Star Trek is wrong.
And to understand where it started to go wrong, we need to take a step back to the JJ Abrams 2009 movie reboot. It was a good movie.
We’re not complaining there. It moved the vibe of the franchise in a much-needed new direction while clinging enough to normality for Trekkies to lap it up.
Cut to Star Trek (the videogame) which, like a copy of a copy, has lost something along the way.
Where JJ Abrams took his material from source and added his own spice, Star Trek (the videogame) takes Abrams’ spice and dispenses with the legacy.
Hence the conspicuous volume of scenes in which Kirk and Spock are suited up and falling at great speed as they did in the 2009 movie. Hence why there’s a lot of unsatisfying shooting and little to no exploration.
Take the Gorn, for example – this game’s enemy. The movies have treated us across the years to the vengefulness of Khan and Shinzon, the megalomania of the Borg Queen and the self-ambition of Soran. And what do we get here? Dinosaurs.
Snarling monsters with no dialogue bar a couple of translated lines inside the dreamscape of a vaguely interactive Vulcan mind-meld.
But of course they’re a highly technological species. They have spacecraft and energy weapons and all that other fizzly-wizzly techno-gubbins.
It’s nonsense. And perhaps because at some point someone realised that casting screeching lizards in the role was nonsense, had Spock comment that, though they appear primitive (Captain), the Gorn are, technologically, highly advanced.
We don’t believe that anything with scales, sharp, predatory teeth, claws and an inability to vocalise anything beyond ‘Ghaaargh!’ could bang two rocks together let alone build an invisibility wobznazm or a robotronic fizzwangle.
Technically a third-person cover shooter, Star Trek does however have a fair amount going for it on other levels.
For a start, it’s quite the looker: other than some fudgy faces and even fudgier facial animations, it’s spectacular-looking in many places, while the rest could adequately be described as ‘polished’.
It also features the voices of the movie cast, which are spoken with Hollywood aplomb and are written appropriately well. Now, if only its ideas were as good as its looks.
They’re not. Or, more to the point, Star Trek doesn’t have any ideas. Sure, it uses bits and bobs from the Star Trek universe during gameplay – phasers can be set to stun for non-lethal kills, tricorders ‘scan’ the area to show you the direction of your next objective – but these are template items with a Star Trek skin.
The Gorn aren’t just a poor choice of enemy in the sense of historical Star Trek lore either, they’re a poor fit for the actual mechanics of the game.
It’s a cover-shooter, and yet the Gorn are so awkwardly shaped – so long from head to tail – that when they take cover they still leave a good third of themselves exposed, which destroys a large part of what a third-person cover-shooter actually is. Star Trek is also very, very linear.
There’s barely a single choice of alternate route in the entire game, with environmental interactivity boiling down to scanning, snuggling up to cover and some of the simplest and most ineptly controlled Tomb Raider-style dangling we’ve ever come across.
After the notably tight (not to mention fair) controls offered by the recent Tomb Raider reboot, these sections feel slapdash, with Kirk (or Spock) frequently jumping to his death instead of the next ledge while the camera darts manically about him.
Star Trek is a co-op game. Kirk and Spock, Spock and Kirk. It’s their adventure, and if you do choose to share it with a friend, apart from fighting over who gets to be Kirk (obviously) the only fruit to be had from the cooperation tree is old and rotten enough to have fallen of its own accord.
It’s double-hard to make such harsh criticisms of a game into which such a tremendous amount of care has been poured – obvious by its looks, and obvious by that token that a great many of those who worked on it cared.
And in fact, if Digital Extremes had only spent more time evolving some decent gameplay and designing an enemy that’s fun both to hate and to shoot, we would barely have any criticism at all.