Star Trek: The Video Game's E3 2011 unveiling had a lot of people waiting in anticipation. A co-op game set in Abrams’ reimagined universe had potential, and with Chris Pine, Zach Quinto and both Paramount and Bad Robot on board, the hope at least for authenticity was high.
Developer: Digital Extremes
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Release date: April 23
Trek’s real draw was an asynchronous co-op mode that gave Kirk and Spock separate-but-equal roles and attributes tailored to suit their personalities. When the captain and commander did a space jump onto an abandoned ship, the headstrong Kirk went flying off-screen whereas Spock came to a deliberate, safe stop; later in the middle of a firefight a wounded Kirk had to hold off enemies while Spock tended to the captain’s leg. At the time, it looked like a blast.
Last year’s E3 appearance told a jarringly different story. Seemingly all the co-op differences had been stripped out, the set-pieces significantly diminished. The unknown enemy was now a modernized Gorn, resembling the “smart” dinosaurs of the forgotten and embarrassing Dino Crisis 3. Visually Trek suddenly looked like garbage, despite having a strong graphical showing the previous year.
A full year later, the end result is a near-unplayable disaster.
Not that this is necessarily noticeable right away. Even with diminished expectations the game could’ve still made for decent co-op with a friend, right? At first it doesn’t seem that bad—the character models look like they’re using some form of post-Heavy Rain mo-cap to decent (read: not great) effect, the entire new cast is present and does a good job with their lines, the script is appropriately Trek-like.
As a video game, issues crop up relatively quickly. You might find a glitch, say, in front of a door opened by team effort. Response time with certain commands can be slow (or too jumpy at other times).
Design quickly falls into a routine, oscillating between surprisingly hard shootouts and aimlessly wandering past samey bulkheads and through corridors as the pacing slackens. Even with hints turned on, there are several instances where level layouts are so obtuse you can spend over half an hour trying to open a door or find a device to scan with your tricorder. At this point you’ll probably just want to turn the game off.
That asynchronous bit? Totally gone. Kirk and Spock are practically skins of each other, with character specific components like mind-melding or access to a special Captain’s issue phaser either cut or reduced to cutscene usage. There are slight differences in the duo’s upgrade abilities, but it’s too little too late, any promised innovation replaced by a lot of derivative pieces that don’t quite fit together.
Meanwhile, the limitations of the slapdash coding become more and more apparent as the game drags on. At one point in an especially similar-looking environment I unknowingly wandered back toward the beginning of the level, accidentally triggering a cutscene I’d already seen. Only this time the long-dead enemies were now missing.
As bad as the game gets when playing with a friend, it’s an order of magnitude worse solo. To be blunt, the AI is non-existent. Once when my Spock ran forward a whole 20 meters into another room, co-op Kirk could not keep pace.
It became a running joke moving deeper into the level: AI Kirk is now 50 meters behind. 70. 140. But during scripted dialogue cues it was as though he was psychically projecting his voice directly into Spock’s head. Later I watched AI Kirk stand motionless as a room full of Gorn tried to kill a bunch of Starfleet officers. I shot back. It was kind of like watching a car crash.
Trek becomes over-infested with bugs later, too. Doors that refused to open without forcibly reloading a checkpoint and, hilariously, AI Kirk walking directly in front of enemies during forced stealth sections. (The Gorn, of course, paid him no mind.) The buggier the game gets, the more tedious the experience.
And while there are a handful of uncooked, fleetingly cool elements, like commanding the Enterprise’s bridge during a space battle or some interestingly laid-out traversable puzzles, it all falls flat under the game’s paltry and seemingly piecemeal engine.
There’s really no point in subjecting yourself to this game unless you’re some sort of masochist. Trek as a co-op shooter is, without justification and being firmly planted in the world of triple-A design, a little suspect anyway—Spock may yell at you to set your phaser to stun but there’s no appreciable consequence if you don’t.
Science, knowledge and diplomacy, often the backbones of the series, are never even an option. There isn’t even much banter between Pine and Quinto to keep things lively. If there’s one thing to take solace in here, it’s that—even if the film somehow sucks—Into Darkness will seem a masterpiece by comparison.