‘Star Trek: The Video Game’ doesn’t live up to the franchise

April 30, 2013 | 5:00 a.m.
tmar Star Trek: The Video Game doesnt live up to the franchise

A scene of T’Mar from "Star Trek: The Video Game." (NAMCO Bandai / Paramount)

surok Star Trek: The Video Game doesnt live up to the franchise

A scene of Surock from "Star Trek: The Video Game." (NAMCO Bandai / Paramount)

The first voice you hear in “Star Trek: The Video Game” is Capt. James T. Kirk screaming “ambush!” Moments later, Spock — Kirk’s familiar second in command and traditionally a more logic-oriented presence — hollers “grenade!”

It doesn’t have the poetic heft of “space, the final frontier,” which opened almost every episode of the original series and its follow-up, “The Next Generation.” But that sort of thing is not part of the mission for this game, which begins with quick-cut glimpses of guns blazing, giant lizards and explosions.

The goal here is not all that different from the J.J. Abrams-helmed film “Star Trek,” which rebooted the franchise in 2009. Co-publishers Paramount Pictures and NAMCO Bandai hope to reenergize the franchise by turning to one of the most successful gaming genres of the past decade: the third-person duck-and-cover shooter.

“Star Trek: The Video Game” features voice contributions from the core film cast, including Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock, as well as writing assists from film personnel such as Roberto Orci. Thanks to such detail, it could prove an integral chapter in the current series, forming a bridge between the 2009 film and next month’s “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

A scene from "Star Trek the Video Game." (NAMCO Bandai / Paramount)

A scene from “Star Trek: The Video Game.” (NAMCO Bandai / Paramount)

Instead, the game raises concerns that the publishers believe that game consumers can be satiated with shooters rather than more complex forms of interactive storytelling (something that was attempted more successfully in 1992 with the PC / Mac effort “Star Trek 25th Anniversary”).

Despite all the A-list talent and big-screen pedigree, the kill-first, diplomacy-later formula of “Star Trek: The Video Game” just doesn’t have room for the “Trek” ethos, which is integral to the franchise’s enduring appeal.

Who has time to explore new worlds when there are giant lizards to shoot? Phasers have the ability to stun and kill, of course, but stun works for all of about 10 seconds, which practically encourages players to kill instead. Piloting the Enterprise sounds exciting, but even that is reduced to manually controlling a torpedo.

The game picks up where the 2009 film left off, with the planet Vulcan having been destroyed and efforts to rebuild it underway. Yet a civilization-building machine created for the very purpose of quickly sculpting a new Vulcan home has a nasty side effect of opening rifts in space. Those fissures allow the Gorn — a lizard-like race first seen in a 1967 “Star Trek” episode — to enter Starfleet territory.

A scene from "Star Trek the Video Game." (NAMCO Bandai / Paramount)

A scene from “Star Trek: The Video Game.” (NAMCO Bandai / Paramount)

Once contact is established with the Gorn, the game more resembles “Halo” than anything from Gene Roddenberry’s imagination. But even as a “Halo” knockoff, it stumbles. Moving around (latching on to walls, ducking) doesn’t always work thanks to non-responsive controls, and characters that aren’t puppeteered by the player often run in circles.

Most offensively though, the Gorn are reduced to simple, dinosaur-like creatures. “Star Trek” in theory has been more about exploring and learning from intelligent alien life forms, even the aggressive ones, but here, the Gorn run around the game behaving like motivationless, suicide-bombing space monsters, even though they’re apparently intelligent enough to build third-person-shooter staples such as semiautomatic weapons and gun turrets.

The lighthearted tone of Abrams’ film, in which characters could trade wisecracks moments after watching an entire civilization be destroyed, does help carry the game in places. It’s a dynamic found mostly in the bickering, spouse-like relationship between Spock and Kirk.

Although “bickering” implies a sophistication the game doesn’t have. “You think?” is Kirk’s common lunkheaded retort to Spock’s reasoned but often obvious advice. And while the Enterprise captain has always been a womanizer, here his seduction moves just feel tone deaf and clumsy, such as hitting on a Vulcan scientist moments after she may or may not have lost her father.

A scene from "Star Trek the Video Game." (NAMCO Bandai / Paramount)

A scene from “Star Trek: The Video Game.” (NAMCO Bandai / Paramount)

Other “Trek” staples make appearances, such as the trusty handheld tricorder device that’s used frequently by the duo. It’s now a thing of magic, used to solve nearly everything. Need to put out a fire? Push a button on the tricorder. Need to disable lizard weapons? Push a button on the tricorder. It makes most advanced problem solving in the game largely nonexistent.

The science of “Trek” is largely absent. One of the game’s go-to puzzles gives players 30 seconds to match various patterns. Commonly known as a hacking exercise, it’s a simple memory game that’s forgivable once, but recurs often.

The game’s biggest selling point is that players can choose to play as either Spock or Kirk, and the two characters are side-by-side for the entire journey. Tasks are designed to be completed cooperatively, and if the game aimed higher it could have been a showcase for crafting believable artificial intelligence.

Most often, however, the two must partner up to complete menial chores, such as opening a really heavy door, an undertaking that is accomplished by pressing a controller button as fast as possible.

It’s emblematic of a game that lacks the ambition to boldly go where no game has gone before. Instead, “Star Trek: The Video Game” explores worlds that ultimately feel very familiar, and worse, not much fun. Highly illogical.

— Todd Martens

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex


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14 Responses to ‘Star Trek: The Video Game’ doesn’t live up to the franchise

  1. Jon Newcombe says:

    Wow, this looks terrible, those character designs look plucked from ps2.

    Judging by your write up its pretty terrible to play as well. Shame. Maybe one day someone will make a Star Trek game worth playing. Maybe.

    • JAMMA PCB says:

      Star trek next generation on genesis and SNES was amazing. 25th anniversary was great too. Why cant they just make a game like that? Darn seems movie-licensed games are always cursed to mediocracy.

  2. jdh5153 says:

    It's not great, but I've gotten some enjoyment out of it. I'd say it's a solid 7/10. It has issues, but there are enough fun sections to make the bad ones bearable. I wouldn't buy the game, I picked it up at Red Box to play. I enjoyed the experience and only spent $8 to play it. It's worth at least renting.


  3. matt powell says:

    the 3d doesnt work at all. it looks like a spin art disaster. this game should never have been sold. taking it back to frys today.

  4. Mark says:

    Wow I was deleted for saying how nothing since Gene's death in this franchise is worth anything to his vision.

  5. larry b says:

    i guess low expectations ethier in st video games or these new st movies are just to be sometimes assumed,money seems to be the only goal, not finding the middle ground…sticking to the st Bible of entertainment, maintaining continuety,intelligent drama ,great special effects and making money,its a shame,i miss Gene and the the men and women that tried so long after his death to follow his insight….oh well….everything changes with time i suppose…even for the worse

    • John W. says:

      Having been a Roddenberry insider, I can tell you without hesitation that as soon as Gene died the powers at Paramount (including the producers under Gene) immediately moved to completely change Gene's near-utopian vision. From Deep Space Nine onward…

  6. Joe says:

    The game doesn't live up to the franchise because the films it is based on don't live up to the franchise. The Abrams adaptations of Start Trek suck and when you base a video game on a film that sucks, then the game is going to suck too.

  7. Des says:

    I have to say that I was happy to hear about the game and could not wait for it. Bought the game after it dropped in price. Played it in solo mode first and it was a bit disappointing. Paramount, CBS put out the money and Namco/ Digital Extremes really did not spend a dime of there money.. So why such a glitched unbalanced game. Its not that terrible but it could have been so much more. Why did they go to DE/Namco… Bioware or DICE could have done so much better…. But Hey at least it was not as bad as Aliens: Colonial Marines which made me feel like smash my PC into wall. That was a let down. Look at it the story was interesting could have work a bit more on it. The engine and mechanics of the game, well clearly needed more work.. But hey rush rush rush right, to time not to standard… As for the new movies they are good, remember it is a reboot, it will never resemble the original trek but have the names,characters and subtle cues to it and that is all.. And a side note Star Trek Voyager Elite Force is and will be the best trek action/shooter game to date, maybe Activison can rework and release it with an up to date COD engine… LOL on that thought.

  8. Thanks a ton for this. Discovering really good franchising info is pretty difficult,

    so it’s nice to be able to share this with people that are into franchising or are checking the waters.

  9. Dave B says:

    Is this game as bad as Aliens:Colonial Marines? That was another game that had so much hype surrounding it's release, and it turned out to be a glitch filled bomb. I think I'll wait until it hits the used bins at Gamestop for $20.00.

  10. I just recently finished playing through this post-patched PC game with a friend and have written a review. We both think the game is underrated and enjoyed our foray into the Star Trek universe. Keep in mind that most of the reviews you encounter about Star Trek: The Video Game were written just after the game was released before the developer had a chance to come up with a patch. So keep that in mind when reading about countless bugs and reviewers saying they were unable to finish the game in co-op mode.

    If you really like the new Star Trek movies and the main cast then this game is offering you something no other game can. The main cast have lent their likeness and voices to the game.You get to play as either Kirk or Spock and go on an epic mission doing amazing things in the pursuit of reptilian aliens who pose a great threat to the universe!

    Some of the highlights for me were watching Spock through the scope of my Star Fleet Phaser rifle and picking off the enemies around him as he went to activate a bridge. Swimming through subterranean waterways together. Flying through the air wearing wingsuits and being thrown into an arena initially weaponless and then be forced to fight Spock in hand-to-hand combat! Though there are only several weapons they are pretty cool.

    Having said all that I can't wholeheartedly recommend the game for two reasons. The first is that it is a polarizing game. Many enjoy it, many don't. The second is because it still has bugs though they didn't end up spoiling the game for my friend and I. Below are two of the bigger ones..

    * In the first encounter with the Gorn if Kirk was the first one to go up the ladder the player will suddenly find himself at the bottom of the ladder looking up and unable to play and Spock fights the Gorn alone. If Spock goes up the ladder first the game continues on normally.

    * We found that if you go through three checkpoints on the Gorn mothership toward the end of the game and resume play on another day the game takes you back to the start of the mothership incursion completely ignoring those completed checkpoints. So give yourself a leisurely two hours to complete this part of the mission in one go.

    If you are an easy-going, fairly uncritical gamer that doesn't mind playing linear games and you like Star Trek consider trying it out. It's only $14.99 at Steam at the moment.

    Andrew Burgon
    Project Fellowship

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