Saturday, April 27, 2013

One Hour Playthrough: Star Trek

I'm playing through my vast game collection one game at a time, one hour at a time.

Game: Star Trek
Developer: Digital Extremes
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Published in: 2013
Genre: Action
Rating: T

I was never really much of a Star Trek fan - much more of a Star Wars fan. While I watched the different series (a nerd's gotta keep up with nerd culture) I never really got into them. Then the J.J. Abrams movie came out - it was exciting and funny and the acting was really good. Sure, there were lots of lens flares but it actually got me excited about Star Trek for once. Another thing that got me excited about this game was this ad. Brilliant.

The cover shows a black and white image of Kirk and Spock brandishing guns while space pyramids attack in the background. If I hadn't already seen the ad, I would have thought I'd be fighting space mummies. I open the case and as seems to be the trend with current games, there is no manual and all the legal info is printed on the back of the cover. I think we have a new winner in the paper efficiency competition.

I get ready to game up, but get a save data space error. After clearing up my PS3's hard drive, the game starts with a flurry of logo - CBS, Paramont, Namco/Bandai, Digital Extremes... whew! It takes so many licensors to make a licensed game nowadays - everyone's got to get their name slathered all over it. I am sent into hyperspace as hard drive data is being copied over. Do they have hard drive space issues in the 23rd century? I hope not. Huzzah! We're finally read to play - as the game loads, a tip is displayed on screen. Ironically, the first tip is how to equip grenades. I never really connected the Star Trek universe with grenades. I guess it's one more thing J.J. Abrams has brought to this new Star Trek universe. Besides lens flares.

Where are all the lens flares?

The title screen features a nice pan-around on the Enterprise bridge with Kirk and Spock standing heroically while Bones frets in the background. The game (almost) seemlessly transitions into a choice between Kirk and Spock. I choose Kirk because I want the opportunity to "make it" with a green-skinned girl. The game tells me a second player can join in to play as Spock. Nice. It also seems you have the option to have online players drop in and out of your game (to play as Spock, perhaps?) A neat idea - kind of like Demon's Souls in reverse with a player actually trying to help you rather than screw you. Let's see how it holds up.

Spock looks like the last guy picked for the kickball team

The game drops us right into the action with lizard-men Gorn blasting away at Kirk and Spock until Spock gets a kooky look in his eye and the two of them go mano-e-mano. But wait, it's 8 hours earlier and Kirk and Spock are playing a perfectly civilized game of vulcan chess. A mystery! As a side note, it's too bad vulcan chess isn't playable. They should have taken a cue from Assassin's Creed 3.

This is why I picked Kirk

As I walk around Spock's quarters, I notice that something isn't quite right about moving the character around. Either he's moving too stiffly or too fast - things are feeling a little... slidey. And as I head to the bridge, Kirk starts to run everywhere. I guess the developers got tired of walking around. That's OK, walking isn't gameplay, I always say. I look to see if I can tweak the sensitivity in options, but nope.

Star Trek recipe: Take a bit of Batman: Arkham Asyslum...

Now a space station is in trouble and they have to go check it out. Reaching the station, there are a few moments of cooperative play where Spock is require to help open a door. Kirk climbs around the world like Nathan Drake, hanging from ledges and broken struts. The game even has it's own version of Batman: Arkham Asylum's detective vision when the Tricorder is used. The tricorder can be used to deactive rogue robot arms, find conduits and hack computer terminals. The characters banter back and forth as they walk to the next location in a manner that reminds me of Nate and Sully in Uncharted.

...toss in some Uncharted...

That's the thing about Star Trek, it's competitent but I get the feeling that developer said "we really like Dead Space's puzzles, Gears of War's cover system, Batman: Arkham Asylum's detective vision and Uncharted's climbing. Let's make a game with all these together." This might cause a more jaded reviewer to dismiss Star Trek, but is that recipe such a bad thing? Not every game needs to be novel and brand new - just well constructed and playable. I would rather play a half dozen competent but derivitive games than one that is just outright bad.

...don't forget to add that sequence I hated in Dead Space.

Spock and Kirk finally reach the bridge of the space station to find out that some crew members are stranded at the reactor's core needs to be saved or something. They reach the core and have to dcuk blasts of heat while creating a path to safety. Yeah, I didn't like that asteroid level in Dead Space either. But it is nice that the player is given a choice to either tricorder the controls open or shoot off some locks. If you get bored or fail too much at one task you, still have another option to succeed. However, my AI Spock gets hung up on some geometry and as I die from a 6th degree sunburn, I reach the hour mark.

There's got to be some Necromorphs around here somewhere.

Do I continue boldly going where no one has gone before or do I end this five year mission right now?

What I would differently: Character controls are the biggest issue with Star Trek. Something doesn't feel quite right. The speed of the player character and his animations go hand in hand with the feel of the play. If the character is too stiff or too loose in their animation, it's going to impact how it feels to move him around. The same is true with aiming - I feel that a good aiming system needs to "snap" - and not have the player's reticule "float" around as their trying to aim. Also, while I admire the game's "let's not mess around and get to the action" attitude, there are some moments where I would have prefered to talk with the green girl or play a game of chess. These little elements help create a world, not just a game.

Would I keep playing: Sure. The game is playable with plenty of variety. I like the universe and characters (the voice acting is top-notch) and the game does a good job representing them. Besides, I didn't get to wrestle with a green girl... I mean with a Gorn at all.

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