Star Trek

July 3, 2013, Author: Neil Hickton

Oh my. You know what’s illogical Jim? The fact you can buy games for the same price as Star Trek that have oodles more originality, features and story. Yet as fans of Star Trek you will know that this isn’t the point. The point is you get to experience what it’s like to cruise about in our universe’s most famous fictional space ship, the USS Enterprise NCC-1701.

Coupled with that, you get to play as arguably the world’s most famous fictional captain, James T Kirk, and if that wasn’t enough you could also decide to tickle the game as his anally-retentive alien buddy, Spock. Further to that, you can play with your real-life best mate, backing you up as a co-op buddy. It seems more logical then that one should play this game, if these facts alone beams your target and thrusts your shuttle.

I popped on my pointy ears and proudly affixed my Starfleet insignia on my red Starfleet uniform. I was undoubtedly going to die many times like the poor TV extras from all the Star Trek series’ that died in one episode and then ended up coming back with more to say and do in later episodes of the same series.

This wouldn’t phase me though; I was ready to take on the challenges that lay before me and experience the video-game equivalent of JJ Abrams’s adrenaline-fueled reboot of the franchise. An easy thing to do you’d have thought with all that history, all those wonderful stories to draw from. Yet then I read something curious. The ruthless Gorn invaders. No wait, what?

Deep space fine
So given the saucy evilness of the film reboot, why go in the direction of a bunch of stinky green rubber lizard suit-wearing stunt men? Especially considering they had the movement range of the original Godzilla costume; or if you’re not old enough to remember those, the creature-based baddies in Power Rangers; or if you’re not old enough to remember them, Nicki Minaj.

As far as I was lead to believe, this story is meant to sit somewhere between the end of the first film and supposedly leads you into the goings-on of the next film in the series Into Darkness. However, apart from some rather casual glances at the very beginning and at the very end, this could really be ‘just another day on the bridge, down on a planet, beating up some underpaid stuntmen wearing rubber suits.’ It uses the tried and tested format of the singularly-contained Star Trek episode, and neatly avoids any traps that may displace the fun if you were to watch either film and then play the game.

The game opens with a clunky start: Kirk and Spock under attack from the Gorn, Spock warning about a grenade that the developers didn’t see fit to actually show you and a fade to black. Wow. It wasn’t a great opening to be honest; I would have been happier to have a slow start instead of trying to be clever and bringing the player up to speed with a fairly pointless ‘oh, so the game I’m about to play is actually all flashback’ moment.

It’s not an unusual method to adopt of course. Books and films do this all the time to hook you into what’s going on so you sit through the boring stuff. In actual fact what they’ve managed to do here is delay you from actually playing the game, failing to allow you to get your teeth into it as soon as possible.

Come on Spock! Shoot at them!  ...any time you like  ...Spock!?

Come on Spock! Shoot at them… Any time you like… Spock!?

It didn’t bode well from the two opening scenes, and the story feels like a generic Star Trek-style affair. Aliens (The Gorn, lizard men if you’re still unfamiliar) plot to steal some technology (woo); the enterprise comes to the rescue (weeee); people are infected with a virus that makes them zombie-like (ohhh); Kirk and Spock tiptoe around at odd points ( uh huh), and shoot the shit out of the place (I’m sold!).

It’s not a great story; I never felt compelled to continue because of any twists or unfolds, but its perfectly good enough to give you a purpose to be doing what you want to do, and that is to step into the shoes of Captain Kirk or Spock.

I’m givin’ it all she’s got!
At the heart of the core gameplay, Star Trek wants to be a third-person cover shooter. At this it generally works and it can prove to be fairly fun when the fire-fights break out. The whole cover shooter element of this is fairly well implemented, with a few concerns at times, but I found the enemies intent to rush at you quite a surprise and this left me squealing and shooting or just dead. Whether this was by design or just a feature of the coding I’m not sure.

When the game goes from cover shooter to mimicking the climbing from UnchartedAssassins Creed or Tomb Raider, is when the fun starts, turning Star Trek into the ‘it’s not very functional’ department. Jumping from one place to another is manageable; it works, but is ultimately frustrating. You will fall to your doom, yet you will be convinced you jumped at the right place. You will die, often.

It’s true to say the game is decidedly buggy; for example I played one area, completed all the required tasks and then suddenly all the waypoint markers disappeared, the enemies disappeared and I was unable to complete the level as nothing was being triggered.  The only way to carry on, was to restart the entire level.

Another example of the bugs in this game is when I cleared an area of Gorn and proceeded down a corridor and into a room. I decided to return down the corridor and back to the area I’d cleared of the enemy to search around for anything else I could scan with my tricorder. I was taken by surprise by a Gorn soldier. “What’s this?” I exclaimed, thinking this game was sneaky. It turns out it was a bug; the Gorn soldier was impervious to my phaser. I had to reload the game and start that section again.

I chose to be Kirk on my initial playthrough, making Spock my sidekick for the entire game. I’m not really sure what good he actually did. He spent most of his time not helping in firefights, ducking down and ignoring the enemy as much as possible. If anything he spent more time shouting “Captain, I’m down” expecting me to run over and revive him every few minutes. He did occasionally help out, but this is a good example of how AI can make games frustrating.

Spock (or Kirk depending on who you play) is useful for some things and that’s assisting with the game’s various door locks, switches and control panels. It is here where they will become the best they ever prove to be in the entire game. You can order them to hack a door lock, computer terminal or enemy device, so you don’t have to go through the frankly arduous task every time.

It’s becoming a more common design element in games to give you something to do in the form of a mini game before you can be rewarded with progress. On one hand it’s a nice diversion and gives an element of pressure to achieve while you are surrounded by enemies; it works. On the other hand it can feel very arbitrary at times and certainly the two person puzzles were by far the most annoying thing I’ve experienced in a video-game for some time. The reason is that you can’t progress unless you get them right. They are simple enough in concept, but they just feel pointless and take you away from the actual game for too long and give very little reward for your effort (other than progress).

The tricorder is a wicked little gadget; I really enjoyed how they’ve  implemented it here. You get a sense of the true digital age while using it and this provides you with lots of information. You see the universe in a different way, allowing you to explore your environment more deeply.

The waypoint system is laughable at times and you learn to distrust it, like that cheap car GPS you bought, leaving you to flag down shifty-looking local farmers for directions instead. Your waypoint marker is available via the tricorder; however, be warned  as occasionally you have to move away from the waypoint to progress on a level.

The lack of help you get in this game can be a little frustrating. Fairly early on in the game I failed to understand what I was supposed to do. Perhaps this was my fault, but I don’t remember seeing any instruction as to where I was supposed to be going or doing. I proceeded to fall to my death or get cut up by a laser so many times I was nearly at joypad-throwing levels of rage.

Puzzles are fabulously unexplained, leaving you to think, “did I miss something, did they say what I was supposed to do?”. Maybe by doing this the developers felt this made the puzzles more fulfilling to complete. However, it is here where the major problems with the game becomes apparent; the puzzles combined with the sometimes clunky controls let it all down overall. Rather than feeling clever that you worked out a puzzle, you just feel cheated when the solution is simple, coupled with control frustration.

This game is illogical, Captain…

There are some scenes set in space and these could easily have been cut from the game.  They do give a sense of being in a much larger environment surrounded by other spaceships and dangerous fragments; it’s just they are perhaps the worst aspect of the entire game when it comes to controls. Given these are the critical path they force you to move around the screen like a dodgy flight-sim with knackered controls and then expect you to avoid or pass-through debris. I invariably found I had to restart from the checkpoint over and over until I worked out I needed to be about another ten pixels to the left, right, up or down.

Check out my seven of nines
When I first saw screenshots for this game, I felt quite excited. I thought Star Trek meets Mass Effect. Finally, I thought; a Star Trek game that gets its just desserts. Often the graphics on show are well-realised, but let down by some less-than-fantastic models. For instance when you first come close up with a Gorn, it’s a horrible mix of pixels and it felt like I was playing on a much older console all of a sudden.

The faces look like the actors, though they look like something you’d see while watching Silence of The Lambs; skinned faces worn over someone else’s head. At times these faces can look pretty good; however, once they are moving and talking it’s just not the same any more. That said, you can see who they are and what they are doing, but don’t expect any emotion to come at you visually.

The graphics can be really glitchy at times, though its not so bad that it gets in the way of the game. The kind of glitches you can expect are seeing through from inside the characters’ bodies or when you get pinned down by something. The camera moves around and you disappear from view. These things happen quite often unfortunately, though not so often it makes it unplayable.

One still very fixable dislike I had with this game was at the point when you first come in close contact with a Gorn. The developers saw fit to present us with a very low-res model of a Gorn. Something that while doesn’t ruin the game, kind of describes the entire flaw in the game’s design. The bits you’re meant to see are a little underwhelming and the bits you may not see as often can be quite stunning. They could patch this easily I’m sure, but I doubt they ever would.

Surprisingly, this game supports stereoscopic 3D. Yes, I know; amazing huh. Problem is, it’s a little bit clunky and it’s not the smoothest 3D I’ve seen by a long phaser shot. I couldn’t play it for long before I felt it hurt my eyes and melted my brain. It’s a bad mixture of camera movement and a drop in refresh rate that makes everything appear not quite in-focus or partially blurred.

The best game I’ve played in 3D so far on my setup has to be Uncharted 3, and that provides quite a rich set of features on this front; nice and smooth 3D without the crazy camera. Star Trek in 3D should work, but it doesn’t. Don’t be swayed to buy it just because you’ll be able to try it on your fancy 3D telly; you will be disappointed.

Set phasers to stun
Sound effects are, as you would expect for a game in the Star Trek franchise, really very good. You’ll happily fire phasers and photon torpedoes; you’ll take happy rides in turbo lifts; you’ll open and close doors just to hear the Star Trek open/close door noise. You will purposely whip out your tricorder at every opportunity just to hear that special little noise.  Star Trek noises, all there, complete and they sound lovely.

Being a movie tie-in of sorts it may come as no surprise that given the actors’ faces have all been digitised (can I still use this term), so have their wondrous voices. To be honest their vocal acting is on par with the movies; lines are delivered in the same tone and fervour.  However, I fear the game’s direction and a distinct lack of variety in retorts have an occasional grating effect, at the point where the same line is uttered for a third or fourth time or when they come at you completely out of context, such as intonation set at “unexcited” when the world is about to end.

I’ve heard it said that good movie music shouldn’t be heard; it should be felt through the weight of a scene. The music here is suitably Star Trek, and while rousing isn’t really the right word it is certainly what I felt was fitting. Can I remember the tune now while writing this? No. Make of that what you will, but there’s nothing wrong with it; though I felt it was a little sparse in the musical variety department.

Tri-dimensional chess
As I’ve mentioned you can play Star Trek with a friend and this helps to avoid some of the AI problems I’ve mentioned. Of course, it does mean that one of you has to do those repetitive hacking mini-games. You can play as Kirk or Spock and this will define what abilities or weapons you use. I can see that this may be quite entertaining if you wish to share your Star Trek game experience with someone else at the same time.

To boldly go
I was very close to hating this game entirely. The only thing that saved it was that in spite of all its problems and frustrating gameplay elements, I actually enjoyed it. Crazy as that sounds and pinch yourself if you must, I said it. Unfortunately, I don’t love it enough to inform you that you should rush out and buy this game; quite the opposite.

The experience was altogether mediocre, and while the Star Trek universe will be a draw for many it’s just not the game it could have been. That’s not to say the framework isn’t there, because it clearly has had a lot of care and attention along its development cycle. The shame is that it appears Star Trek needed more time to be polished up and to remove the bugs and the frustrations. More time that a movie tie-in release clearly couldn’t have afforded.

It lacks the full Star Trek sensation that we all deserve. After all we have all grown up with at least one favorite Star Trek episode or film. I’ve spent a few weeks deliberating over what to award this bag of random nails; I’ve been concerned that I’ve been overly critical of the controls, the AI, the puzzles and the graphics available in this game. It must have been bad as I didn’t even mention it in this month’s podcast as a game I’d played recently.

All that said, I do have a little soft spot for Star Trek that I didn’t realise I had, but this was only available to me on reflection. I do not recommend you buy this game, I’m sorry to say. If you have a list of games on a rental list somewhere or you quite like Star Trek, then perhaps you should try it out. Unfortunately, you will need to play it for a few hours to really see what the developers where trying to get at. For the rest of us, avoid it like the plague, else you will be left feeling very unsatisfied.


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