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Star Trek Review - Spock Says No

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Movie to game tie-ins are tenuous things. They're tough to get right. One can debate what the reasons were why most failed but one thing is clear: They fail most of the time. There seem to be a requirement of almost any big AAA movie, that a game must be released with it. We saw it with The Matrix, Star Wars: Episode 1 and just about any Disney published and distributed movie. Hell, even Avatar bombed. One would wonder why filmmakers get involved in a game's development? Results tend to speak for themselves.

Don't get me wrong. There are success stories but these were never directly linked to any movie, nor did they use the plot of the said films.The franchises themselves served as the basis for the success. Perhaps it's because the games need time to develop and become better over time. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Brothers in arms, Medal of honor (The first of course) and Uncharted could loosely be considered a modern day Indiana Jones. We also had some very successful tie-ins like Golden Eye on the N64 and Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay that were great games in their own right. 

Cross-media interpretations have therefore been inconsistent as much as they've been common.

This is where I refer to Star Trek. Star Trek is based on the said movie directed by J.J. Abrams interpretation of the franchise. Like the movie, the game relies mostly on action as opposed to quality of story, gameplay and overall fun. The game pivots around Spock and Commander Kirk. At its heart Star Trek tries to be a co-operative adventure following the movie's storyline. 

You'll see I used to the word 'tries'. This is because that's what the game does. The action is a 3rd-person, chest-high wall combat based. Some puzzles are included as well as some climbing combined with a battleship sequence and a Portal-inspired game. 

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The trouble with this game is that there are too many mini-games included in such a linear title, and sadly none of these are done particularly well. I'm reminded partly of Enter The Matrix which tried to execute something similar. With so many releases on so many different platforms the idea was clear: Get the game out as fast a possible to tether with the movie and forget any quality testing or provide as little fun for the gamer as possible.

The action sequences try to play like Gears of War. The problem is that the semblance of cover you're given doesn't shield you from much and that weapons don't do much damage if anything at all. While attempts have been made to make things engaging most combat is the same fare we've been seeing on just about every other tactical third-person cover based shooters we've been seeing since 2006. One can only take so much of shooting behind boxes before the monotony becomes far too much.


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There is one battleship sequence in the game that is so frustrating that it took roughly twenty attempts to complete. In addition, the platforming sequences are copied from the Uncharted and Tomb Raider games of the past. Whether you're playing Kirk or Spock you're more likely to fall to your death due to bad camera angles and hit-or-miss spots. The Portal-inspired section of game also fails to impress due to shoddy dynamics clearly copied but not polished.

Graphics are also a weak-point here. I recall saying at some point I have yet to see one really bad looking console game. I stand corrected after seeing Star Trek's low resolution textures in conjunction with the stiff animations even on the main characters. One example I encountered was in a boss battle playing Kirk where a Gorn's low-res textures were so badly blurred that the eyes and skin were indistinguishable from the rest of the body's colouring and features. Facial expressions were distinctly lacking with mouths clearly moving but nothing else on faces. The stiff animations alluded to earlier didn't lend to the use of body language either.

A.I. and scripting issues plague the game as well. Star Trek is a co-operative game. So if your team-mate Spock or Kirk is going to be with you throughout the game he may as well be your backbone. Many a times Spock was halfway across the map waiting behind cover while I waited at an airlock to move to the next game section. Even in cutscenes enemies just disappear and things stall for a moment as the engine tries to find its feet again.


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The Gorn also feature as one of the dumbest opposition I've had to face in a game thus far. At one point one Gorn grunt was standing just out of cover as I was shooting him and it still ignored me for arofrancund 30 seconds, and by then it was too late.

I was left disappointed by the story. Despite a playthrough there was nothing special enough happening to make me care about the characters in this game. If you'll read my post on storytelling, some of the most important aspects 

You can play as Kirk and Spock, but the differences between the two are too few to count as unique experiences. Kirk and Spock have unique skills, but it seems like they were made from the same text file of statistics. In addition to this both characters have the same capacity for damage and stealth. This is another issue. Stealth doesn't work very well because of too-basic and stilted controls and lack of level design accommodating for it.

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Unintuitive controls were another issue with a separate button required to get out of cover and lacking movements making the game more frustrating to play than what would otherwise be simpler. The controls were otherwise more or less fine, with occasional cover glitches and stiff and finnicky animations interfering.

Boss battles were also especially easy. Simple keeping of distance and repeated shooting were all the things required to finish them off. The same could be said with some of the tougher enemies.

Thankfully not all was lost in the development of this game. Some character interactions like Scotty's panicked chatter combined with Kirk's irritation actually made some points in the game bearable. Spock and Kirk's almost loving relationship didn't hurt either to add some contrast to the seriousness of the whole affair.

There is also some hidden depth, despite the flaws. As a player, you collect information for research and use experience points to upgrade skills and weapons to be able to tackle tougher enemies faced later on. The tricorder was actually a useful item in game. It acted as a research assistant, enemy tracker and was the puzzle solving tool for the game (a rather simple affair that needed to be more difficult than it was). If more emphasis was placed on these aspects instead of trying to half-heartedly imitate every other successful genre defining game out there I'm sure Star Trek would've been a much better game. 

Perhaps this was the problem:

“This was the only way that we could get a Star Trek game out — to do something that we controlled, something that we owned, something we could pool our resources behind to make sure that all the people who were involved from our filmmakers to our studio to our developers were happy with the end product. It could only have been done the way we did it.” Brian Miller, Paramount.

Like I said, why games developed to tie-in with movies fail most of the time is beyond me. Maybe Vin Diesel could inspire something in the stagnating movie-game tie-in business? Star Trek could've been a decent game at least but bad development decisions, A.I. problems, scripting issues and terrible graphics and unnecessary contrivances got in the way of what would've been a much more polished and interesting experience.

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