April 29, 2013
The year was 1948. The date, December 10th. The United Nations General Assembly gathered to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 5 of said rights states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Quite how Star Trek: The Video Game got to market then is beyond me. The six or so hours that I spent this past weekend working my way through the latest movie tie-in was definitely tantamount to torture – yes, it definitely felt like a chore, so I’m using the word “working.” It was bloody agony.
Star Trek isn’t a traditional movie tie-in - not in the traditional sense anyway- although it’s clearly been developed and released with the May 2nd release of the much-anticipated Star Trek: Into Darkness movie in mind. The game takes the newly imagined Star Trek crew – from the 2009 film, fresh with likenesses and voices of the new crew – on an adventure to lock metaphorical horns with the Gorn.
So, what kind of game is Star Trek then? Ohhh, is it an imaginative space combat game with all kinds of RTS mechanics for managing the ship? Nope. Okay, then is it a clever Mass Effect clone with Star Trek characters and the universe’s lore? Absolutely not. In fact, it’s a third-person shooter, and a generic one at that. You can play as either Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk or Zachary Quinto’s Spock, leaving the other role to a friend or a companion AI, and you essentially shoot your way across the galaxy getting answers to your questions with your Tricorder and Phaser. Sure, the game at its core has a co-op component and it’s meant to be one of the game’s biggest selling points, but subjecting another friend to its gameplay is surely going to stretch the fabric of even the strongest friendship.
Star Trek is a bold, ambitious game, but its problem lies in its execution. It’s a game that borrows a lot of mechanics from various other games and franchises, which would be more than acceptable, had developer Digital Extremes got the execution right, but it didn’t. In fact, every facet of Star Trek, it’s safe to say that a lot of other games on the market right now do them a lot better. It’s as if the dev team had a checklist of features it wanted to get in the game, but instead of polishing and nailing each of them, it left them as they were, completely unrefined and in some instances, completely broken.
The third-person shooter mechanics are passable at best; the cover mechanic is twitchy, unresponsive at times and bordering on terrible; the platforming is some of the most awful platforming I have ever experience, so much so that I would much rather have colonic irrigation than experience that again; and everything else has just been done before, but much better – take the Dead Space halo jump, Star Trek tries something similar… and it’s just all a bit naff. Digital Extremes performs so many games development faux pas in Star Trek that I’m wondering whether this game was actually some kind of sick joke.
If you were to change the age old Star Trek saying “to boldly go where no man has gone before” to make it more appropriate for the game, it’d have to be changed to, “to boldly go where every dev has gone before and do a worse job than all of them. Gosh we suck.” Or something to that effect.
When the game isn’t barely passable, it’s completely broken. And by passable, we mean a mundane and repetitive one trick pony. Whether you’re talking about Spock getting stuck in scenery, which meant I had to replay a level or getting stuck in scenery myself during a swimming section to the point that I drown, it’s all rather shocking stuff. You have to question whether there was any QA carried out on this game at all! Oh, and there was this one bit of platforming where my AI co-op partner kept falling off, meaning I had to keep replaying the section again, and again, and again… possibly the most frustrating gaming moment of my life. “Play with another person!” you say, “I value my friends more than to subject them to that!” I say.
Then there’s invisible walls, placing checkpoints before unskippable cutscenes, graphical glitches galore, huge amounts of graphical clipping and objects walking through one another, buggy menus, the environments are soulless (even the Enterprise!), buggy controls, there’s a lack of guidance with the hacking mini-games and it has the most diabolical enemy AI I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing. Heck, once, when I was trying to do one of the game’s ‘Commendation’ criteria for extra XP, I had to stealth through a section and all throughout my AI partner basically stood in front of each of the enemy combatants without a care in the world, yet, he was never detected. It’s an example of how Digital Extremes completely fails on the game’s execution.
It’s a shame as well, because the game does a few things which movie tie-ins have been screaming out for, and that’s nailing the production side. I don’t mean from a gameplay sense or even from a presentation sense – the animations are awkward at best and the lip-syncing is shocking – that’s all well and truly lost, but the new cast of the Enterprise all have decent likenesses and have their own voices attributed to them. The chemistry between the characters from the film is there, even if the script is a bit weary in places, and it even has the music that came to prominence in the 2009 reboot. That said, it’s not enough to save it or even make the game remotely enjoyable, it’s just there and that’s the one thing that really should be commended about this game.
Having got the game so completely wrong, was it naïve of us to think Star Trek might have possibly nailed the trophies? Yes. Yes it was. They’re pretty lacklustre and awful all in one instance. Kill 50 with this gun, kill 100 with that gun, upgrade this, upgrade that... in fact, like the rest of the game, it lacks ideas. It’s easy for the most part, if you can stomach the rough ride along the way.
It’s a shame that hot off the back of the success of The Darkness II that Digital Extremes couldn’t deliver another hit. It should have been so much more and could have been had the execution been right. Instead, Star Trek: The Video Game is a title I’d quite happily cast into darkness, and honestly, the human race would be better off as a result for it.
The inclusion of the original cast putting their voices to the game and using the newly crafted original score from the 2009 film are two of its high points, and an example of what every movie tie-in should be like. Everything else just pales in comparison.
The likenesses are solid and the graphics passable, but the environments are soulless, the textures are often horrid and the huge amount of graphical glitches are almost unforgivable.
Star Trek’s playability is measured on a scale that measures from “completely broken” to “barely passable.” Such a shame.
Six hours of mundane shooting all for the sake of some loose story. Star Trek has never been about balls to the walls action, so how did that get lost in the translation?
Like the rest of the game, the trophies feel more like a checklist. Do this, do that, shoot this thing with that gun 50 times, shoot that with that gun 50 times. Yawn.
Star Trek is an ambitious game, one that looks to take the best of the genre and combine them under one roof. How it quite went this wrong though is beyond me. When it’s not barely passable, it’s completely broken. Star Trek is buggy, glitchy and a pain in the ass to play. Set phasers to “no fun” for this one.