Having made a troublesome tube journey from Farringdon to South Kensington (look it up, it’s not the most direct of journeys) on a cold February evening, the first thing I wanted to do was go to bed – not head into a Museum. However, upon opening the glass doors of the Science Museum, walking through its halls of tesla coils, engines, rockets, lunar landers and a whole manner of incredible inventions that prove just how incredible humanity is, it all became worth it when I approached a sign directing me to “In Future” – a fittingly named location for where I’d be getting some hands on time with Star Trek: The Video Game.
Set between the events of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek and it’s upcoming sequel, Star Trek: The Video Game places you into the Starfleet issue boots of Captain James Tiberius Kirk or Commander Spock as they fight off the newly reappeared Gorn across a variety of locales – either taken from the films or created wholly anew.
Having been offered two levels to play through, in both co-op and single player, with a 2D and 3D option to pick from, I decided to go and play all variations on everyplatform available – because we like to be thorough here at TGH. Personally, I’m rather impressed by what Digital Extremes have put onto the table after the games lengthy three year development cycle – far longer than many other film tie-in titles ever get.
Granted, I shouldn’t have been surprised having known the pedigree that DE have, nor the passion every developer there – that I spoke to – seemed to have for the project. It definitely didn’t seem like they had any other desires than to make a Star Trek title that was faithful to both the new film series and the old faithful TV show that kicked it all off.
Naturally, this is very pleasing to hear as there’s always been a habit of film-licenced games being a little bit rubbish – with one recent example having managed to disappoint everyone (we’ll let you figure out which game we mean). Here though, it seems that the shoddy tie-in movie is as far from what the team have aimed to do, and – for the most part – they’ve managed to achieve this quite successfully.
While it could be very easy of me to ruin the story by regaling of some of the more explosive moments of gameplay I experienced – such as evading the blasts of heat from a nearby sun – I shan’t, for I would much rather you experience these moments fresh like I’ve had the luxury of doing.
Each level had quite a different feel to proceedings, with the former being mostly focused on the co-op aspect of gameplay, seeing you working together to overcome puzzle and platform-esque levels. The later level then skewed the focus more to combat, showcasing the various weapons systems available to you as you fight off the Gorn. While being vastly different, elements of puzzle play and combat were present in both, but it does show that as the story unfolds things move from the everyday situations of a Starfleet officer into the territory of the more outlandish events found in the movie.
Co-op play is a massive feature for Star Trek: The Video Game, wanting you to really work together just as Kirk and Spock would do – it even throws in the witty banter and friendship that they seem to have, just to help ground you in the world. It’s a little unfortunate that the co-op mechanic does seem a little tired already. It’s far deeper than what Gears of War offers with it’s hulking meat-heads providing cover for one another, but it’s puzzle mechanic amounts to little more than scanning something with a TriCoder while the other presses a button or shoots something. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt though as I did only see it in action across two levels, so things could easily be different in other sections. Still, don’t waltz in expecting depth like that of Portal 2′s offering.
Picking up a weapon in the later half of my hands on time felt pleasingly refreshing. Seeing as the major weapon used throughout the Star Trek series is a Phaser, it’s recreation in digital form is fantastic, packing both quite the punch and sounding nearly tone perfect with the series trademark fizz. There are other weapons to pick up – in fact there are over 25 according to Digital Extreme’s Brian Noon – and each weapon has two shooting functions, so you have a lot of variety on offer with your 23rd century arsenal.
As it’s a third-person shooter set in space, there are undeniably some parallels with the RPG giant Mass Effect. It has a similar cover system, and combat feels somewhat similar too. There’s also a weapons upgrade system that works on points obtained through solving puzzles, hacking devices and killing enemies. But, when something’s been done so well already, why try to go off in a different tangent? It doesn’t feel exactly like BioWare’s magnum opus, but it doesn’t feel too alien to play either.
Being produced by Paramount, Digital Extremes have clearly had a lot of freedom afforded to them with the series licence. They’ve faithfully recreated the USS Enterprise and the world of JJ Abrams’ film well, utilising the faces and voices of the series actors to their advantage. Which makes complete sense when you realise that they want to keep you immersed in this universe, and when it launches just weeks before the second film arrives.
It’s certainly not perfect yet, with some rough textures and some clipping issues occurring, but it is a debug build and still has a month or so until it releases – ample time to sort the issues that arose. It must be said that while the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions seemed to be indistinguishable, the PC version is worlds apart with it’s lens flare effects and smoother and more detailed visuals.
If I had to compare it to other movie tie-in titles, then this is far above the average bar set for them. However, moving out and away from such a low standard to compare it too, Star Trek: The Video Game currently feels like a well-rounded and enticing adventure that should be a pleasure for fans to play come April 23rd. It’s certainly an ambitious project – one that no other developer has quite ventured into before, but with Paramount’s clout behind it, Digital Extremes’ love for the series woven into it, it’s hard to believe something good won’t emerge.