Star Trek: The Video Game (PS3) Review: He’s Dead, Jim
At this point, there is nothing I can say at add to the conversation about Star Trek: The Video Game. The consensus puts this games in with Aliens: Colonial Marines and The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct in a three-way race for the worst game of 2013. It’s a shame because I had high hopes for it considering that it was a Star Trek game developed by a pretty good Canadian developer.
Since nothing I can write will be a revelation when it comes to this game, I thought I’d take an in-depth look at everything good and bad in Star Trek and make it the most detailed review you can find of this game.
Spoiler Warning: There are some minor spoilers in this review but I’ve avoided anything that wasn’t already teased in the trailers or promos for the game.
I’m departing from the usual rundown in our review of Star Trek. We’re going to start with the positives and work our way down.
The audio in this game is absolutely fantastic. If you were to take one highlight from this game, it’s that the audio in this game rivals the top triple-A games. The sound effects were either taken from the movies or created for this game to sound like they belong in the universe. The music was done, in part, by Michael Giacchino who did the music for the rebooted movies. Both just sound absolutely spectacular.
The voice acting was fairly good overall. The main crew reprised their roles from the movies in the game. Chris Pine, Zach Quinto and Karl Urban were spot on in their roles as Kirk, Spock and McCoy. (Urban is still my favourite actor of the new bunch. It’s not even close.) The Gorn get their own language in this game instead of just grunts which is a massive improvement over the iconic TOS episode. Unfortunately, Simon Pegg (Scotty), Zoe Saldana (Uhura) and some minor NPCs came off a little flat. If Scotty didn’t have such a big role, it wouldn’t have been a problem but he does get a bit better by the end.
The story doesn’t feel too far off a TV series episode set in the rebooted universe. You have the scientific phenomenon that needs investigating. There’s the little guy needing saving from the scary alien menace. The Enterprise is there to save the day with some legendary Kirk bravery. The basics of the script work and are pretty fun
Unfortunately, it doesn’t completely work in execution. The story is there but it’s not exactly a compelling script. If you were to make it an actual Star Trek episode, I don’t think it would make too many top ten episodes lists. It would make a serviceable episode but I think a lot of people would say things like “there’s too much shooting” and “I’m not quite sure what the hell is going on.”
The narrative goes along but leaves a few plot holes in its wake like how a terraforming device creates a wormhole, how the gorn come from a different galaxy in the alternate reality as opposed to around the corner in the prime timeline and how they managed to invade the New Vulcan homeworld without the Enterprise seeing any gorn ships. Still, the gorn are a very powerful species in this version of Star Trek reality. They did annihilate a Starfeet colony in the TOS episode “Arena.” So galactic conquest doesn’t seem too outside their old modus operandi.
The dialogue is good, though. Most of that is thanks to the acting but it doesn’t seem too far off what you’d expect from the new movies. I guess having Kurtzman and Orci as part of the writing staff for the game helps. The good voice acting helps here too.
The graphics in this game are a very mixed bag. The pre-rendered cutscenes are absolutely beautiful. These are usually of the Enterprise in space and while they may not look quite as good as the movies, it’s still pretty impressive looking. I read some complaints about environment textures but didn’t find them too bad. A little uninspired and difficult to figure out where I’m platforming to in the dark but not blurry.
The skydiving sections look okay but it can often be very difficult to pick out things to dodge until it’s too late. Some of the camera panning in those sections (particularly on the Gorn homeworld), did steer me into instant death, though.
The worlds created all look very authentic to the Abrams Star Trek. The Enterprise still looks like a 23rd century Apple Store up top and like a 20th century factory in the guts of the ship. The various Vulcan and Starfleet bases you go to fit this design vision. The Gorn homeworld looks a bit monochromatic but there are some interesting flora and fauna that seem alien and reptilian. There’s a spacial anomaly that looked like it belonged in Voyager rather than Star Trek XI, though. Still, there’s plenty lens flare. You couldn’t miss that.
However, there are some flaws with the visuals. The texture quality is early current-gen caliber. Uniform and gorn skin textures are very, very jagged and blurry. They’re supposed to be better on the PC version should you get that instead. The starbase level started out nice and calm despite the fact that the station was at red alert. Someone should have noticed that. As I mentioned above, it was hard to see obstacles when skydiving which wouldn’t have been a problem if not for the whole permanent death thing. And lip-syncing was optional for the animators… Well, either optional or not part of the job description. I could go either way on that call.
You know, if I did first impressions posts or stopped after the second chapter of the game, I would have said, “I don’t know what everyone’s problem is. It played fine for me.” Well, it’s a good thing for you that I played beyond that point.
At first, the only real problems I had with the game was that the gorn were so raptor shaped that they often couldn’t remain in cover. For such a conquering species, you’d think they would have figured it out by now. No worries, it makes it easier for me to shoot them. Notice how I say “me” because Spock isn’t very good at the whole shooting thing.
Things start to go bad at the space battle. Controlling the Enterprise consists of a turret section which you try to figure out what the heck is going on around the ship. I mean, you shoot down torpedoes and kamikaze fighters before they hit the ship. Even with a radar and target outlines for small targets, there no way of knowing what’s going on. A tutorial would have been nice here.
At least the “tactical view” for destroying enemy ships works fine. It’s basically the Dead Eye mechanic from RDR only not quite as satisfying to use. That’s probably because that’s the only way of destroying enemy capital ships rather than in the course of real-time action.
As I said earlier, if I stopped after two chapters, I would’ve been fine. I didn’t though. In that third chapter on-foot, it all fell apart. Spock went from being a well-behaved but offensively challenged companion to a massive pain in the ass.
In the span of one chapter, Spock ran off when asked to give me a boost, got bumped off the area where you needed to get a boost to even though I phased through him in every other area of the level and randomly stopped in place unless I told him to move. My favourite Spock moment was when Spock got stuck behind some obstacles that you can’t actually reach as the playable character. I tried. He must have phased through the level somehow. I just carried on by myself but when I needed him for a co-op hack, he showed up. Afterwards, he just stood around but he was there to do co-op stuff and draw aggro from the gorn. And don’t take your AI companion on the stealth route. He’ll just charge into the middle of the action.
This game is co-op. You can play your co-op either locally or online. It works. You don’t have to deal with the companion AI which makes the game far less frustrating. As expected, playing with a friend is more fun than playing by yourself.
The enemy AI isn’t completely terrible. Sure, they’re terrible at getting completely into cover and tend to come at you in a straight line. They do try to keep you honest by pinning you down with fire, hiding behind smoke grenades and flanking you if given the opportunity. Their strength is in numbers and being phaser fire sponges. They just aren’t particularly smart. Let’s take the best we can from it and say the devs bought into what Kirk thought of the gorn in the classic TOS episode Arena.
For a cover-based third-person shooter, cover is a real pain to use. Sometimes you’re able to latch on to cover but you can occasionally end up combat rolling into the open. There’s a nice targeted move between cover mechanic that’s great when it works but I’d say it only actually lets me move where I want to go less than half of the time for no particular reason. And don’t combat roll near something that can be used as cover because you’ll just magnetize to it… Unless you want to in which case you’ll end up rolling into the open and become Swiss cheese.
The game isn’t solely shooting. There are some platforming sections that are reminiscent of the Uncharted series. (Fitting given Kirk also shares Nathan Drake’s fondness for waist-high walls.) Sometimes it’s easy to figure out where to go but other times you can’t actually see the ledge you’re trying to grab. Figuring out which direction you about to jump isn’t as intuitive as it is in Uncharted either. There are even balance beam sections that you can’t actually fail on. I tried to fail but you can’t. Kind of pointless to waste the time creating your heroes’ arms outstretched and flailing for balance animations when you can’t fail the section.
Orbital skydiving is back in this game too. Reminds me quite a bit of Dead Space in that your moving around to dodge debris. It worked fairly well except for a few instances where it was hard to see what’s coming. I also found it odd that the Y-axis would invert on me during these segments. Going down instead of up, as expected, was an annoying way to die.
There are a few of hacking minigames for you to try your hand at to take control of turrets or open doors. The first is matching pairs of wavelengths in a certain time period. The second is a connect the dots with TRON lightcycles sort of hack that could really have use a tutorial. And there’s a co-op wavelength matching hack that’s mildly annoying.
My biggest problem with the hacking, besides getting tired of it after a while and sending Spock to do it, is that shooting is still going on around you in real-time. Hacking things yourself is a good way to get killed because Spock isn’t about to save you without getting killed.
There are also some RPG mechanics in the game. You earn XP by completing objectives and scanning various enemies and objects to learn about them. You can cash in this XP to upgrade your phaser or tricorder. The problem is that I went most of the way through the game without bothering to upgrade because I didn’t need to. Maybe I should have played on hard instead of normal difficulty.
Apart from the AI issues, I didn’t find too many other glitches. Sometimes doing a post-stun shot melee attack to a gorn causes them to go through a fainting animation but remain on their feet and immobile. As I mentioned before, sometimes you can phase through Spock but he’s very solid when you don’t want him to be.
And to top it all off, it’s a 3.6 GB installation on your PS3. That was 90% of my remaining PS3 hard drive space. The PC version available on Steam is only an 8 GB installation. It’s probably not 8 GB of data on the PS3 disc because you don’t need the high-res textures that the PC can run. So you’re looking at something like half of the data on the disc that has to be installed on the hard drive. It’s not optional. That seems to me as though Star Trek wasn’t really optimized for the home console. It also seems to be first on the list to clear off when I need hard drive space for The Last of Us.
Is This Game Salvageable?
Well, the PC version of the game was patched and some of the glitches were addressed. They were also able to sort out why the online co-op wasn’t working too. Clearly, the team at Digital Extremes has been working to fix some problems.
The question is when we can expect a fix on the PlayStation 3. I haven’t seen a notification for a patch on the PS3. There isn’t a Star Trek update in the saved game data listing on my console. A Google search turns up no indication that a patch has come out for any version of Star Trek apart from on the PC.
It’s important to say that this game is still fixable. If Gearbox can scramble together some massive patches to start fixing all the problems with Aliens: Colonial Marines, Digital Extremes can do that do Star Trek too. As bad as some reviews were for Star Trek, it sounds like A:CM was very close to being broken as opposed to just glitchy and buggy.
If Digital Extremes can work out the problems with the AI, both for your AI companion and the gorn, we would have a serviceable game. If all the issues with the AI get sorted out, you have the potential for a game that scores around 6 or 7 out of 10. I’m not scoring on potential though. The AI companion and so-called “bro-op” gameplay was the cornerstone of this game and it just doesn’t work as it should.
It sounds like there’s a lot wrong with this game (and don’t get me wrong, there is) but it’s not unplayable. It can be fun to shoot your way out of a near impossible situation. The space and Enterprise visuals are pretty good. The voice acting and the music is on par with the best games in the industry.
At the end of the day, there is so much potential here that was left unfulfilled. With all the AI problems, you’d be justified in thinking that the game was rushed to release rather than delayed to release closer to Into Darkness debuting in theatres. You would have thought that they would have done some QA testing to find out that there were plenty of issues and attempt to fix them.
So when scoring this game, I had to look at the issues. The biggest problem is the gameplay and that’s the heart of the game and the experience. It’s not always bad to play. At times, this game can be kinda fun. The problem is that when it goes wrong, it goes wrong in a big way. It’s like a car that can go only two speeds. It’s either going 0 or 60.
Star Trek: The Video Game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3 but is also available for PC and Xbox 360. Your impressions of the game may differ based on the console played on. Our copy of the game was a retail copy provided by the publisher.
Cross-posted from The Lowdown Blog.