By John Walker on April 25th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.
It’s finally appeared. After being much-delayed, apparently to coincide with the film that’s out next month, Star Trek The Videogame (as I think we’re calling it now) is out in the States now, and other parts of the world tomorrow (but for some reason Namco Bandai accidentally forgot to send review codes to ANYONE!). Perhaps I showed my hand regarding my thoughts on Star Trek, when I tweeted yesterday, “Wow. Star Trek is terrible.” But maybe I was bluffing? Here’s wot I think:
I wasn’t bluffing.
Star Trek: The Videogame, as it’s so enigmatically titled, is a steaming turd dropped from the ugliest bumhole in the world. It is a quite exceptionally terrible game, from its numbingly dreary repetition, useless broken AI, archaic combat, clumsy construction, and utter nothingness story. And Simon Pegg.
At the start you choose between playing Kirk or Spock. I picked Spock. I’ve no idea how different it is if you’re Kirk, because playing it a second time is lower on my to-do list that drilling into my eye sockets and sliding down a razor-blade strewn banister. Clearly it wants to be a co-op game, but since the PC version’s co-op isn’t working for anyone (except for developers pretending to be customers), and since I don’t know anyone I hate enough to play this with if I could get it working, I played it solo. In this case the game’s deranged AI takes over the character you didn’t pick, and off the one-and-a-half of you go, on an epic adventure.
I’ve realised, looking back on it, that Star Trekthevideogame has stolen its plot from Mario. A race of lizard monster people (the Gorn, from that one episode of TOS) have attacked a Vulcan station, and their big boss guy steals a Vulcan lady, who’s the daughter of their leader (read: princess), so off go Kirk and Luigi to rescue her.
They also steal a device that the Vulcans are using to try to speed up the development of a planet for them to live on- wait, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard this story before. This time the not-Genesis Device causes a rip in the universe, through which the Gorn appear, and cause all sorts of bother.
STTVG lays its cards on the table pretty much immediately. Right at the start of the game Spock and Kirk make their way to the bridge, whereupon the AI controlled Kirk started running like a lunatic back and forth across the room. As Spock I simply raised an eyebrow at his mad antics, and sighed. Perhaps this wasn’t to be the game we’d been hoping.
And indeed it isn’t in any sense. Where the trailers might have implied something akin to Mass Effect, that’s absolutely not what you’ve got here. Instead it’s a fundamentally broken cover-shooter, with some of the worst third-person platforming since Tomb Raider: Angel Of Darkness. The ship-flying bit you might have seen in the trailers? That happens once early on, is utterly terrible and bemusing, and thankfully never happens again.
The vast majority of the game is spent running down corridors, using your tricorder to ‘hack’ terminals to get doors open or switch off security cameras and turrets, and shooting at waves of the same four or five enemy types throughout. The one variation appears in the form of a completely disconnected half-plot about the Gorn also turning your crew into zombie things with some virus, and you’re supposed to stun them instead of kill them.
It thinks it’s a game with stealth elements. Hence the cameras and turrets and the like. You can go into sneaky-mode, where you walk with a crouch, and attempt to silently sneak around the combat sections – in fact, the game encourages you to do so by giving you an absolutely meaningless picture of a shield at the end of a level if you don’t initiate a single fight. But this is essentially impossible, because if a psychic Gorn doesn’t ‘see’ you through a wall (even through the opaque solid floor if you’re in a tunnel below), then Kirk will just run off in front of them and trigger it of his own accord. And you can just shoot cameras and turrets to no real negative effect anyway – a few more enemies appear, but it’s all so pathetically easy that it makes no difference.
That’s not to say you won’t die. Oh ho ho, you’ll die. Enemies spawning behind you will make sure you do, or more likely, the absolutely hateful platforming bits. These are so dreadful it beggars belief, primarily because the sprint barely works. It’s one of those, press-once sprints, going until they feel pooped. So when you’re on a narrow ledge, asked to jump to a handhold on a wall, you have to start running, then press sprint, and then press jump, all within about three paces – and just hope that this time it’ll acknowledge that you pressed sprint. Fifty percent of the time it won’t, and you fall to your death, to discover just how idiotically far back the last checkpoint was placed.
More bizarrely in its delusion that it’s about stealth is an option in its upgrades (oh, we’ll get to those) to let you use your tricorder to make dead bodies disappear to avoid detection. First of all, there’s no moment in the entire game where that would be a thing that actually happened – it’s just about pressing forward, killing a wave, hacking a door, pressing forward – it just isn’t a game where such a tactic would serve any use. But even more so, the bodies disappear anyway! They pop out of existence seconds after they die, often along with the weapons they’ve dropped, presumably to try to save memory.
Combat is like a throwback to the 1960s itself. There’s nothing like regioned areas of the enemies to target, no advantage to a headshot or any such modern frivolity. Instead you just BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM at their bodies, normally four times for most of the enemies, and they fall over.
However, it’s meant to be a cover shooter, such that every corridor and room is conveniently constructed of three-foot high walls and blocks. Except the cover mechanic is ghastly, a gamble whether it will snap you into cover or make you… make you do a somersault. I’m shaking my head as I write, remembering how often my character’s defence against a barrage of fire was a forward roll.
To improve your chances you’re supposed to scan objects in the game world to gain XP, and then use this XP to improve your weapons and tricorder. But, well, you exhaust the usefulness of this in the first couple of hours. There are about nine categories you can choose from – faster cooldown, bigger range for scanning, etc – three in each but only one available from them at a time. So you unlock the seven or so things you want, and then pointlessly gather XP for the rest of the game with nothing to spend it on. You could buy the options you don’t want from the screen, but… why would you? Perhaps at one point in development they thought they were making Deus Ex, and reassigning your choices as appropriate for different levels would be a thing you’d want to do. But they didn’t make Deus Ex. They made Star Trek: The Videogame.
Every predictable crime of bad action gaming is here. As I mentioned, the checkpoints are an act of spite, presumably set by someone who loathes humanity. It incessantly takes over from you, with a good third of the game asking you to press forward between cutscenes. Incredibly, at one point you’re doing a mind-meld, where your function in the sequence is to press W to go forward between each flashback. That’s literally it – press W. That’s gaming! There are allusions to quick-time events, where you have to nonchalantly tap at E to open about 420,000 doors that have got stuck, or press E once to make a cutscene continue, because then you’re still playing! And it has about three barks per character, which you hear a billion times each, usually shouted completely out of context. “I think they’re trying to flank us!” shouts Kirk whether we’re fighting one enemy or five, rather optimistically overestimating the capability of an enemy AI that can’t even use cover.
Oh, and the damned hacking. There are three types. The one where you have to match up waveforms with their pairs, the one that’s like Tron’s light cycles but with the bikes replaced by snails, and the one where you have to “work together” as the game keeps so desperately encouraging, by, er, keeping a cursor in the middle of a circle while the other makes a line the right wobble shape. And they occur over and over and over, never varying, two of them never even changing in difficulty. And most astonishingly of all, when you enter a rip in space, that transports you to the other side of the universe, onto an alien planet that Man has never seen before, THEY HAVE THE SAME MACHINES TO HACK TO OPEN THEIR DOORS AND SWITCH OFF THEIR CAMERAS.
It all smacks of hopelessness. Crap like that just wreaks of a lack of interest from those involved, along with so many other shortcuts. Play as Spock and you can issue orders to Kirk to stand over here, or give you a leg up. But the words they say were clearly written for when you’re playing as Kirk, Spock agreeing to do what he asks of the other, and the like. Walls shoot at you, presumably hiding enemies behind. Even in cutscenes – scenes pre-determined by the developers – entire spaceships impossibly merge with each other as the intangible graphics overlap. Someone looked at that happening – so glaringly obviously – and went, “Ah fuck it, that will do.” As indeed did whoever wrote the line, “Death is too good for these two!” and didn’t immediately break their own arms to stop it from happening again.
And then the ending. Once Silar and (er) Nicholas Deveraux from The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement have rescued the princess from Bowser, the game… ends. Just stops. There’s no notion of an epilogue following the action (a really quite banal boss fight, in which naturally the game stops you from playing just before you’ve emptied his life bar, and then kills him for you in a cutscene – thanks), just done. Then after the credits your chosen character narrates some nonsense platitudes over a CGI of the Enterprise going for a space swim. It just feels like no one could care less.
It all looks like something developed years ago, the creepy almost-right character faces opening and closing their mouths like ventriloquist dummies, rather than properly lip-syncing, the dull environments taking as much advantage of Starfleet’s lack of wall textures as they can. And most of all, it’s so achingly repetitive. No matter whether you’re on the Enterprise, a Starfleet star base, or an alien planet the other side of the universe, you’re still just running between computers that open doors and shooting at the same five lizards. For hours and hours. Even the ending shown at the beginning is a fake-out, letting you optimistically think you must almost be done by the time you reach it again. (And wow, do they cop out of that cliffhanger.)
I think what I’m trying to say is: don’t buy Star Trek: The Videogame. It’s awful. Really, really awful.