Star Trek Offers Satisfying Sci-fi Experience
Games that come out in conjunction with a movie have a bad reputation. Often seen as an attempt to cash in on the movie’s success, there is a long line of examples in the not very good pile. With the release of the Star Trek video game coming out just before the Star Trek into Darkness movie, fans are probably a bit wary. Thankfully, Star Trek turns out to be a pretty fun game, bristling with the type of excitement and story we’ve come to expect from the long history of TV shows and movies.
The game boots up to the deck of the Enterprise, and we see all the characters from the new movie series perfectly rendered. Developer Digital Extremes was given access to the complete library of material from Paramount, so all the graphics and even all the sounds are exact. As a big Star Trek fan, that was enough to get my blood pumping, though I was still a little wary of how the game would ultimately unfold.
Star Trek the game takes place between the two movies, and as such offers no spoilers against Into Darkness. Taking us on a completely new adventure is a great idea, something other movie tie-in titles should consider.
In the single player game, players can choose to be Captain Kirk or Commander Spock. Both have different skills, and slightly different build-outs for when they level up. When you are playing by yourself, the non-chosen character comes along for the ride, adding their firepower as well as their wit and charm. You can invite someone else online to play with you, or you can play locally with another player. I actually really enjoyed playing with a friend (he is so much more like Spock to my Kirk in real life) in the same room, but wasn’t a big fan of the split screen interface. The game splits the screen horizontally for two player local play. Given that almost everyone has a widescreen TV these days, I think a better choice would have been to split the screen down the middle, giving each player a half-size yet complete screen to work with. In any case, the bulk of this review will be playing the single player game, though I did on occasion allow people to join me through the PlayStation network.
You start the game with Kirk and Spock playing chess. Then you are asked to report to the bridge, never a good sign for a Starfleet officer. This gives you a little bit of time to explore the corridors of the Enterprise before all heck starts breaking loose. In fact, I kind of wish there were more of those times, when you can look around and imagine you are really on the beloved starship. You do eventually get to see some Enterprise areas that have never been shown before, but things are happening so fast at that point that you can’t really stop to enjoy it.
What begins as a simple rescue mission turns out to be the start of a full-scale invasion from that most amazing of Star Trek villains, the Gorn. For those of you who don’t remember, the Gorn are the huge lizard creatures that are tough and more than a little scary. In the 1960’s TV show, Kirk gets stranded on a planet with one and has to fight it to the death. To do so, he makes gunpowder out of available minerals, loads it into a bamboo cannon and fires raw diamonds at the Gorn. And all it does is stun it. There is a point in the game that pays homage to that episode too, where you have to assemble something to fight a particularly huge Gorn warrior. Trekkies will get the reference for sure.
As you adventure through space stations, starships and strange planets, one thing you will need to do is make extensive use of your tricorder. There are all kinds of logfiles to find that flush out the story, but also everyday objects used by aliens or even Starfleet to find. Each one of these earns you experience points which can be used to level up your character’s powers. In fact, finding these objects amounts to the bulk of the experience awarded in the game, especially considering you get a huge bonus for completing a set. In a lot of ways this reminded me of the Ghostbusters game, where you had to use your PKE meter to locate haunted objects. But here the tricorder is a much better tool, able to see through walls and to highlight researchable objects, which then must be scanned. Some objects, like tribbles, are rare and incredibly well hidden, but worth a lot of XP if you can find them.
Your characters don’t have actual levels, but it’s kind of like leveling when you spend XP to increase the efficiency of your tools. For example, a low level power which can be purchased is called Shield Boost, which is a tricorder upgrade. Once bought, you point it at your partner and activate it to increase the power of their shields by about twenty percent. When playing alone, buying it for the NPC will cause them to use it on you as soon as possible, and thereafter whenever you need it. Your weapons can also be upgraded, with Kirk’s phaser able to fire on full auto and Spock’s weapon able to launch a burst of stun energy to just name a few. By the end of the game you should be able to purchase every upgrade you want based on your play style, sooner if you are good at scanning every possible thing.
The game itself is a balance of combat sequences, jumping puzzles, exploration and an occasional boss battle. There is also a surprising emphasis on stealth, which involves sneaking around and trying to stun your enemies before they can cry out or alert any others. One huge power that you will want to buy as early as possible for Kirk is the ability to one-shot knockout enemies with a massive phaser burst. Otherwise, you have to stun them and then walk over to physically take them down. The one shot stunning hit makes a lot of the stealth challenges actually able to be accomplished.
There are also quite a few hacking puzzles. These involve matching frequencies on a grid or moving a little dot through a maze of walls trying to get it safely to a receptacle on the far side. You can buy a power that lets you automatically hack most devices, but if you use it, you forfeit any XP gain you would have normally earned for solving the puzzle.
It’s not really a flight simulator, but you will also get to fly the Enterprise in a sort of arcade-like battle sequence that has you firing phasers at incoming fighters and launching torpedoes at enemy capital ships.
The sound effects are as perfect as you can get for a Star Trek title. It’s all the sounds from the actual movies, so you can’t get much better than that. And the actors from the films not only give their likeness to the game, but also their voices. The banter between Kirk and Spock is priceless, as always, but so is the always-complaining Bones when he gets his cameos. Sulu gets a surprisingly big role too, and he adds yet another dimension to the stellar cast and crew that made me happy whenever he was in a scene.
Graphically, Star Trek is a little bit of a mixed bag. The developers seem to have done a lot with the lighting effects, with phaser blasts coloring the walls as they pass and stuff like that. And the character models look like their real-world counterparts too. But some of the environments, especially once you leave the Enterprise, seem a bit generic with caves and alien rooms repeated more than once. The detail is certainly there for Enterprise missions, and that is probably what makes the rest of it noticeable as a sort of ‘generic sci-fi set number three’ backdrop. Given that you spend most of your time on away missions, the yawn factor gets a bit high. Had it not been Kirk and Spock pulling me along with their funny comments, I probably wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun navigating the dull off-ship environments.
There is also something else that bothers me a bit about the game, and that is at one point you will be fighting your way through an alien prison. The Gorn have enslaved another race that are sort of a cross between a cat and a garden slug. But even though you can open their cells and stuff like that, you can’t really free them. They don’t seem to move or run away, even if you kill or stun all the Gorn guards watching over them. There is a resistance movement up the mountains, but the ones being worked to death can’t be helped. I think it would be more in the Star Trek spirit, especially for Kirk, to help them out. At one point a log entry mentions the Prime Directive as the reason, but still, the freed aliens should react to being freed even if you don’t actively help them beyond that.
I had a great time playing Star Trek. I’m probably being a bit more lenient on it because I’m such a fan of the series, but then again, perhaps that makes me a harsher critic. Star Trek is a nearly-perfect window into that sci-fi world that many of us know and love. Despite a few flaws, this is a good effort that can be enjoyed by fans of the series as well as those who just want to experience a good space story. Star Trek earns a respectable 4 GiN Gems for boldly going into movie tie-in territory and emerging unscathed.