The Dreaded Backlog: Star Trek
Welcome to THE DREADED BACKLOG! It’s incredibly easy to buy video games, but it takes a lot more time to play through them. All of us have a backlog of good gaming intentions that need to be fulfilled. Together we must overcome the overwhelming threat of THE DREADED BACKLOG!
I am a fan of all of Star Trek properties. I have seen every film and every episode (of every show, including the animated one). I always enjoy watching J.J. Abram’s 2009 Star Trek film for its energy and updated visuals to the ’60s show’s iconography. I can over look the plot holes in that film due to just how enjoyable it is. I am on record on this site with mixed views about Star Trek Into Darkness. I personally feel that this year’s Star Trek Beyond is the best Trek film since Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which came out 25 years ago. I also love the IDW Star Trek comic set in the ‘Kelvin-verse’ continuity established by the 2009 film. The comics written by Mike Johnson (with many different artists) often retell the episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series with a few twists, mostly due to Kirk being younger, more inexperienced and with a significantly worse upbringing than he had in the ‘Prime Universe’. One of the things I do like about Into Darkness is Chris Pine’s portrayal of a man struggling to mature in the face of not having a fucking clue how to do that.
The Star Trek game takes place between the Mike Johnson written comic series Countdown to Darkness and the film Into Darkness itself. The comic series is unrelated (albeit with some continuity nods) to the plots of the two properties that follow it, but shows a subtle erosion of Jim Kirk’s belief in the ‘Prime Directive’, something that the Star Trek game continues. The narrative of the game does this by shoving Kirk into a conflict that requires pure violence to survive and solve, all at a time when Kirk needs to be learning the opposite lessons. All this being said, the narrative quite skillfully operates if your familiarity with this continuity is just the 2009 film.
The writing of the dialogue and plot is all very good. The voice actors are the actors from the films and they all bring their A-game to the work. The game feels like its part of that world and series of films. You are Jim Kirk (or Spock) because they feel, act and sound right. The game also has a nice update of the Gorn species from the Original Series in a way that works with the visual aesthetic laid out by Abrams in 2009. (It’s even nice that Johnson’s comic series has a follow up to this game’s plot set after Into Darkness.) The soundtrack also riffs on the film’s soundtrack to further the authenticity. However, the implementation of all of the above is when the game falls apart.
Video games are hard to make. They require a long period of production and excessive amounts of money. They require so many different elements to come together perfectly to work even remotely right. Star Trek is not finished. It was aimed at being a video game tie-in to the release of Into Darkness and that release date has hampered it. If the game was allowed a delay (as a game of this type usually would be allowed) it would be much better. The framework of the game is solid, but all of the content (animations, textures, movement, shooting, lip syncing, sound effect implementation and so on) is all done in a rush. The game is also about two hours too long for the range of features it contains, as though they had done the foundations for each level and then had to rush the surface stuff.
The complaints are numerous and it would be hard to list all of them. The levels all look like generic space corridors and the Gorn Planet looks fairly similar to ‘New Vulcan’ that you also visit. The cover shooting is clunky and slow to respond. The boss battles are infuriating as you have to contend more with the controls more than your opponent. Your tricorder is irritating to use; when you hit the button the character freezes and the scanning screen pops up with an annoying beeping noise. These problems are furthered by the constant need to use the tricorder several times every minute. The AI in the game is terrible for your sidekick and the enemies. Enemies are too stupid and never spot you or the bodies of their comrades. If they do spot you it is never for a reason that makes sense and then they immediately rush you in unkillable numbers. You cannot fully heal yourself, unless you are downed and your sidekick revives you, then you get full health. Why can you not be healed through the same mechanisms as before you are nearly dead? The game is also full of bugs and glitches as you’d expect from a rush job. The climbing sections certainly don’t work at all as intended and somehow many of the on-rails sections work even worse.
There are a few moments of game play joy. Things like transporter guns that teleport to where you aim them. Hearing Spock mock Kirk for his heightened abilities to dish out violence during a firefight. Walking from the bridge of the Enterprise to a turbolift and going down to the engineering deck. This game is a missed opportunity and likely not because of those making the game. There is a good game in there somewhere. If one goes back to reading the previews for Star Trek you’ll discover an intention to create something as free and deep as a Mass Effect game. At the very least there is potential for a good cover shooter in this continuity. It is a must play for anyone who loves the ‘Kelvin-verse’ films and/or comics, just don’t try to finish the game in a handful of sittings. You will get fatigued. However for those that are simply curious in a casual fashion: stay far away from this game.
(Played on Playstation 3)
P.S. The greatest joy the game offers to all people is that it resulted in this advertisement: