Star Trek Review

5May

By Ian Crane

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Before 2009, JJ Abrams had the insurmountable task of rebooting a series, that some thought- untouchable. The brain child of the late, great Gene Roddenberry Star Trek as a series and franchise had over 40 years, 10 movies and 5 series already under its belt- but it was a gamble that for the most part paid off.

Star Trek video games though have fared less well over the years with a mixed bag of everything: from flight sims to RTS and most notably two first person shooters called Elite Force. The most recent entry from Namco Bandai is a far from perfect game but harkens back to the classic action games from 15 years ago, with a very mixed bag of all of the above; platforming, flying sim and 3rd person always online co-op shooting in the one single game.

Story

It may be good timing to release the game one month before the second new Star Trek movie, however weather it was released after 2009’s reboot or before this one, the smell of cash cows is never far away. This is a grab for cash movie tie in no matter how much Namco claim they spent “3 years making it”.

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The premise, for those in the know is quite good the Vulcans have rebuilt what is left of their civilisation, and the video game does something even the movies wouldn't dare by re introducing one of the most over rated alien races in the franchise: The Gorn. Think Halos Covenant crossed with velocaraptors in a lot less armour and you have a fair approximation. Zombie Vulcans and new and improved “female Gorn!” round out the mix as you shoot, dive, sneak and fly through a dozen or so missions.  Whilst the newly designed Gorn, are actually quite detailed (yes even more than the Covenant), it is clear that without any idea on ship design, weapons, or basically any back story the developers made a whole bunch of stuff up.

Therein lies the rub. Love it or hate the choice was made, that for all intents and purposes this game is cannon. Now how that impacts the movies, future books or other titles remains to be seen but for fans who want the complete package they will have to wade through a rather boring set of coop mini missions and for those who don't know the difference between a Vulcan and their half-brother Romulans then a lot of the side stories, banter between Spock an Kirk and all the audio files will mean nothing.

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For a budget produced game that looks rushed and lacks polish, the main enemy and the whole reason for the game: The Gorn, don't even appear for about an hour or so which might see some players beaming up before it even gets good.

Gameplay

Infamously, one of the most scathing reviews this writer had the pleasure of playing was a little game called Star Wars the Force Unleashed II. Star Trek fairs only slightly better. It's almost as if the developers wanted to make all games for all people, as one minute the Kirk/Spock duo will be doing platforming mini missions, then hacking, then flying all whilst trying to shoot lizards from crude destructible cover.  In theory, the parts of the game work, tied together by a Batman-esque “scanning mode” that uses the ubiquitous tricorder to stop and scan environments. You can lock onto to targets to gain XP and new information, scan new weapons into your database, even target your partner and boost their shields. Unfortunately you can't do any of it whilst running, shooting or taking cover. On top of which the secrets and audio files are about 3 per level which makes it an annoying eater egg hunt of slowly walking around scanning things to no effect.

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Always online co-op is a real feature and whilst you can opt for an “offline” mode it works the same as Resident Evil 6 with the ability for anyone to join at any time.  It also means that if you lose the connection you  have to start the level over. Apparently Star Trek was designed with co-op in mind with puzzles supposed to work in each other’s favour or require “the power of two”. In a perfect world Spock would be the healing/medic/hacker who buffs Kirk the heavy/tank/stealth melee expert.

Instead the reality is that each door can be opened by either person and Spock can mind meld for key codes that he then sends to both players to use anyway. Kirk just generally acts either annoyed or really snarky. Short of slapping each other on the b...ack the dynamic between the two characters might be the only reason to play this game.

Character animations are quite good, whilst facial animations are wooden and out of synch. Sometimes you can talk to the crew on board the Enterprise, but don't expect to walk around it freely as advertised and explore it at will. The last game to do this: Star Trek Elite Force in 2002 was brilliant in having relationships on board, visiting people’s rooms and going to the armoury. Mass Effect, this game is not.

Graphics & Audio

For a game that flies through so many different conventions of gameplay at warp speed you might except a bit more bang for your buck. Why the game took so long to complete and be released is amazing as it resembles something closer to the beginning of this console generation, with over simplified menus, lazily created text and button icons that don't match and phoned in dialogue. To their credit the makers of Star Trek seemed to have the  entire ensemble of actors back including Christopher Pine, Zachary Quinto and Zoe Salanda as well as Simon Pegg, but again you can never be quite sure as the audio pitches at differential levels, some louder than others and is out of  synch.

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Flying the Enterprise in 3rd person should be an exciting and epic affair, or at least be fun like the old X-Wing arcade games of old. Unfortunately blurry textures and less than dynamic shadows and special effects lack polish and make it hard to pick out ships and finer details in the soup of space. Even scanning objects is annoying in that your scanner can't detect an item unless you lock onto the exact point or pixel- usually and oddly at the top edge of an item (not the middle)

Definably one of the brightest stars of this game is the music and soundtrack. Wether remixed from the 2009 movie or not the swelling orchestral rhythms make the sloppy gameplay and repetitive shooting just bearable enough whilst the new “main theme tune” is as compelling as some of the classic video game themes

It should also be noted that the actors likeness have been reasonably well preserved if not animated well and the variety of different Gorn are enough to kick start a whole new alien race in Star Trek lore.

Overall

If the idea of seeing a fully fleshed out alien race, that literally only ever appeared in two episodes over 40 years excites you, then by all means add another point to the final score. Take one point off if that idea disgusts you and the generic ships, weapons and made up back story make you want to cry into a bottle of Romulan Ale.  For fans and story enthusiasts there is enough meat here to tide over till the next movie. It seems unlikely at this point that you need to play it to enjoy the next movie, however unless you are under the age of  10 and you don't like Star Trek then there are much better games to be playing whilst you wait for JJs Star Wars Episode VII.  Not worth the full price of admission to Starfleet academy, do yourself a favour and re-watch the epic 2009 movie instead, live long and prosper.

5/10