana or Ronald D. Moore. It was a remarkable blend of role-playing games and third-person shooters that was able to make even the most cantankerous of gamers fall in love with it. It had its issues – as many games do – but the immense, almost boundless universe that was created within the title has made many science-fiction fans look to it as one of the best ways to tell a story in the interactive medium. This Star Trek game was, of course, called Mass Effect. As for Star Trek: The Video Game, I think we might want Namco to take another pass on this one.
Star Trek: The Video Game takes place in the time between the two newest films in the canon, Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness. You play as either Kirk or Spock (or, if you have a friend, both): the science-fiction Mario and Luigi. After saving a Vulcan space station from crashing into a stellar collision, you head over to the planet that a Vulcan research team is calling “New Vulcan”. On the planet, a race of space lizards called the Gorn (yes, that Gorn) has stolen a piece of technology that may very well destroy the universe as we know it (or will know it…though this Star Trek timeline is an alternate reality, so we may never know this universe at all…I'll stop now). It is up to the Enterprise crew to retrieve this Vulcan MacGuffin and stop the Gorn from destroying us all.
The story for Star Trek: The Video Game was written by BAFTA Award-winning writer, Marianne Krawczyk, and it is easily the best part of this game. Now, that does not mean that the story is a shining piece of interactive storytelling. Frankly, it's pretty run-or-the-mill, but a hell of a lot more reminiscent of a Star Trek story than either of the J.J. Abrams films. The fact that the story is the best part of this game is merely a testament to how unfortunately bad this game truly is.
I say “unfortunately” because, throughout its development, I was looking forward to playing the game. While Digital Extremes has had a less-than stellar reception after their run on the Unreal Tournament games with Epic – with games like 2008's Dark Sector and the seemingly tacked-on multiplayer portion of BioShock 2 – the team did quite well with their port of BioShock onto PlayStation 3 and last year's The Darkness II was said to be fairly good game. My hope was that Star Trek might be another step in the right direction, not only for Digital Extremes, but for licensed games, in general. Oh, how wrong I was, guys. Oh, how wrong I was…
Star Trek: The Video Game plays like a third-person shooter, which should ideally work for the franchise. Unfortunately (again with that word), the combat system is fairly lackluster and, at
many most times, just flat-out broken. The game has a cover system that works really when it damn well pleases. After playing Tomb Raider earlier this year, I long for the day when context-sensitive cover systems make their way into all third-person adventure games. Trying to shoot while popping out of cover is an ordeal, as well. Your weapon rarely stays on the target that you were aiming at, causing you to get hit by the enemy right in front of you. You know, the one you were trying to shoot in the first place. And trying to go from one cover point to another never works the way it promises. Most times, you'll make it there, but your character will just stand right up, causing you to lose whatever stealthiness you had managed to keep up to
Now, let's talk about the game's artificial intelligence. Throughout the game, whether you play Kirk or Spock, your companion will always be at your side. Well, at least that is what you hope. Many a time, you will find yourself being surrounded by enemies and wondering just why your brother-in-arms is not flanking or, at the very least, right next to you, ducking behind cover. Whenever this happens, you will pull out your handy-dandy Tricorder and find that Spock is 60 meters behind you, in another god damned room, running into a wall. If this were to only happen once or twice, you might just forgive it. Every game has glitches when they first come out. But this will happen throughout the game on many an occasion, usually when you need that pointy-earned hobgoblin to save your neck.
Enemy AI is almost as much of a travesty as its companion counterpart. Many times, enemies will just be facing walls and you can just walk right up to them and perform “stealth” kills. Or, in single player, they will focus entirely on your character, while the companion AI is just running around, doing whatever the fuck he wants.
Let me share with you a perfect example to explain how poorly–crafted the AI is. You will be in a firefight and the companion AI will, apropos of nothing, run right into the enemy's area to…I don't know…go Rambo on their ass, I suppose. He will walk within inches of many of the enemies – even walking right in front of them, then quickly shifting out of their way as they shoot you to go somewhere behind them – and continue forth. Neither AI reacts to the other. The enemy doesn't kill the companion and vice versa. You will still be shot at by a dozen enemies and your companion will finally be realized, shot, then remain on the ground, screaming, “Help…Captain! I am in need of assistance.” This is Star Trek: The Video Game.
Now, I've spent a lot of time on the negative, but allow me to share things that I found positive in this game. The game looks pretty. The environments and characters all look ripped out of a J.J. Abrams-Trek flick. The Tricorder tool is a nice way of seeing the world around you and noticing how items react to one another. As a Star Trek geek, I appreciated being able to use a Tricorder in any capacity. I also thought that the Pause screen looked pretty. I know that sounds weird, but when you pause, the camera pulls out above your gameplay and it just looks nice. Voice acting was top-notch, thanks to the film cast lending their voices to the game. Oh, Michael Giacchino's music was beautiful! But, it's Michael Giacchino scores, so you can never go wrong with that!
All in all, Star Trek: The Video Game seemed like it was rushed. I never believe that any developer looks to put out a sub-par game and I feel that Digital Extremes is better than this. Had this game come out at the end of the year rather than trying to beat the release of Star Trek Into Darkness, this could very well have been a game that Star Trek fans and shooter fans alike would have adored. Unfortunately (last time, I swear), we just are not living in that reality.
Pop culture geek, Nick Boisson, lives in front of his computer, where he is Section Editor of Comics Bulletin's video game appendage and shares his slushily obsessive love of video games, comics, television and film with the Internet masses. In the physical realm, he works in Guest Relations for Florida Supercon in Miami as well as a day-to-day job, which he refuses to identify to the public. We're thinking something in-between confidential informant and professional chum-scrubber.