Quick Take: Trek's latest video game tries too much to be like the Abrams' films and forgets how to be a good game.
There is a moment in Star Trek: The Video Game when a firefight with the Gorn leads to a door, and behind that door stands one of the game’s Vulcan NPC characters calmly waiting for your arrival as if it was an airport terminal on a weekday afternoon. Never mind the fact that every area around this room is crawling with cannon toting Gorn.
This lack of logic is a microcosm for the bafflingly poorly executed game as a whole, ironic since one of its two playable character’s belief systems is structured around the examination and acceptance of logic. If Spock sat down to play Star Trek: The Video Game, he’d quickly flip open his communicator and make the request, “Beam me out of here, Scotty.”
The game is designed as a bridge between the 2009 J.J. Abrams film Star Trek and its sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness. The planet Vulcan has already been destroyed and what’s left of the Vulcan population is trying to turn another planet into a new thriving Vulcan civilization using a powerful machine.
The nasty side effect of this machine is that it rips giant wormholes open, and through these holes come the Gorn aliens who want the world building machine for their own nefarious reasons.
Star Trek: The Video Game was billed as a cooperative experience with Kirk and Spock working together to eradicate the Gorn threat. Spock would use his logic to defuse situations, while Kirk would be brash and come out guns-a-blazing.
Instead, there is little to differentiate Kirk and Spock other than the color of their shirt and dialogue coming from their mouths.
Spock does have his signature Vulcan pinch move to incapacitate enemies, but otherwise they both partake in a run-and-gun fight against the Gorn. As a consolation, they do cooperatively unlock the silliest and most aggravating door lock mini-games I’ve ever seen, and also climb through certain areas via a path that is so obvious it might as well be lit by airport runway lights.
I tried to inject a little character into Spock by leaving his phaser on stun, but that only lasts a few seconds and ultimately all the Gorn had to be taken down for good, completely defeating the purpose of using stun.
For an alien race that has the technology to build massive spaceships and a variety of weaponry, the Gorn are no smarter than their appearance as a velociraptor crossed with an iguana. Actually they are less intelligent since a velociraptor will actually hunt in packs with some semblance of a brain.
The Gorn act like angry dinosaurs possessing varying degrees of strength. As an example of illogical programming, the first Gorn faced is a beast to take down and took myself and another player over 20 minutes to dispose of as the radius of his swinging tail would make “contact” even if it missed by 10 feet. Subsequent Gorn are easier until the next brute is encountered.
In this case, “easy” is a polite way of saying “stupid.” The Gorn are smart enough to shoot a weapon in the direction of their target, but on multiple occasions they lose sight of the target and I was able to literally walk right up to them, bump into them, tricorder them, shoot them; whatever I wanted without eliciting a reaction to my presence. They make velociraptors look like Napoleon on the battlefield, and unfortunately most of the game is designed to be a third-person shooter taking these jokers on.
The Enterprise is a big part of the Star Trek mythos and it has been included in the game. Instead of getting to pilot the ship or feel like you’re in command or making strategic decisions, the controls have been reduced to flicking on shields and firing torpedoes in what amounts to a series of poorly designed mini-games that lack instruction or importance. Star Trek and its flagship deserves better.
Dismissing the game’s “video game” components leaves behind a respectably produced narrative and presentation. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and the rest of the Star Trek cinematic team lend their voices to add a dose authenticity, though their acting is a level below that of the films. Some of the cut-scenes are fun to watch, and everything – save for the dino-Gorn – looks as if it naturally belongs in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek universe.
My perception is that the story and cinematics were designed first and gameplay segments shoehorned in later. There are countless instances of watching a cut-scene, running down a hallway for 10 seconds, and then being thrown into another cut-scene. The unevenness of the cut-scenes versus gameplay is unlike I have ever encountered before.
There are good intentions behind Star Trek: The Video Game that I personally first witnessed during the game’s E3 debut two years ago. The early demo was sharp and fresh, with the Bad Robot folks even showing up right after my group’s demo to give it their thumbs up at the time.
In retrospect that Star Trek: The Video Game demo was like listening to the one hit single off an otherwise forgettable album. The complete piece of work sadly strengthens the argument that video games based on films are garbage, even if this one took three years to complete. Thoughts to the contrary at this point in time would be highly illogical.
– Dan Bradley
Star Trek: The Video Game was reviewed on Xbox 360 and was provided by Namco Bandai for this review. It is also available for Playstation 3 and PC.