Remember the 2009 Star Trek reboot? Remember how there is another movie coming this month that will probably gross a kajillion dollars? Did you know that there is a game tie-in that was just released? No? Me neither. Until about two weeks ago, that is. Star Trek: The Game has arrived, with less hype and marketing than I thought was possible for a blockbuster movie tie-in. After playing the game, I can sort of understand why. Publisher Namco-Bandai probably figured out a long time ago that the game wasn’t worth spending a lot of money on to promote.
The problem with Star Trek: The Game isn’t that any one part of it works so poorly that it ruins everything. There is nothing in the gameplay that is downright broken or excruciatingly bad. The biggest problem with the game is that it captures absolutely none of the spirit of JJ Abrams’s Star Trek. The characters have no charm, wit, or pizzazz. Their dialog is boring, and it is delivered without emotion. The voice actors sound like they either phoned in their performances, or they were on valium when they recorded the lines. Zachary Quinto’s flat work as Spock is especially disappointing. There are some attempts to create a dynamic between Spock and Kirk, but they all end up sounding like this:
Spock: “Captain. This bridge has been destroyed. I believe that we will have to find an alternate route.”
Kirk: “Really, Spock? Did you figure that out by yourself?”
Since Star Trek is a game built for co-op, Kirk and Spock are in every scene. Most of their dialog follows this simple pattern:
Spock: “Banal statement about the mission objectives”
Kirk: “Sassy retort”
Another disappointment with Star Trek: The Game is that it makes little use of The Enterprise. When I think of an ideal Star Trek game, I think of a Mass Effect style structure where you go out on missions, and in between missions you can roam around the ship, chatting with your crewmates. The Enterprise should be the home base — the centerpiece of the game. The inside of the Enterprise hardly shows up here, and most of what shows up doesn’t look different than generic hallways, other than the bridge. At least you can sit in the captain’s seat – that does count for something, I guess.
The plot is typical shooter/adventure far. The universe’s few remaining Vulcans are trying to find a new home planet, and they have built some sort of ultra-powerful device for doing so. Surprise – the device can also be used to blow stuff up, so some bad guys steal it! It’s Kirk’s job to get it back. The story is pretty boring, and it doesn’t do anything interesting with the characters. It does provide an effective excuse to get from point A to point B, but not much beyond that.
The gameplay is typical, low-risk material that you usually find in a licensed game. It probably comes as no surprise to you that there are no original gameplay elements in Star Trek: The Game. It is mostly cover-based shooting, with a little bit of platforming, hacking, and button-pushing here and there. To Digital Extreme’s credit, they did a good job of picking the gameplay elements that work well with a new Star Trek game. Since Kirk is a Nathan Drake-esque swashbuckling hero, it makes sense that he should be shooting bad guys and occasionally navigating dangerous areas by jumping from one ledge to another. The tricorder makes for a good excuse to hack stuff, unlock doors, and provide minigames. The “stun” setting on phasers makes it possible to complete the game in a nonviolent manner. A rudimentary role playing system allows you to upgrade your equipment, which gives you a little bit of variety on how to approach various situation. On paper, Star Trek: The Game doesn’t sound too bad. It is in the execution where it falters.
The shooting functions. The platforming functions. Everything generally functions. Nothing about the game is horrible, but there is nothing exceptional or memorable either. It just isn’t very fun, and after six years of cover-based shooting, games need to do more than function. The levels are usually pretty small, and the action is frequently broken up with cut scenes and loading screens. There are no good extended battles, and no real climaxes either. Even though the game is pretty easy, there are a lot of instances where it does a poor job of explaining to you what you need to do next, or where you need to go; that’s a big problem for a game that is clearly intended for a casual audience. The co-op doesn’t add much value to the game, since the only time that it seems to make a difference is when one player heals the other one. Beyond that, the teamwork is limited to prying doors open together and making sure that you are both in the elevator so that the mission can advance.
For the most part, Star Trek is a decent looking game. The PC version does run pretty well, and it has the customization and control options that you would expect in a PC game. Its art direction certainly won’t remind you of Bioshock: Infinite any time soon though, and the facial animations for Spock and Kirk aren’t well refined. The game does, however, does at least use the full color palette. It might be a pretty boring shooter, but at least it isn’t another boring brown shooter.
As licensed games go, there have been worse than Star Trek. It stays out of the bottom of the barrel, but that statement isn’t a ringing endorsement of the game. While I never went into this game expecting great gameplay, I at least hoped that it could produce the feel and charm that Sulu, Uhura, Spock, Kirk, and Bones showed in the 2009 movie. The aim of any licensed game should be to give you the feeling of being those characters. This game does nothing of the sort, and that is why it is a failure. A more ambitious script, combined with a few memorable levels, would have made for a pretty good game. Instead, Star Trek: The Game, is a boring experience that you will forget about soon after you are done with it.