The eponymous show behind Digital Extremes’ Star Trek
was always about exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, and boldly going where no man has gone before. In a world of licensed games, this would be a noble goal, but unfortunately, this game goes where many have gone before and not in bold ways.
Summoned by the distress call of a remote space station orbiting a binary star, the Enterprise is called in to assist and evacuate scientists from a project of which the Federation has no knowledge. After this tutorial mission, the Enterprise is directed to New Vulcan where a team of scientists is using a device known as the Helios Machine to create a new homeworld for the Vulcan people. As you can imagine, things go awry when the lizard men known as The Gorn invade, steal the machine, wreak havoc, and begin to make lives miserable for everyone. Playing as Kirk and/or Spock, your mission is to recover the Helios Machine and save the kidnapped scientists.
Built on the skeleton of a third-person, cover-based shooter, Star Trek
does the basics: you can take cover, aim around/over it, blind fire, sprint, and roll in and out of danger. Unfortunately, none of these mechanics work well. The controls are incredibly sluggish and alternate between being hyper-sensitive and completely unresponsive. Getting into and out of cover is a chore (when it works), and the shooting mechanics lack any type of panache or feel. Further adding to the troubles is that this is what happens when the game works well
. During my playthrough, there were countless times when I lost complete control of my character (Kirk would literally start running through a firefight like a runaway train) resulting in blown objectives, deaths, and general mayhem. The poor control execution doesn’t stop at the base game of running, gunning, and sneaking, however; Kirk and Spock are also expected to do platforming, climbing, and (brace yourself) swimming
. All of these problems are compounded by the game’s context sensitive button-prompts which can appear and disappear at the worst times or simply fail to show up, forcing you to restart from a previous checkpoint. In all my years playing games, I have rarely experienced this level of frustration
with a game’s controls.
In addition to the core gameplay of combat, platforming, and cover, there are also three distinct hacking minigames that are required to accomplish objectives. While each of these minigames functions at a decent level of competency, they become a laborious and boring chore as the game progresses. The most egregious offender is a minigame that requires both Kirk and Spock to interact with a console to progress forward. This becomes downright intolerable when an AI-controlled Spock gets hung up somewhere which, again, will force you to restart from a previous checkpoint.
Adding to these troubles is the tricorder mechanic, which requires you to hold down the left bumper to scan environments. This wouldn’t be a problem if gaining experience weren’t directly connected to scanning environments, objects, weapons, and enemies. The end result is that gamers will be running
walking slowly around every new area with their finger firmly pressed on the LB button, trying to find every scannable object so that they can purchase upgrades to phasers and tricorders. This is especially onerous since upgrades for Kirk and Spock have to be purchased separately
. Additional experience can be gained by earning commendations for completing a level “like a true Starfleet Officer”. Commendations are usually given for accomplishing missions with non-lethal and stealth tactics.
The game does do a relatively good job of modeling characters based on the likenesses of the actors who portray them. The principal cast of the movie series (Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as McCoy, Simon Pegg as Scotty, John Cho as Sulu, Anton Yelchin as Chekov, and Zoe Saldana as Uhura) all lend their faces and voices and do an admirable job of voice acting. Unfortunately, this performance only extends to when the character models are not moving or speaking. Facial animations are virtually nonexistent and little effort was made to make mouths match dialogue. One scene in particular had poor Bones looking like a cheap ventriloquist’s dummy. Compounding upon these animation problems is the fact that objects (Kirk, Spock, enemies, friends, doors, walls, you name it) will routinely clip through cover and walls and you’ll routinely get hung up on scenery, dead enemies, and invisible geometry as you try to navigate environments.
The biggest transgression the game has, however, is that it alternates between hand-holding tutorials and audio cues and areas where zero guidance is offered. The game’s tutorial mission has one of the most frustrating examples. Kirk and Spock need to work together to slow down a set of massive, spinning rings, then fire at a locking mechanism to make them stop. One character slows down and temporarily stops the rings, while the other is responsible for shooting out the lock. During my playthrough, I had Spock (my AI-controlled partner) slow the rings while I attempted to shoot out the locks. I say, “attempted,” because the game gave numerous and almost constant audio cues for me to shoot out the lock, but did not give any visual clue as to where that lock was. It was the equivalent of a drunk person repeatedly shouting at you to take them home without telling you where their home is. These problems are repeated throughout the game and commonly crop up as disappearing navigation markers, disingenuous way-finding, and glitched out button cues that are needed to transition. The worst offender is an early sequence where you take control of the Enterprise’s defenses and need to shoot down enemy fighters and torpedoes. The game gives zero guidance on exactly how to accomplish this mission and basically demands that you figure it out on the fly.
One of the game’s main selling points is the co-op, which allows a friend to take over as Spock (or Kirk, if you’re the magnanimous type), having spent several hours in co-op with another reviewer, I can say that playing with another person definitely makes the experience more tolerable, since it eliminates much of the poor AI and gives you someone with whom to commiserate. That being said, the co-op is not drop-in/drop-out and requires the host to be at a checkpoint before a partner can load in. Couch co-op is also available and while I did not experience it myself, there have been reports of it being incredibly buggy.
The achievement list for Star Trek
at first glance looks rather tame. You’ll earn achievements for killing a certain number of enemies with each of the game’s weapons, as well as progressing in the story, upgrading your phaser and tricorder, and finding all of the game’s collectibles (of which there are many and can only be found/tagged with thorough exploration using the tricorder feature). Unfortunately, the list highlights an incredible case of ludonarrative dissonance; the game rewards you for completing missions with stealth and non-lethal techniques, but the achievement list primarily rewards combat. Editorial quibbles aside, the achievement list shouldn’t stop completionists from giving Star Trek
a shot, so long as they don’t mind multiple playthroughs as both Kirk and Spock, and the sadomasochistic experience of attempting to beat such a buggy game on “Hard”.
The Kobayashi Maru was a famous test in Star Trek
, the goal of which was to force command-track cadets to recognize a “no-win” scenario, face their fears, and accept the possibility of death. While it may not have been Digital Extremes’ goal to recreate such a harrowing adventure, they certainly have. The game’s many bugs and flaws make it the ultimate “no-win” scenario for Star Trek
fans who might feel compelled to give it a try. The reviewer spent approximately ten hours split between single player and co-op over Xbox LIVE, beating the game on its Medium setting. He earned 22 of the game’s 49 achievements and is very-much looking forward to returning the disc to the kiosk from which it was rented.