I cannae take much more of this!
As a life-long fan of the shows and films, I’ve seen a lot of bad Star Trek in my time… but playing Star Trek: The Game reminded me that it’ll never get any easier to see the potential of one of science fiction’s greatest universes squandered on a barely serviceable, paint-by-numbers third-person shooter. Terrible animations, dull combat, repetitive puzzles, and rampant bugs wore out Star Trek’s welcome long before its pointless story came to an end.
What did I expect from a licensed game released a few weeks ahead of a major movie? Oh, I don’t know… how about a plot that’s more ambitious than, “Oh no, velociraptors with ray guns have stolen a superweapon, we’d better shoot them until we get it back! Pew pew pew. The end.” No? Too much? Alright then, how about combat that isn’t completely generic, featuring a clever weapon perhaps? Maybe some kind of substantial difference between the two playable characters? Or even a reasonable expectation that a bug won’t cause my own weapon to explode in my face when I fire a charged shot? Nope, nope, and nope.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by any of that. It’s just that at first the graphics got my hopes up that this wouldn’t be a bad game. As long as they’re holding still, or engaged in general dive-rolling-into-cover actions, Kirk and Spock look and sound a lot like Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, respectively (’cause they did the voice acting). Particularly on the PC version, the texture detail is impressive, and most of the sounds and phaser-bolt effects are actually quite authentic.
Then they open their mouths, or do something like interact with the environment or other characters in any way, and the dire state of their animations sets off a red alert in my brain. It’s bad – lots of really clumsy-looking movement, people, and objects clipping through each other; crazy, badly lip-synced dialog (not that syncing it with this corny writing would fix it); and general screwups make Star Trek play like a blooper reel. It’s really quite surprising that I never hit a real game-breaker considering all of the scripted events that failed to trigger.
It gets ugly, too. The Enterprise interior looks good enough (except for the weird Sick Bay level) but the alien ships and world you fight through are uniformly brownish and messy. Likewise, all the alien machine gun, shotgun, sniper rifle, and beam/rocket launcher equivalents are not only unremarkable in performance, they’re all lumpy chunks of alien technology that are difficult to even tell apart.
I’ll give developer Digital Extremes credit for at least attempting to cram in a wide variety of gameplay. The operative word, of course, is “attempting,” because what it actually did was to break up the boring third-person shooting with swimming, flying, space combat, and hacking minigames so mind-numbingly simple and repetitive and/or frustrating they made me eager to get back to just being bored. As the old saying goes, if you can’t make a minigame that isn’t annoying to play more than once, you shouldn’t make a minigame at all. Having to stop and scan absolutely everything with the Tricorder (Star Trek’s version of Batman: Arkham City’s Detective mode) to see through walls, hack control panels, and spot hidden wires doesn’t help the pace, either.
Ideally, co-op could save the day in a game like Star Trek… but in this case, it’s too dull and buggy to drag someone else with you. Bland combat with another person by your side doesn’t make it any less bland, but at least someone will be there to see the goofy physics launch an enemy into the air when you snipe them. Other than that, most of the co-op gameplay is about both of you tapping a button to pry open a stuck door or boost the other guy up a ledge every couple of minutes. It feels so incredibly obligatory and tacked-on that it’s often preferable to play alone.
The only problem there is that the ally AI is almost as dumb as the enemy AI. It’s so unreliable that when I became incapacitated in combat, I was often revived magically because AI Spock was too busy getting stuck on some wall somewhere to help me. At least the ally AI is smart enough that it doesn’t forget to fight sometimes like the enemies routinely do.
Even the design logic makes little sense. I appreciate that the secondary objectives give you a reason to avoid using lethal force against mind-controlled Starfleet officers, because I could see that as a basic courtesy Captain Kirk might extend to his crew. But generally, if you’re going to do that, shouldn’t it be more difficult to stun enemies than kill them? In Star Trek, it’s way easier to incapacitate (instead of kill) anything beefier than a basic grunt… so shouldn’t I be getting extra experience points for kills? I’m confused.
I was surprised at how long the campaign is drawn out. Most movie tie-ins tap out around the seven-hour mark, but Star Trek pads the story out for over 10 hours of (star) dreck. (Particularly bad is the section with the selfish Starfleet commodore who looks and behaves like John Kerry playing a villain from an Adam Sandler movie.) And I can’t say for sure how much of that time was spent retrying the few unintuitive Tomb Raider-style climbing and jumping puzzles. I just know I was glad when the really weak final boss fight was over and the sloppily cobbled-together ending cutscene played.
Playing Star Trek: The Game felt like playing an unfinished version of a game that, even when finished, still wouldn’t be very good. There isn’t a scrap of imagination or originality in this whole thing, and it’s a flat-out waste of the source material, the sound effects, and the voice cast. Even if you’re a life-long Star Trek fan like I am, you don’t want to beam down anywhere near this thing.