Once upon a time, Star Trek was a vision of an optimistic, enlightened future where solving problems with violence was a last resort. Now, thanks to J.J. Abrams' fun-but-shallow reboot, it's a slick action film that's light on sci-fi, but big on explosions, excitement, and witty dialogue. Do you think your average popcorn muncher wants to see Picard sipping Earl Grey and calmly negotiating with a nebula? Of course not. They want to see Kirk 2.0 shooting an alien with a phaser as planets explode in the background.
Reflecting this flashier, dumber modern Star Trek, the inevitable spin-off game - which features an original story set after the events of the 2009 film and before the forthcoming sequel, Into Darkness - is a generic, set-piece-laden cover shooter. You spend much of it, playing as either Kirk or Spock, crouching behind bits of scenery and firing lasers at monsters. If you want to feel like the captain of your own starship, exploring the universe, and seducing weird aliens, play Mass Effect. In spirit, it's a better Star Trek game. This is, superficially, Uncharted in space.
Even if you aren't a Star Trek fan, you'll know the famous scene where William Shatner fights a hilariously fake-looking reptilian alien. This was a Gorn, and they're the bad guys in the game. They've been redesigned in an attempt to make them more intimidating (and less rubbery) but they're still pretty lame as far as Star Trek villains go. This is a universe famed for its memorable antagonists - the merciless Borg, the fearsome Klingons, the mischievous Q - so it's disappointing that the best the developers could come up with is a bunch of giant lizards.
The combat is completely unremarkable. There's barely anything to say about it. You pin yourself against cover, wait for the enemy to pop their head out, then shoot them. It's the worst kind of play-it-safe, by-the-numbers third-person shooter there is. There aren't even any interesting sci-fi weapons to play with; just reskinned shotguns, pistols, and rifles. There's something absurd about seeing Spock running around with a space shotgun, and it doesn't fit his character at all. Turning Star Trek - even the new Star Trek - into a shooter just doesn't feel right.
There are some attempts to add variety: simple environmental puzzles (e.g. find an obviously-placed power cell to open a locked door), bonus objectives that reward you for stunning rather than killing certain enemies, and some dull, sluggish Tomb Raider-style climbing. Worst of all, though, is the hacking. Almost everything you have to interact with to complete objectives involves one of a handful of tedious hacking mini-games. Sometimes you get the option to sneak through levels without being detected, but if there's one thing this game doesn't need, it's stealth.
You also get to command the Enterprise, but it's a staggering anti-climax. Star Trek's famously tense space battles are nowhere to be found; instead you move a crosshair slowly around the screen, firing weedy lasers at waves of ships. There's no visual feedback or damage indication whatsoever, and you don't feel like, or know if you are, hitting anything. The ship doesn't even move; it just hangs in place, like Kirk was in the bathroom and an ensign was inexplicably given control of the bridge. It's the single worst part of any game we've played this year.
What the game gets right is the rapport between Kirk and Spock. Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine are fundamentally very good actors, so they make the best of the hit-and-miss script. Their light-hearted back-and-forths are entertaining, and bring some humour to the otherwise drab, repetitive levels. Everything is designed with co-op in mind, and both characters have to work together to bypass certain obstacles, like combining their strength to pry open jammed doors.
With a friend, the game is a lot more fun - but that can be said of almost any co-op game. Where it falls apart is when you're playing solo. The AI is dizzyingly stupid, with abysmal pathfinding and an infuriating tendency to ignore you while you're incapacitated and waiting to be revived. At one point, the AI actually broke the game. We needed to complete a two-man hacking mini-game to proceed, but Kirk was frozen in place, running endlessly into a wall. Ridiculous.
Between missions you're able to explore small sections of the Enterprise. The gleaming, shiny-floored bridge looks great, complete with unnecessary lens flares, and you can talk to members of the crew - all of whom have the proper voices and likenesses of their respective actors, including Simon Pegg's atrocious Scottish accent. But as good as the faces are, they're horribly animated, looking more like weird animatronic waxwork dummies than actual human beings.
Prejudiced after years of being burned by promising, but ultimately rubbish, film spin-offs, we weren't expecting much from Star Trek. There are some decent ideas in here - like being able to scan the environment, Metroid Prime-style, with the tricorder - but they're outweighed by flat combat, clunky controls, and uninspiring level design. Strip away the licence and you're left with an underwhelming shooter punctuated by endless hacking mini-games and woeful space combat.
You might squeeze some enjoyment out of it in co-op, but otherwise this is a deeply unremarkable cover shooter.
- Entertaining Kirk/Spock banter
- The faces look good (until they move)
- Sluggish controls
- Mediocre combat and level design