Movie and IP tie-in games – we’ve all bought one at some point, expecting a faithful recreation of our favourite blockbuster moments and usually getting a rushed, buggy and soulless mess of a game. In 2010 Rocksteady showed us that not all licensed games had to be this way. Arkham Asylum came along and proved that given enough time and creative freedom a licensed game really could do it’s world justice. Skip forward to 2013 and very few other licensed games have managed to come close to the Arkhams – let alone surpass them, so it was with natural skepticism that I approached Namco Bandai’s latest Star Trek video game tie in.
Before my hands-on with the title, Star Trek’s creative director gave a rousing speech about movie game adaptations ‘We’ve all played them – and they rarely do the license any justice. We wanted to give Star Trek fans the game the license deserves.’ So far so PR, but interestingly by the time Star Trek ships on April 23rd it will have been in development for three years – about triple the development time of most movie tie in games. More interesting still, the game has been worked on by the major set designers and art departments from the film and takes place in an entirely unique story line set between the events of 2009’s Star Trek and the upcoming film. This is above and beyond the usual half arsed ‘vaguely follow the scenes of the film but with more shooting’ treatment a lot of licensed games receive.
The preview build starts with a choice between playing as either Commander Spock or Captain James Tiberius Kirk (the one with the fit body, as a Namco rep helpfully pointed out to me) Once you have made your choice you are set free to run around a very shiny looking Enterprise. En route to the deck you will run past AI crew members of differing species having space drive related conversations and referencing various events from the Star Trek universe sure to please the Trekkiest of Trekkie. Walking into the main deck of the Enterprise triggers a stiffly animated cut scene featuring a pretty creepy looking Simon Pegg with his lip tugging half way down his face, making me worry that rapidly pressing x during the cutscene had somehow given him a stroke. More impressive than the mildly disturbing facial animations however was the voice acting – featuring all the big players from JJ Abram’s films performing their roles both animatedly and convincingly.
After a few quips have been exchanged between Kirk and Spock, the duo leave the Enterprise and head off to an abandoned space station that is heading dangerously close to a nearby sun. When you land on the space station you find yourself exploring the half exploding ship. Climbing over some boxes and crawling through a vent puts you in a room with another Vulcan, demanding you open a defective door. Tapping LB brings up the environmental scanner (or Tricorder) that also interacts with certain machinery (mainly buttons conveniently) and gives you information on your surroundings and NPCs. The rest of this section of the demo focuses on running around the ship and finding other NPCs, with a few similar uses of the Tricorder and some Uncharted-esque platforming. Using the Tricorder on certain control panels throws you into a hacking based mini game, requiring the use of both analogue sticks to match up two frequencies.
The build on show was only single player but the full game is promised to have a heavy emphasis on cooperative multiplayer. The first co-op friendly element of the game involved an exploding walkway, that leaves Spock dangling from a ledge surrounded by rotating devices mounted with (frickin) laser beams. Kirk uses the Tricorder to – yep you guessed it – disable the laser devices, allowing the player controlling Spock to advance along the ledges and make it safely to the platform above. Later sections of the game have you running to escape the space station whilst ducking from cover to cover avoiding deadly blasts from the sun.You then find a Vulcan survivor who joins you in your escape attempt. The rest of the level played out pretty similarly; shooting blue panels to make cover pop up just in time to shield you from the sun’s blasts.
Other scenes showcased were far more action orientated. Given the sci-fi setting and cover shooting mechanic, a lot of Mass Effect comparisons have been made with this game – however Star Trek possesses almost no RPG elements or squad based tactics and seems to share much more in common with Microsoft’s bald COG marines than Shepard and co. The action segments of the demo showed Kirk and Spock blasting hordes of alien creatures called the Gorn, a fan favourite enemy from the original Star Trek series.
Weaving in and out of cover seems to be the main tactic at play here, with different types of Gorn presenting considerably more challenge than the basic rusher enemies. Co-op elements seems to be much more prevalent in the action sections of the game, with one section seeing Spock completely unarmed having to carry Kirk to a medstation while the other player shoots the oncoming Gorn single handedly. Spock has to then quickly perform a minigame to fix Kirk’s leg while Kirk keeps the enemies off Spock’s back.
The Star Trek universe is a rich one and it’s clear that the team at Digital Extremes have put a lot of time and effort into making this game feel authentic and true to the series. A whole new story fully acted by the cast from the two acclaimed Abram films is sure to please die hard fans, as are the faithfully recreated areas of the Star Trek universe. Unlike Arkham however – which transcended just being a game for a niche group of enthusiasts, it remains to be seen whether there is enough variety in gameplay and mechanics on offer here to carry the average player through the game’s full campaign. We will see in April whether the co-op campaign can match the fantastic effort they have put into recreating the world and authentic narrative.