I found it both odd and slightly alarming that the name of this new Star Trek game is simply ‘Star Trek.’ The plot is not the same as that of the new movie, so they couldn’t use “Into Darkness,” but at least something more creative would have been a plus. Anyway, a name is just a name, but in this case, you might argue it gives you some idea of the effort Digital Extremes put into the game itself. Rife with flaws both of the technical and design variety, Star Trek disappoints from the very beginning. However; as someone who has worked their way through lots of mediocre if not bad games before — Star Trek tends to be just satisfying and fun enough to keep playing. You’ll do it begrudgingly so — especially if you shelled out $60 — but it’s neither as bad as some folks say, nor certainly not as good.
Star Trek is a co-op, third person cover-based shooter. It promotes cover based tactics, optional stealth, and there are lots of simple ‘hacks’ to perform to open doors and interact with equipment and so on. Shooter-heavy Star Trek games can work, just try Elite Force and its sequel. Dialogue heavy adventure Star Trek games can also work — my favorite Star Trek games to this day are Judgment Rites and 25th Anniversary, in fact. This new Star Trek is more like an Elite Force than Judgment Rites, but pales in any comparison to either.
At the outset, you choose to play as either Spock or Kirk. There are slight differences between the two, and I chose Spock. You can seek out a second player online or locally. There are some ten chapters that tell the story of The Gorn, a race of lizard-men determined to rule, that Kirk engaged with his fists in one episode of The Original Series. You’ll be blasting hundreds of these with your phaser or one of several other weapons, including Gorn favorites like the Ravager, Marauder, and Railer. These are your basic machine gun, shotgun, sniper gun varieties, each with a secondary fire mode. The phaser can also shoot both on stun and in lethal mode, the latter of which draws the ire of Kirk everytime you use it to kill an infected Federation crewman. It’s amusing to hear Kirk yell things like “Spock, use stun that’s an order!” Spock will likewise be upset at Kirk if he does the same. Fortunately, going stealth or being a “true” Starfleet officer and using stun all the time is optional; you can earn a ‘commendation’ for it, but I didn’t bother. Right away I could tell this was just one of those games that I just wanted to get through with as little trouble and time as possible.
For the most part, I played alone with the AI controlling Kirk. I mentioned how Kirk would get verbally upset with Spock for not using the stun setting on his phaser, which was amusing because there was nothing built into the game to make it of any consequence. Similarly, there was some humor to be had in seeing the AI control Kirk and struggle with cover. One sequence early on has you running and ducking behind cover before a blast of UV energy covers the entire area every ten seconds or so. Kirk, controlled by the AI, could hardly ever get behind cover in time and hearing him yelp and Spock calmly suggest he take cover had me shaking my head with a chuckle. Wisely — thankfully — Digital Extremes at least made it to where you don’t have to actually save
Kirk if you don’t want to. Even during a boss fight, the first one of which the AI proved useless, you do not have to go rescue Kirk if you don’t want to. When you take care of business, Kirk will just auto heal anyway as the next cutscene starts. I was happy to see him at least come to heal me fairly reliably and quickly though, even though it meant he usually got incapacitated immediately after restoring my health. The AI isn’t very helpful in combat, and heck, a lot of the time I couldn’t even find Kirk on screen when I stopped to look around. I suppose I was just running to fast to the next objective marker and he couldn’t keep up. You’ll know when you’ve reached a new area when you run into a turbolift and Kirk magically appears a few seconds after you arrive.
So the AI has some problems, and playing with a friend co-op does alleviate that in large part. What you can’t make up for by playing co-op are some of the other gameplay flaws, including of course the enemy AI which is, shall we say, lizard-like much of the time. The cover, object interaction, climbing, and some jumping mechanics are the definition of clunky. None of it feels smooth and it’s not uncommon to see your character take cover on the wrong side of a barrier or you’ll struggle to get a certain prompt to pop up again. Every bit of the experience feels rushed (and thus unpolished), which I’m sure it was given that it’s a cash-in game for the new Star Trek movie buzz. Anyway, some parts have Kirk and Spock prying a door open together or giving each other a boost, or using handheld transporters to beam each other around platforms in a low gravity area; that part was actually pretty neat.
You will also need to work together with your co-op partner or the AI on some hacks involving harmonic waves that you have to align their frequency and amplitude together for a short period. Another common type of hack is a simple game of matching up one waveform with another, or quickly moving a dot along a broken grid to another spot on the grid. These hacks are used to disabled turrets, unlock doors, and operate equipment. I liked being able to command the AI partner to perform the hack so that I wasn’t left with doing all of them myself. I should point out you can also, although it’s not very smooth, tell the AI where to move to and what weapon to pickup. Performing hacks and area analysis is done with the tricorder, something you will be popping out to use very often. You can also scan enemies and a few hidden items with the tricorder to neat some extra XP that can be used to upgrade various things like your phaser and tricorder. You can control what the AI upgrades as well. Other uses for the tricorder are to show character locations, friendly, neutral, and enemy, and it can reveal power lines under the floor that can be traced to an objective destination.
Another major design woe I noticed with Star Trek was the bland and repetitive level design. Within the first three hours I thought I had played through the same type of area at least twice. Level design in large part is hallways and going through a door into another hallway. It’s a corridor-shooter, I believe is the industry term. Too much back-tracking is on the menu as well. Not all areas are as bad as others, but the level design was a disappointment.
Given the obvious lack of polish and numerous flaws (mostly minor, but they add up), the presentation quality is pretty meager and that’s no surprise. The current actors did at least lend their voices, which gives the game some added authenticity. The soundtrack is also rather good and it’s a much needed positive to the gameplay. Graphically, Star Trek thoroughly underwhelms. Technically, it’s loaded with glitches; within about three seconds of playing, I already had found a camera angle in the first room that took me inside Spock’s head. I could see his eyeballs and tongue from the inside-out, it was bizarre, although I have seen similar glitches in years past. I haven’t experienced any framerate problems at least, but there are many miscellaneous graphical problems and it’s not a good looking game to begin with. I have played a few hours while 3D was enabled, and I have to say it made the game a little bit more enjoyable, or at least immersive.
I think if Star Trek came out in 2006 or 2007, it would have been rather well received. Or, if the MSRP were more in touch with the reality of the game’s quality, that too would have been good for my overall feeling for this game. As is, well…