When Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto slipped into the shoes of James T. Kirk and Spock, for some it came across as a bit too much. Must Kirk really be such a daredevil all the time? And does Spock constantly have to be so narrow-minded? Their characters just appear terribly flat. Nevertheless, the end result was very strong. The reboot film had some great moments and the process of rediscovering the cast was a pleasant one. This game builds on the reboot as it reveals a new episode with the famous duo - and the plot is fully focused on the Kirk/Spock dynamic. It's an attempt to make something more appealing than your typical licensed cash-in - a great co-op adventure starring two iconic heroes.
But we're already facing a contradiction. How can you tell a strong story set in the Star Trek universe with this much focus on just two characters? It just doesn't feel right. Even stranger than that, the two most important members of the crew go on all these dangerous missions alone, while the rest of the crew remain behind to take care of the Enterprise. Of course you'll see Scotty, Bones, Uhura, Chekov and Sulu in the game, but they're really only there to provide the backdrop.
In spite of this Paramount Pictures and Digital Extremes managed to deliver a plausible story. Bringing back the Gorn may not have been a stroke of genius, but the characters appear believable, and the voice work is excellent. All the charm of Star Trek has been captured very well in this respect. Unfortunately this is really the only thing that the game excels at, and as a big fan of Star Trek I really wanted to give this a proper chance, but in the end I was very disappointed.
The characters in Star Trek only look good as long as they're completely still. Once they start running or making facial expressions it slips into unintenional humour. Clearly it takes more than decent still and pre-rendered sequences to give a video game that cinematic feel the developers are striving for. The faces come across as botched botox jobs with hauntingly uncanny facial expressions as a result. Whenever the game attempts to convey strong emotions or tension, it just results in more unintended comedy.
My favourite glitch, if you will, is the frantic attempts by the AI co-op partner to keep up with you. At times he runs in the wrong direction, sometimes into walls and once he got stuck in the ceiling, kicking away eagerly. The AI reminds me a bit of startled ants scurrying about. It's just painful to wait as the computer figures out that we're standing in its path or that there is a wall in the way. But for the most part the AI partner stays behind and out of your way and only comes running when you call on him.
Thankfully at least your AI-controlled partner obeys your commands. There are specific co-op actions where he's needed, and he appears on cue from out of thin air to comply. If it's a more complicated task the AI partner does his part without anything to really complain about. Presumably he operates according to a script rather than actual AI in these instances. While we don't really get frustrated or angry at the poor AI, it's still a very disappointing part of the game.
Naturally you can also play the game with a friend. If you play it locally, however, you cannot pick individual missions, but are locked into the full adventure. If played online you play it chapter by chapter, but we simply couldn't make our way into a game during our review sessions; it's possible online play was simply disabled. As far as co-op goes, I always imagined it would carry more meaning than is the case here, regardless of whether you're playing with a human or an AI-controlled counterpart.
The game features varied action and mechanics. It seems Digital Extremes wanted to follow Naughty Dog's example with the Uncharted formula of mixing equal parts story, action, and skill. However, each component fails to live up to expectations. Climbing is incredibly slow, and at times the games seems confused about what we're doing and reacts strangely or not at all to our inputs. And when we try and jump across cliffs things get really ugly. There are, however, some very nice mini-games revolving around cracking codes and hacking computers, and we can use the tricorder to scan and sometimes interact with objects.
There is no lack of ideas, but these ideas haven't been fully realised and polished. And just at the moment we celebrate the introduction of a nice little portal mechanism, a hole in the ground rears its ugly face and for some reason this provokes our avatar to such a degree that he simply refuses to climb down the ladder. Then, when we finally get to sample the weapons of the Enterprise, we realise we'd much rather have them remain under Pavel Chekov's control.
This is when the disappointment really hits you. Given all the potential, it's simply a shame. So much variation, so many ideas - yet none of them fulfill their potential. How can we be excited about a phaser feature that disintegrates the bodies of our enemies in order to remain undetected, when we can stand right next to an enemy without getting noticed?
There are moments in Star Trek so absurd that we'd actually just as soon forget about them. The Gorn, for instance, often have tails. These tails often stick out when the Gorn get into cover making for an easy shot. And if we're serious about trying to go through a section stealthily you can be sure that your AI companion will ignore your efforts. At times enemies reacted only when shot.
With the help of the Tricorder we can track how alarmed an enemy is. This comes in handy when you're trying to sneak your way past a section - hide away for a few seconds and watch as the enemies return to a normal state. But in one case it wasn't possible as we hadn't even been seen by our opponents, as we were occupying the ventilation shaft above. As luck would have he got stuck in a wall, so Kirk and Spock were able to make their way down. Sometimes two wrongs do make a right...
On top of the messy artificial intelligence and the awkward controls, the mediocre graphics just strike us as old. The Gorn have been brought over from the original series, but even if they are an iconic part of the inaugural series, their simple 60's aesthetic ultimately underwhelms. In a way their look fits the stiff animations of the characters. There is a suffocating atmosphere throughout, and the load times are simply annoying.
Star Trek enjoyed a stellar comeback to the big screen in 2009. The reboot starring a fresh young cast playing familiar characters with a modified universe was a pleasant surprise. Paramount Pictures boldly went where lots of others have gone before as they worked for three years on the game, at least that is what producer Brian Miller has repeated in interviews over and over again. With the final game in your hands it's hard to imagine that this has actually been the case. Lots of ideas with untapped potential and serious issues have been completely ignored and allowed to spoil the experience.
This latest Star Trek video game is so riddled with flaws that it's hard to not deem it licensed crap. I hate to have to say it, but if you're a Trekkie you're better off giving Star Trek Online a go - a solid free-to-play experience.