Star Trek: The Video Game Review (PS3)

I don’t know what it is about the Star Trek license that makes it hard to develop great games based on it. Maybe it’s the non-violence, the talking-first attitude, the ability to go where no one has gone before? None of which incidentally you will find in Star Trek: The Videogame, a game whose title tells you all you need to know: a crippling lack of originality went into this. This unoriginality seeps through the gameplay and even into the Achievements, where you’ll get such exciting stuff as “Beat Enterprise Level” and “Phaser Master” (kill a certain amount of enemies with a phaser).

Star Trek: The Videogame is set between the two JJ Abrams movies, and while the game takes the new Enterprise crew to New Vulcan (mentioned briefly in Star Trek Into Darkness) there are no crossovers or spoilers for either movie. The Vulcans are conducting some mad experiments to help sustain their new planet when they’re attacked by a lizard-like race called the Gorn. If you know the Gorn from the TV series (where they’ve appeared all of three times in 40 years) or the books you’ll notice that the game version bears no resemblance to what you know, as these Gorn are just lizard-monsters from another dimension. Although there is a cool reference later on in the game to their most famous appearance (and no, I don’t mean in The Animated Series).

Don’t stand up. Don’t ever stand up

The story’s serviceable but doesn’t really go many exciting places – literally, since 85% of the game is spent in tight corridors. The dialogue is better served and even dips into humour now and again, and is brought to life by the full cast from the new movies. Chris Pine’s Kirk isn’t quite as brash as he needs to be, but Zachary Quinto has the easy road as Spock is meant to be emotionless. Simon Pegg and Anton Yelchin get back into their roles as Scotty and Chekov with aplomb so they’re the standouts, and the rest (Zoe Saldana in particular) feel like they’re picking up a paycheque. However I can’t not love Karl Urban as Dr McCoy so I’d never say anything bad about him.

If you’re looking for that Mass Effect with the Enterprise game every Star Trek fan wants you better look elsewhere (Star Trek Online perhaps). If we’re doing comparisons, and we are, Digital Extremes were clearly aiming at Uncharted. Plenty of shooting, some stealth sections, numerous bits of climbing, a bit of swimming, some late game cave-clambering, plenty of random peril moments, and a lot of chat. Trouble is none of those elements have had any of the thought or care put into them that Naughty Dog likes to embellish their Uncharted games with. It’s even got Dead Space-style “jumping through space avoiding obstacles” sections, except that Star Trek’s are abysmal in comparison. They’re definitely the low point of the game.

Platform sections are tedious for a start, and really feel like an afterthought. They’re in the game so sparsely, and used so poorly, that every time I was presented with a hole I needed to jump across I actually had to think about it because I was so unused to doing it. Another tedious part of the game are the hacking minigames, which are just as dull as platforming but sadly far more prevalent. There are three types and all are slow and painful, not to mention not coming with any instructions – the main “line-matching” minigame I spent a good two minutes just figuring out. They’re also impossible in combat, which sometimes you have to do – or order your partner to do it, which is easier as long as he doesn’t get killed doing so.

The brief space moments are pretty cool

The main gimmick of Star Trek is the co-op focused gameplay, which is fine in principle (or if you have a friend who wants to play the game with you) but doesn’t really work out. If you play single-player as Kirk you get Spock along as an AI partner, and not to put too fine a point on it the AI is atrocious. Spock will regularly get stuck on scenery, run into every bit of danger imaginable (and then get downed and have to be revived), and occasionally ignore your commands. At one point Kirk begged for Spock to help him as a Gorn pinned him to the floor and snapped at his neck, and Spock totally ignored both of them and waited for the fight to finish up. Boss fights are rendered ten times more difficult than they need to be thanks to his inability to avoid running straight into danger and getting killed. Thank god at least that Digital Extremes added the ability for him to warp to where you are when a two-player moment is encountered, like prying open one of the many jammed doors around the galaxy. Seriously, TT Games’ LEGO titles have better companion AI than Star Trek (ooh, LEGO Star Trek anyone?).

Shooting is the main gameplay component, and it’s… competent. Nah, give Digital Extremes their due, I did generally enjoy both Star Trek and in particular the shooting parts. I liked how Stun was an option on the Phaser so you could non-lethally takedown everyone if you wanted, how stealth is often an option and how you can Stun robot drones and then hack them with your Tricorder (thankfully without a minigame) to make them fight for you. I don’t know where the Gorn got the ability to make zombies, but the Gorn themselves have a range of species types with different abilities. They’re never particularly bright opponents but they’re a quite capable threat. Later on when you visit the Gorn homeworld a few other species turn up but these aren’t much fun to fight.

Levels are almost completely linear, often to the degree where it doesn’t make sense. Why the hell would one of the two doors on the Enterprise Bridge be locked for V-Ger’s sake? When heavy flaming rubble covers every door on a Starbase though I’d rather they just be locked. While there are a few things throughout the level to scan with the Tricorder in general exploration doesn’t yield much beyond a health terminal or (at best) an audio log. If we’re talking graphically the Unreal Engine 3 recreates the Star Trek Abrams-verse pretty well, albeit with a few more reflective floors and some rather expressionless character faces. Like a lot of the game’s features it’s competent without ever threatening to be imaginative or impressive.

One thing I am going to fully compliment though is, of all things, the music. The composer’s a guy called Chad Seiter (composer of TV’s Fringe amongst other things) and he ably recreates and weaves Michael Giacchino’s new themes from the recent movies into the score with skill, so the soundtrack is often more epic than the events happening on screen. He even seems to reference the classic Kirk Vs Spock battle music in some of the combat tracks if I’m not mistaken, and if not it at least sounds suitably Old Trek Meets New Trek with a primal air suitable for the Gorn. It’s also the first time I’ve ever heard a Star Trek videogame use the proper theme music from the franchise. Mr Seiter, you’re the one bright shining light in this unimpressive game. Kudos.

Boldly going where only Nathan Drake, Commander Shepard, and pretty much every videogame character ever have gone before

Despite many of my misgivings Star Trek is an average but still occasionally fun game, but there are two things stopping me from giving it a cautious recommendation. First is the aforementioned stealing of Spock’s brain (maybe they were referencing Season 3 Episode 1?), but second is the sheer volume of bugs in the game. If you can play through Star Trek and not have to restart a checkpoint (or occasionally an entire level) due to something irritating happening, like a boss becoming invincible, Spock becoming embedded in the scenery, or (in my case) a power cell being permanently stuck to my hands then you’re probably playing Voyager: Elite Force instead. Good on you. Sometimes the bugs are not as catastrophic but just as noticeable, like a Gorn shrugging off a Stun, Kirk hovering in the air for several vulnerable seconds after a takedown, or Scotty firing at an empty corridor while the other NPCs around him run into walls. This is an utterly unfinished game and as I type this it’s several weeks post-release and there are still no signs of a patch incoming, so it’ll probably be a broken mess forever. Great. Oh, and checkpoints range from “saves when you need it” to “doesn’t save after a hard section, unskippable cutscene, or before a boss”.

If you’re a Star Trek fan on a buzz from Star Trek Into Darkness and are both very forgiving and after a mostly competent but not as good Uncharted clone, and most importantly have a friend who is exactly the same, then you’ll probably be content picking up and playing Star Trek: The Videogame for the 7-9 hours it takes to finish. If you’re not then I wouldn’t advise it, especially if you think you might be easily aggravated into acts of violence by an AI companion who gets you killed more often than the Gorn. As one of those Star Trek fans I certainly did enjoy moments of The Videogame, but I think I would’ve had a lot more fun continuing with Star Trek Online instead. This one won’t live long and prosper, and good thing too.

Top Game Moment: Hearing the main theme kick in as you storm through the Enterprise corridors.

Platform Played: PC

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