Star Trek – Review

Title   Star Trek
Developer  Digital Extremes
Publisher  Namco Bandai
Platform  PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed)
Genre  Third-Person Shooter
Release Date  26th April, 2013
Official Site

After J.J. Abrams somehow miraculously managed to pull off a Star Trek reboot and not completely ruin everything about it, it was inevitable that there were going to be more films, and, in true video game industry fashion, there was going to have to be a video game tie-in. Strangely, however, early footage didn’t look too bad. A co-op shooter with Kirk and Spock, teaming up to take on the universe? What could possibly go wrong? Well, as it happens, Star Trek screws up just about everything.

Taking place between the Star Trek reboot and its sequel, Star Trek: Into Darkness, the game sees the crew of the Enterprise helping fend off an invasion of an evil reptilian race known as the Gorn (best known for being in that crap fight scene with Shatner everyone bangs on about), who plan on destroying the universe. It’s a paint-by-numbers story that could’ve been written in an afternoon, and doesn’t contain any big twists or turns that will shock or amaze – it’s really just an excuse to bop around the galaxy shooting people.  You’re given the choice to play as Kirk or Spock, which is made to sound like a big choice because Spock is “logical” whereas Kirk is “intelligent”, but the only difference is that Kirk’s phaser is semi-automatic while Spock’s fires in bursts. There are points where the characters split-up, but there’s only actually about three instances of this where you can’t reach one another, so you rarely need to worry about having to revive or be revived. The characters play exactly the same, so it’s really just a case of personal preference over Spock or Kirk.

This title may initially look like something of a Gears of War rip-off, but, rather bizarrely, it’s actually more of a rip-off of the Uncharted series. There’s the typical cover-based shooting mechanic, where you push a button and snap to a chest high wall, then pop out to shoot enemies in the face. You can pick up bigger weapons than your basic phaser, which all have fancy names like “Ravager” and “Mauler” but are basically just your classic collections of machine guns and shotguns, with a couple of sniper rifles occasionally thrown in, and the “Arc Driver” which fires a continuous stream of electricity, eventually dematerialising whichever enemy you’re pointing it at. And yet, I found myself using the phaser more than any other weapon, mainly because the phaser has infinite ammo – it can overheat, but if you’re conservative enough then that’s never much of a problem.

The phaser can also be upgraded, while no other weapon can. The upgrade system, however, is possibly the worst of its kind to ever grace a video game with its presence. To upgrade your weapons, you need to earn XP, which can only be earned by engaging in the boring hacking mini-games that litter every level, or scanning the environment for collectibles, audio diaries, and other “research items”. When you’ve got enough experience, you can use it to unlock upgrades. There are three upgrades for the three different aspects of the phaser: “Kill”, which is just the main firing mode, “Stun”, which is secondary fire and allows you to stun enemies to take them down non-lethally, and a third category that just deals with overall performance of the gun. The problem is that you can only actually have one of these upgrades active at a time, so there’s no real point in buying all of them.

There’s also usually one upgrade per section that is obviously far superior to the rest; for example, why would you choose to bounce bullets off the walls when you can just set your phaser to full-auto? There’s an upgrade to the “Stun” ability for Kirk that takes down enemies in one shot. One. Even on hard difficulty. It causes your gun to overheat instantly, but when you’re often only dealing with about four or five enemies, it’s incredibly easy to just hide in cover and wait for your gun to cool down before popping out and insta-killing another enemy. The upgrade system is badly thought out and effectively pointless, other than giving you the ability to one-shot kill almost every single enemy.

As previously mentioned, you need to scan things to gain XP. To do this, you have to use your tricorder, a little gadget that highlights objects in the environment that can be scanned, show you your current objectives, and it can also be upgraded with a variety of pointless add-ons, including the ability to heal your partner (which you’ll never need to do) and dematerialize the bodies of dead enemies so other enemies don’t spot them during stealth sections (which happens, but never has any real effect on proceedings). The collectibles come in the form of scanning new things, giving you a moderately humorous description written by Scotty, and audio diaries, the ever-popular backstory delivery method. Sadly, even the audio diaries are terrible – early diaries simply give you information that you’ll hear again in a cutscene only a couple of levels later, and it’s only when you get closer to the end and start hearing the opinions of the Enterprise crew that they start to get interesting. It’s a largely wasted opportunity to provide some more dimension to the characters, who all come across as lifeless drones throughout the entire game.

Hacking mini-games are also present around nearly every corner, allowing you to take control of enemy turrets, cameras and mines, or simply to open doors. And, in true hacking mini-game fashion, they’re incredibly dull, and appear far too frequently. They come in three different flavours dependent on what you’re hacking; there’s the matching mini-game, where you have to pair up sound waves in an incredibly generous time limit, a Snake-esque one where you have to manoeuvre a dot on a grid into a square, and a co-op hacking game where each character has to hold the left stick in a specific spot for a short amount of time. There’s a reason these don’t sound fun, and it’s because they aren’t. There’s also, as I said, far too many of them, particularly given that mines can be hacked as well. You don’t have to, but it’s the most effective way of getting XP, given you’re awarded nothing for destroying the camera/turret/mine instead.

But it isn’t all just shooting lizards and scanning things – remember how I said it’s an Uncharted rip-off? That means there’s plenty of platforming to do as well, and if you hadn’t already guessed, it’s really badly handled. You know you’re going to have to do some jumping around because – since you’re so often in a spaceship of some kind – the spots you can climb have big yellow and black stripes on them. The jumping controls aren’t horrendous, but it’s the camera that really starts to hinder your progress – if you ever have to start moving round corners, the camera starts following your character as he moves, leading to you having to battle with the camera as you try to work out where the hell you’re going. The camera troubles then screw up the controls as well, and you’ll soon be flinging yourself off the platform into a gaping abyss rather than managing to point the stick in such a manner that the game finally realises you wanted to jump to the next platform. It’s needlessly infuriating, and the platforming isn’t fun enough to even warrant being there – if the developers had simply left Star Trek as a straight up shooter it would’ve been infinitely less aggravating.

The infuriation doesn’t end there. As is so often the case in a co-op game with an AI partner for single-player, the friendly AI is atrocious. My AI Spock frequently got in the way, ran into turret fire, and when given orders frequently ignored them or straight up told me no. This is especially annoying during the numerous stealth sections, where enemies will spot Spock from across the map after he’s decided to trail behind and refused to move up when told. Really, your AI partner is only useful for reviving you, which Spock only did after telling me I was injured. Really, Spock? I’m lying on the ground bleeding out and you think I might be injured? His reviving skills range from fantastic to useless as well – on numerous occasions I was revived from halfway across the map, whereas sometimes Spock would stand over me, pissing about with his gun with no enemies around, telling me I was injured rather than healing me. He’s not much help in combat either, unless you particularly enjoy him stealing every kill after you’ve poured plenty of rounds into enemies. AI partners have never been particularly useful, but in Star Trek they’re even worse than you can imagine.

The enemy AI isn’t much cop either. The Gorn have two different tactics – run straight at you or hide in cover. Running at you can sometimes be a pain if there’s enough of them doing it, but taking cover is regularly quite a pointless endeavour since their bodies are often longer than the cover, meaning you’ll frequently be able to kill them even while they’re hiding. There is enough variety in the enemies to keep things interesting when encountering them, but they’re so stupid – and can be easily taken out with Kirk’s one shot kill – that you’ll be more annoyed at having to see them than admiring their variety.

Star Trek may pitch itself as a shooter with platforming sections, but there are a bunch of other game ideas that the developers decided to throw in to mix things up. The first you’ll encounter is a space battle, where you control a turret on top of the Enterprise, swapping between firing at enemies and bringing up the shields. This section is actually possibly the most accurate Star Trek moment in the whole game, given that the Enterprise is pretty useless in a fight. Without the shields up, your hull integrity takes a pounding in seconds, even on the easiest difficulty, but there’s some enemies that can completely wipe out your shields. It’s fairly easy to beat, but unless you practice the level repeatedly, you’re liable to end the stage with your health dwindling. Next up on the random feature list is swimming, which handles awfully, but is thankfully only used for one level. The underwater sections are also really badly laid out – there are crevices that lead nowhere apart from into a pit with a mine that will instantly kill you. It’s like the developers were just thinking up more ways of pissing you off than progressing through the title.

On more than one occasion you’ll engage in an on-rails flying sequence, where you must dodge out of the way of objects as your character falls or flies through the air; this is straightforward apart from the times where you’ll instantly die by colliding with nothing. There’s also a flashback sequence, which consists purely of walking forward in a first-person view (you are not told this, and instead Spock just kept bitching at me about having to “search harder”, which is not a good tip) and watching a cutscene, which you repeat three times. Finally, there’s a thirty second brawl, and again you’re given no clue on how to do it, but after a bit of button mashing to work out the controls, you can floor your opponent with ease. This mish-mash of ideas serve no purpose – they’re thrown at you with no warning and wild abandon, to the point where you wish you could just go back to shooting things rather than messing about with the additional stuff.

Well, you’d like to go back to the shooting, but instead you’ll be busy reloading the level after a bug has reared its ugly head and forced you to restart. There are numerous bugs littering this product, from moments where I couldn’t pull out my gun to being unable to pick up an essential item to solve a puzzle. I once walked out of a room to find a sniper clinging to a wall that didn’t exist. If it were just minor things, then there wouldn’t be an issue, but having to restart a level just so you can pick up a power generator is ridiculous, and in the end I had to get Spock to do it for me anyway.

Graphically, there isn’t much to write home about. The characters do look like their real-life counterparts, but that’s about as good as it gets. The environments are often a series of bland grey space corridors, and even when you get onto a planet, it’s mostly just brown walls with more space equipment littered around the place. The textures are regularly blurry and the characters are pretty bizarrely animated, particularly during climbing sections, where the usually rather rigid bodies suddenly become a collection of rubbery limbs that flail around in mid-air. It’s passable, and there’s nothing intensely ugly, but that’s about as nice as I can be.

When it comes to sound, however, I have nothing but criticism. The soundtrack is often too epic, with no room for the calmer moments. It’s too big and grand at all the wrong times, and never changes to fit the mood – I have often felt that games too often use music to indicate that you’ve defeated every enemy, but Star Trek has shown me that this is actually an incredibly desirable feature to have. The sound effects all sound like they fit in the Trek universe, with plenty of sci-fi bleeps and bloops, but the phaser sometimes sounds like they’re using a sample from a Skrillex song, and the guns and explosions never sound particularly weighty.

By far the worst problem is the absolutely atrocious voice-work, coupled with a dreadful script. I was amazed to discover that the entire cast of the recent films lent their voices, because aside from a passable performance from Chris Pine as Kirk, and a fun delivery by Simon Pegg as Scotty, the rest of the cast seem to have phoned it in so hard that the characters all come across as lifeless drones rather than human beings. This is most evident in Zachary Quinto’s turn as Spock, who reels off each line with a tired, bored drone in his voice. I appreciate that Spock is a Vulcan, the race who don’t feel emotions, but that has never meant that they couldn’t express themselves in any way other than completely straight. Also, Spock is half-human, and so is perfectly capable of emotion. But Quinto just sounds bored, and it might just be because of the dire script filled with great lines such as “you are injured, Captain”, muttered when you’re on the ground dying, “I believe this space station is beyond repair”, said as the space station explodes around you and you’ve just watched five people die, and who can forget the classic “We must return power to the station”, rolled out about ten times in one section because I wasn’t solving the puzzle fast enough. It’s dull, uninspiring, and had me turning the volume off, rather than suffer through another badly delivered line.

Overall, there’s not a whole lot here that you’re going to enjoy. The graphics are passable, but that’s about it. The controls work, but the rest of the gameplay is as confused as it is uninspired. The soundtrack is nice and epic, but it never varies in pace or amplitude, and the less said about the dialogue the better. It’s bugged up the arse, and has absolutely no replay value. I came away from Star Trek pissed off and worn out, having sworn at Spock for about six hours straight and almost crying as I saw the name Digital Extremes, the team behind one of my favourite releases of last year – The Darkness 2 – roll before my eyes. Unless you’re a masochist, I could not recommend this to you. Don’t play it. Save yourself.

  • Handles as you would hope
  • Graphics aren't horrendous
  • Filled with annoying bugs that cause you to restart the level
  • Too easy, even on hard difficulty
  • Partner AI is atrocious
  • Voice acting is dreadful, with an awful script to boot
  • Story is boring and the audio diaries do nothing to back it up

While no one expected Star Trek to boldly go where no game has gone before, we certainly hoped for better than this. The gameplay has been done before in a multitude of better ways, and it’s a mash-up of ideas that feels messy and poorly thought out. The partner AI is often completely illogical, and only serves to help you live long and prosper when it isn’t refusing your orders. The graphics are alright, but there’s nothing special that’s going to really grab your attention, and the dreadful dialogue is so badly delivered that you’ll rapidly find you cannae take anymore. It’s a game, Jim, but not one you should give any attention to.

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