When I learned that before the sequel was to hit theaters there was to be a movie tie-in, my skepticism returned. Licensed games tend to not fare well and are often rush jobs made to quickly cash-in on the franchise's new film, but the promise of two-player co-op got me excited for the game.
I should have realized that this was truly a "kobayashi maru": a no-win scenario.
Star Trek: The Video Game (PlayStation 3, PC, Xbox 360 [reviewed])
Developer: Digital Extremes
Publisher: Paramount Pictures, Namco Bandai Games
Released: April 23, 2013
Set between the events of the two films, Star Trek: The Video Game pits the crew of the Enterprise, led by Captain James T. Kirk and his first officer Spock, on a mission to stop an alien race from stealing a device and using its power to control the universe. You know, no big deal.
The device itself, called Helios, was being used to terraform a planet into New Vulcan after the events of the first film left the Vulcans without a homeworld. The Gorn, an alien race from the classic TV series, steal the Genesis dev...er, the Helios device in order to destroy rather than create. Players take the roles of Kirk and Spock, either in single-player or co-op, to stop them.
Ok, so the plotline may be a little familiar to fans of the television and film series, but it's a decent one, and should provide the player with some epic set pieces as they race across space, right? Sadly, one of the first failings with this title is just how boring the game is. Standard third-person shooter rules apply; shoot from the hip or down iron sights, use cover, leap, and climb. It's all typical fare, sure, but it's a little too typical. We've seen it all before in other games, and in those cases, it plays better.
For example, the shooter mechanics, while competent at best, are offset by the characters' jerky movements. The slightest tap on an analog stick send your crewman running at a brisk pace, and lining up a shot tends to be an exercise in patience. The way the camera jerks around with every phaser blast recoil is also a bit grating on the eyes. There's at least a decent variety of weapons, and each features a standard and secondary fire function, such as your starting phaser having both a kill and stun function, or the arc blaster having a charged shot. The cover mechanics are a total joke, however, as switching from one spot to another, despite an on-screen button suggestion, never worked once. Instead of sliding or rolling to the next cover, my character would simply release from the cover and roll away in whatever direction it wanted.
The controls for the rest of the game are even worse, as platforming is all but broken entirely. Numerous times I have lept to my doom while trying desperately to grasp a ledge to climb up from a chasm. Other times, I felt as though I would fall through a vent opening, only to catch myself on the edge and hang there a bit, looking stupid. While just attempting to move my character to the edge of the ledge to see if there was a jump I could even attempt, he dashed into the abyss and immediately fell to his death. Don't even get me started on the swimming, which will have you throwing your controller in anger -- that is, if you can tolerate the game long enough to make it to the one mission it's featured in.
For the majority of the game you'll find yourself using the tricorder, your handheld scanning device that can reveal hidden pathways, activate panels, and uncover all sorts of plot devices to move the story forward. Usually, it's used for hacking doors or sentry units, and the mini-games involved are anything but intuitive as they present the puzzle before you and say "have at it!" Luckily, there are really only three puzzle types, so once you've figured them out, you'll see them over and over again and solve them with ease, save for the one co-op puzzle.
For a co-op title, you'd think there'd be a steady stream of action or co-op opportunities to influence gamers to want to play cooperatively. Here, however, it's reduced to a puzzle where both players attempt to fiddle with a dial (one for each player) in order to match a wave pattern to unlock whatever it's preventing you from accessing. Outside of that, be prepared to ask your partner to help you pry open a lot of doors, or boost you up to higher ground. Honestly, for the first few minutes of the game, I wondered why the included co-op at all, when all Spock did was hold a door open for me a few times while I squeezed through the opening.
Speaking of your partner, by now I'm sure you've heard of the issues there is with co-op on the PC version. Luckily -- and I use the word loosely -- I didn't have that issue on Xbox. I didn't play too many matches online, but connecting was fairly easy, though the other players seemed to have as many issues with the control as I did. For most of the game, however, I played with the computer operating my partner character, and we'll just say the AI is not nearly as smart as Spock is. While I didn't have any game-breaking issues where my character killed himself or it wouldn't allow me to go on, I did have one scenario where I had to reload a checkpoint because Spock just stood in place for no reason, and no amount of using the tricorder to give him an order of where to move to would work. Such insubordination.
The rest of the time, though, Spock would either be blocking doors, or I'd suddenly be able to run right through him. The majority of the time, Spock was completely intangible, as I passed through him like so much Taco Bell. In fact, he was so poorly programmed that he could stand in full view of enemy characters during stealth sequences and not be seen. While this certainly helped me sneak around a bit, it was laughably terrible.
Such graphical hiccups are all over this game. While the overall look of the game is fair, certain character models don't quite look right, as lip sync and facial movements give a creepy-doll horror show as their jaws unhinge to say three syllables. Cut scenes are a mixed bag, with some actor scans looking very well done, while others seemed to badly Photoshop the actor's face onto a badly rendered 3D body. The Gorn character models for their appearance in the new Universe version of Trek are pretty lame as they now look like generic dinosaur and lizard people. Not that the '60s TV show was much better with its giant rubber-headed costume, but these character models are bland, and they're pretty much the only enemies you see throughout the entire game (with a few minor exceptions).
One nice touch is that they got the entire main cast of the reboot to reprise their characters. Simon Pegg as Scotty and Karl Urban as McCoy have some great bits of dialogue, and while the script isn't the strongest, it does get the characterization down; both of these roles provide some much-needed comic relief. The sound is also decent, using the score of the first film. But if I hear that echoing "ping" that signifies an enemy has spotted me one more time, I'm going to go "Amok Time" on someone.
As predicted, this is yet another movie tie-in game that feels rushed and incomplete. Oddly, it has nothing to do with the plot of the upcoming film, so why it was rushed to coincide only proves it was made merely to cash-in on the popularity right at the film's release. With as many mechanics that it borrows from other titles, and how poorly it implements them, it should be beamed directly into the trash compactor. Sloppy, glitchy controls and graphics, tedious gameplay, and spotty co-op makes for one adventure you'll wish would boldly go away. It's dumb, Jim.
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