By Tony Stamp
I'm a fan of JJ Abrams' 2009 reinvention of the Star Trek franchise. The movie succeeds admirably at making Trek accessible to those not familiar with the show's lore, and does so largely through a snappy pace and a fantastic, charismatic cast.
Which makes it all the more frustrating to hear that same cast sound so lost at sea in this new game, which takes place in between that first film and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness.
I guess it also highlights the importance of a good director, because no one gives any good line readings here. Chris Pine as Kirk sounds perpetually pissed off, Karl Urban's accent as Bones is shaky as hell, and Zachary Quinto, while doing a better job than anyone else, has the luxury of delivering everything in a Vulcan monotone.
I was focussed on the voices in the early stages of the game because the press surrounding it proudly proclaims the cast's involvement, as well as a new score performed by a 100 piece orchestra. I'll come back to the score in a moment, but the lacklustre performances kind of summed up the experience of playing this game for me - it's an admirable attempt at pleasing the fans, but it's executed in a pretty half-arsed fashion.
Much like I was imagining Pine and co sitting in a sound booth somewhere, playing with their phones and giving about 20 percent of their attention to delivering this game's dialogue, so too I imagined the developers floating ideas and just rolling with whatever they came up with first.
The game revolves around a colony of Vulcan survivors that has formed after their homeworld was destroyed in the last film. I played as Captain Kirk, who is accompanied by Spock throughout the game (you can choose to play as either), a feature which would be nice if you were playing in co-op mode but is pretty annoying when it's just you, as you're constantly waiting for him to catch up.
The Vulcans are being infected by some sort of space virus, turning them into space zombies, making the early stages feel a bit like Dead Space without any of the atmosphere and half the fun. The baddies behind this turn out to be the Gorn, a race of lizard dudes from the original series. This works in the game's favour as you get to stop politely stunning Vulcans and begin mercilessly slaughtering Gorn. Which all seems a bit bloodthirsty for Trek - including a bit where the Enterprise fires at New Vulcan and kills the living heck out of a bunch of Gorn - but whatever, it injects an iota of fun into proceedings.
The whole thing is just a bit lifeless. None of the design work stayed in my mind after I'd finished playing, the weapons you acquire are all pretty lightweight and dull, and the puzzles, largely consisting of matching two aural tones to 'hack' into security devices, are tedious.
Something I found extremely taxing were the multiple times I ran into metaphorical bricks walls, making the game seem impossible. Now, I'm not the brightest bulb in the socket, but those sections felt like the game was really letting me down, not guiding me towards a solution and not actually supplying me with enough info to complete the task. What made that frustration worse is that I wasn't invested in the characters or story at all, and couldn't stop thinking 'Why am I persisting in trying here? I don't care what happens next'.
These issues are compounded by having Spock repeatedly giving obvious advice that amounts to 'We need to get from A to B' so many times that you end up wanting to turn your phaser on him, or eject him into space.
Problems arise from various bugs in the game too, mainly involving your partner or other AIs running frantically on the spot or spinning around in circles like crazy people. Spock also continually got in my way, preventing me from getting cover or firing at enemies.
This all sounds like a slating (and it is), so let me go into some positives. The score is very nice, if a bit overbearing at times. There is ambition on display in some of the sequences set in space. And after a while you hit somewhat of a groove, cruising around gunning down Gorn (who I actually think are pretty cool baddies).
In conclusion, if you're a Trekkie you may dig this as a pleasant distraction, but I'd advise anyone else to stay away. Here's hoping the new movie is considerably better.
:: Publisher: Namco Bandai
:: Developer: Digital Extremes
:: Format: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
:: Rating: PG