Star Trek (2013 Game) XBox 360 Review
So, what has Digital Extremes delivered to gamers at the behest of production company Paramount Pictures (and all of the producers of the upcoming Star Trek: Into Darkness film) and game producer Namco Bandai Games? Well, if you’ll recall for a moment the Star Trek movie from 2009, you will also remember one of the many tag lines that the director of the film used. One of the more memorable bits was that it was “not your daddy’s Star Trek“. The series reboot definitely showed that, with James T. Kirk not going in to Starfleet until he’s twenty-six, Spock somehow getting in to a romantic entanglement with Uhura, Montgomery Scott getting himself relegated to a base in the middle of nowhere, and Chekov … still being a genius teenager at the front of the Bridge. With all that, it sort of felt more like an older brother’s Trek. What with the alternate universes, Romulans being a major villain, crew members joining seemingly out of the blue, and people being elevated to stations that are way above where they should be, this felt more like a mash-up of concepts taken out of all of the other Trek series except for The Animated Series and, strangely enough, Enterprise. However, it seems to have breathed new life in to a franchise that, once UPN pulled the plug after the fourth season of Enterprise, had been relegated to books and a few video games here and there. But what does that mean for a new Star Trek console game? Well, let’s just say that the whole “not your daddy’s Star Trek” idea is still alive and well.
The game starts off with Captain James Tiberius Kirk and Commander Spock being caught in the middle of a fire fight with some reptilian enemies, getting knocked unconscious due to a grenade, and waking up. Almost immediately, they rush in to a brawl with one another. Going back in time a mere number of hours, the game has the U.S.S. Enterprise going to a space station, Helios-1 (get the reference?) located right by two twin suns. The station should have been destroyed due to the heat, but somehow, it managed to survive. It turns out that the station was specifically collecting power for a massive power machine called (unsurprisingly) the Helios Device, something which was intended to help New Vulcan expand more quickly than conventional methods would allow. After saving as many crew members off the station as possible (and getting in to some fire fights along the way), Kirk and Spock head to New Vulcan to see why the power that was keeping the station stable abruptly stopped. There, they find a race that calls itself the Gorn. However, these are not the Gorn that you know from “The Arena”. They are a highly evolved reptilian species that has used genetic engineering to create multiple warrior castes, each with a specialized purpose. After losing the Helios device in a fight with the Gorn, the rest of the game becomes a race to stop the Gorn from using the Helios device, which created a rift in the fabric of space time that allowed them to travel in to the Milky Way galaxy. It is also a fight to rescue one of the scientists that helped develop the Helios device. Without giving up much more of the plot, the game takes players (you can choose to be either Kirk or Spock, which offer different play styles) to a regular starbase under attack, a battle in space, the interior of the Enterprise, yet another alien planet, and the interior of an enemy vessel. Of course, at some point you do get back to the opening scene, and you learn what these Gorn are like compared to the ones from the normal Trek universe (in reverse order), but that’s a little ways off. The final mission uses practically everything that a player could have possibly learned during the course of play, and although the conclusion is foregone (what with it being set between the two films), it is still satisfying.
As far as game play goes, the differences between Spock and Kirk are somewhat noticeable. Weaponry fires and affects opponents differently, Spock tends to be stronger and faster than Kirk (Vulcan, need I say more) while Kirk tends to seem more accurate and effective with skills and combat actions (“We come in peace! [Shoot to kill.]”). The weaponry variation is actually quite surprising, given how little variety we typically see on the shows and movies themselves. On the other hand, the games have always had a plethora of options (e.g. Star Trek Online), so there is that little nugget. Of course, there are Starfleet and Gorn weapons available for use, as well as two types of grenades. Due to this needing non-lethal options (it’s Starfleet, the goal is to seek out new life and civilizations, not mercilessly obliterate it), both of the characters’ default weapons come with stun settings, and, provided the right situation, non-lethal takedowns. Of course, that’s only on the Starfleet side. Gorn weapons are disruptor technology, not phaser technology, and as such, all lethal. There are some fun bits of the Federation arsenal that have no combat use at all, but which players need to use to progress through the game, but we here at iGR don’t like to ruin too many surprises.
Because of the experience system that allows players to upgrade the technology and weaponry that both Kirk and Spock use, there are experience incentives called Commendations that encourage players to go in without killing enemy combatants, or to not be noticed at all. There are also technical Commendations available at certain points. Another bonus experience point is the discovery of knowledge. Because of the availability of the tricorder (which, in default mode, is basically Detective Mode from the Batman: Arkham series), players can scan their surroundings for new information, including audio recordings and information on items that Mister Scott relays. There are certain Easter Eggs present that are quite amusing (find them yourself), but there is also information available about the Star Trek universe, including warp theory, starbase operations, colonization efforts, and even information about alien species (the Gorn and others). Although players can choose to completely ignore this caveat of the game, for true fans of the series, it is a great addition.
As far as game play outside of combat and exploration goes, it can be a little bit hit and miss. Most of the maneuvering and cover controls are fairly well-handled, but there are times where one can accidentally dodge over a barrier in to open space, or fail to move at all when dodging even though there is nothing but open ground surrounding a character. Similarly, certain wall climbing activities are hindered due to poor camera mechanics, making traversing parts of levels exceedingly frustrating, especially for somebody who wants to see everything. There are times when the jumping mechanics are inconsistent, with a player doing practically the exact same thing for certain points and yet not being able to guarantee success or failure. The final gripe is that some bits of the environment seem to be able to obstruct players while doing nothing to stop enemies, making it that much harder to judge what enemies are most pressing.
However, with that being said, the environments and imagery in the game are practically perfect, with it truly feeling that you are playing a Star Trek movie. The interiors of the Enterprise seem like they are practically taken from shots from the first film. The planetary locales, as well as the enemy starships, are designed with such attention to detail that it is like they scanned real locations and then added in what they wished after the fact. You see far more of the Enterprise interior than you get from the first film (which only showed a majority of Engineering, the shuttle bay, a transporter room, an office, and the Bridge), and one great part is that you also get to take a look at the ship’s new warp core (for those of you that remember what happened to the ship’s first core in the 2009 film). The best part of the look of the game, however, is that the character models are actually motion capture scans of the main cast from the new movies. Just to be specific, that means Christopher Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, and John Cho all got scanned in to the game’s graphics, so you’re not just looking at approximations, you’re looking at character models of the real deal.
The audio for the game, however, can be a little hit and miss. Although the foley editing is impeccable (this is Star Trek, after all, if you don’t have a proper foley editor you really shouldn’t bother), the rest of the game offers a varied experience. The music tends to fit for the game, but it kind of gets a little same-y after a while. The real problem is that it uses either the music from Star Trek Online or the 2009 movie, and doesn’t seem to have anything new to add, so the familiar sound track, although a nice nod for fans of all things Trek, just becomes background noise that does little for the game. Also, some bits of the voice acting are a little bit dryer than they should be, actually making it seem like the real actors aren’t portraying the parts. It hurts the story a bit. Even worse is when the character models either don’t move like they’re speaking during dialogue, or when the dialogue and the character model movement are disjointed. The cinematic segments eliminate these issues, but during non-cinematic events, it is quite blatant at points.
Ultimately, though, what Digital Extremes, Namco Bandai Games, and Paramount Pictures have given players is a game that Trek fans can enjoy. Whether or not a wider audience will also love it, akin to the 2009 movie, is another story entirely. Definitely get this if you’ve been a long-time Trekkie, consider it if you liked the Abrams reboot, and if you happen to like the Evolution Engine.
+ A variety of game play styles available
+ Stunning visuals
+ A plot that feels like it could be a film of its own
+ Use of the actual movie actors within the game
+ Great foley sound work
+ A few surprises that make the game enjoyable for general science fiction fans
+ A few surprises that make the game enjoyable for regular gamers
+ Good combat mechanics
+ An experience system that rewards exploration and meeting special goals
+ Varied in-game experiences
+ Puzzle solving that does not always involve combat scenarios
– Sometimes clunky non-combat controls
– Environmental interaction issues
– Some camera control issues
– Hit-and-miss voice acting (including character model synchronization)
– Lack of any new musical score
– Trek in-jokes could limit non-Trek fans’ enjoyment
Overall: 7.0/10 (for regular gamers) 7.75/10 (for Trek fans)