Hasslein Blog: GAME REVIEW: Star Trek—The Video Game


Hasslein Blog

Thursday, May 2, 2013

GAME REVIEW: Star Trek—The Video Game


Star Trek: The Video Game

By Rich Handley

The past four decades have seen the release of numerous video games based on the Star Trek universe, ranging from pinball, simulator and text-based games to casino, handheld and graphics-intensive console- and computer-based adventures. The latest is a third-person action-adventure game developed by Digital Extremes for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows platforms. It's based on the rebooted film universe, so there was a lot of potential for this to have been an action-packed thrill-ride romp. Regrettably, it often doesn't live up to that potential.

Published by Paramount Pictures, Namco Bandai Games, Bad Robot Interactive and CBS Studios, Star Trek features cooperative gameplay elements, enabling players to work together as teammates against one or more artificial-intelligence (AI) opponents, in order to heal each other's wounds, provide cover fire during battle, share weapons, defeat enemies, get around obstacles and so forth. At the start of a given chapter, a player chooses whether to portray Kirk or Spock (gameplay is different for each, focused more on shooting or stealth, respectively, with Spock able to perform such Vulcan maneuvers as mind melds and nerve pinches). A fellow player can join in as the companion officer; if not, the AI will assume control of that character—often with absurd results.

The game, designed around the aesthetic of the J.J. Abrams reboot rather than the original reality, provides a decent recreation of the bridge and other areas of the Enterprise, allowing for a nice examination of how Abrams' version of the vessel varies from what came before. The characters likewise resemble the new cast (well, for the most part—some of them look like mannequins based on that cast), and feature the actors' voiceover talents.

The concept of the game is that Kirk and Spock (most of the other characters are very under-utilized) must rescue the New Vulcan colony from the Gorn, and stop them from obtaining a terraforming device called Helios, which they see as a powerful weapon enabling them to conquer the galaxy. (If you find yourself quipping, "I hope David Marcus didn't add protomatter to the device's matrix," you're not alone.) To that end, the duo must make their way past one deadly obstacle after another, with players forced to figure out a series of puzzles (such as matching beeping noises on a monitor to unlock electronic doors) before proceeding to the next hazard. Despite the obvious parallels to Genesis and the Klingons, it's a pretty decent setup for the game, and I wish I could report that it lives up to the hype.

Kirk and Spock, seeking out new life forms and new civilizations

This game is set between the events of Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness. One would thus hope that, like Abrams' films, it would be exciting, humorous, action-packed and emotional. And parts of it are. Portions of the game involving skydiving sequences and spaceship battles provide some genuine thrills, while the game's backgrounds are quite well-rendered. It's clear the designers truly wanted to put out an amazing game, and had they had another year or two to work on it, they might have succeeded.

Unfortunately, not all of the game design is successful. Although the actors do their best to lend an air of authenticity to the game, and despite some fun banter (particularly from Scotty, McCoy and Spock), the voice-synching is frequently off, making the lip movements seem like something out of a Godzilla movie. In addition, the gameplay is redundant: Point your tricorder at a panel or doorway, figure out how to get past it, and then move on to the next one. Rise, lather, repeat, energize. The action scenes, meanwhile, are very typical of a generic third-person shooter, and character movements are often non-fluid and inconsistent.

In short, the game seems as though it was released too soon, before all of the bugs were worked out. Characters' faces sometimes vanish or merge with the scenery, and I actually yelled "Gaaah!" when parts of Kirk's face (not all of it, which was creepy) unexpectedly filled my television screen, even though his body hadn't changed in size. What's more, non-player characters often stand around doing nothing when you need their assistance, or stupidly turn and run into walls for no discernible reason, getting themselves stuck there. When you play as Kirk and are in the midst of sussing out a solution to the latest puzzle, Spock basically bides his time looking at corridor walls or hanging off ladders. You're supposed to be able to summon him with the tricorder, but he sometimes ignores or runs right past (or even through) you. It's frustrating.

"NOW what the Hell is Spock doing? Spock, get your Vulcan ass over here."

And then there are the Gorn. As has been widely discussed ever since preview videos were released, they're nothing like what came before—they're massive, naked, brutal dinosaurs who aren't very bright. On a positive note, the game gets around the differences in appearance by explaining that there are numerous sub-species of Gorn, which actually provides a nice retcon for why the Gorn seen on Star Trek: Enterprise looked so different from the one in "Arena."

I can accept that explanation just fine—there are numerous species of Federation citizens, after all—so that ceased to be a problem for me. In fact, despite my initial negative reaction to the preview videos, I've come to appreciate that the game adds to the diversity of the Trek mythos. We now know something about the Gorn Hegemony that we didn't previously know, and that's great.

But from a gameplay standpoint, the Gorn simply do not make for very formidable foes, as their AI often seems to have no sense of what they (or you) are doing in any given scene. As I played the game, one Gorn stood right next to me, seemingly unaware I was looking him in the face. He then turned and hid behind… nothing. As any parent knows, toddlers playing hide-and-seek will often simply lie down on a carpet and cover their face, figuring that if they can't see you, you can't see them. Apparently, the Gorn follow the same philosophy.

Even THIS Gorn is smarter than the ones in the video game.

For me, though, the biggest issue with the Gorn was neither their altered appearance nor the game's bugs—it was that they don't act like Gorns. At all. In the episode "Arena," much was made of the fact that the human-sized Gorn (who wore a tunic instead of going dino-commando) were powerful but slow-moving. These guys run around like Spielbergian velociraptors. It's like watching George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, and then popping in the Zack Snyder remake. More crucially, the game ignores the episode's reveal that the Gorn were NOT evil, marauding monsters out to conquer and kill everyone in their path; the Federation had inadvertently encroached upon their space, and the Hegemony had reacted by defending themselves from what it saw as hostile invaders. It was all a misunderstanding, and it ended peaceably.

These Gorn, on the other hand, are more in line with what you'd expect from a Jurassic Park game… if Jurassic Park's dinosaurs were trying to turn people into zombies and rule the universe, that is.

Where's Ian Malcolm when you need him?

Between the Gorn's off-kilter motivations, the many bugs and the redundant gameplay, I sadly cannot recommend Star Trek: The Video Game. And that's a shame, as I greatly looked forward to playing it. I am a fan of Abrams' approach, I'm chomping at the bit to watch Into Darkness and I went into this experience enthusiastic and ready for fun. I wish I could say the outcome matched my expectations.

I will say this, though: My 11-year-old son loves it, wall-implanted Spocks and all. And that, I suppose, is all the reason I need to continue playing it.

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