Platforms: Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC
Reviewed on: Xbox 360

Game tie-ins for movies always come in for a lot of flack from game reviewers, with the odd exception (King Kong springs to mind along with a host of Disney games from the 90s, particularly Aladdin for the Megadrive). Why play the game when you could be watching the movie? Paramount and Namco Bandai have tried to sidestep this by producing, in Star Trek The Video Game, an original story collaboratively penned by Marianne Krawczyk (the writer behind the God Of War series) and Bob Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof (the writers/producers behind the Star Trek reboot) set in between the 2009 film and the upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness. They don't quite pull it off.

Unfortunately, developers Digital Extremes (Bioshock 2, Dark Sector) have fallen short of the mark on what the public expect from a decent video game title in quite a few places. It's hard to come down too hard on them - developing a movie IP into a game can be a tricky process that contains a lot of toing and froing between various production teams, and the finished product has to be ready in time to coincide for the film's release. I can't really speculate as to what went on behind the scenes, but there are so many ideas that fall flat on their face during execution that one has to wonder.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

 photo spock_zpsd408fd6e.jpgI chose to play as Spock during my run-through (it appeared to be the logical choice), and if I hadn't been a lifelong Star Trek fan, I really don't know what I would have made of it. The story follows a pretty typical Trek narrative: science outpost runs into mysterious trouble, the Enterprise checks things out, a threat that could wipe out the federation as we know it (The Gorn) appears through a rift in space and steals an experimental device that can be exploited as a death machine. Scientists get kidnapped, including a beautiful Vulcan woman from Spock's past. Pretty standard fare, but then why mess with a winning formula?

I've always been of the opinion that graphics aren't the key to an amazing game, but they are the first thing that strikes me about Star Trek. The game aims to be an epic space adventure, yet gets held back by muddy textures, a lack of detail on everything that isn't a character's face, and even then, the facial animations aren't going to blow your socks off. They do look like the actors portraying them, but there's always that dead eyed stare looking into your soul, and they don't really portray much in the way of emotion (which is fair play, in Spock's case). JJ Abram's signature lens flare effect is attempted in a couple of scenes, but just looks odd when it's being digitally created, almost a bit too obvious. I doubt he'd have used it during a conversation during a game of three-dimensional chess in the films, though he may just go on to prove me wrong. Textures pop in and out of focus, both in-game and during cut scenes, rendering a high octane flight in a Starfleet shuttle into something that's akin to watching a badly painted cardboard box flying through the paper debris of space at one stage, and the panoramic view of a strange new world into a series of shapes which lack any real depth. The uniforms, particularly the protagonists' space suits, appear low resolution with visible pixelation around the Star Fleet insignia - suffice it to say details appear a little rough around the edges. The character animation is also a little on the south side of sub par. Watching Kirk stand around, one hipped cocked in a gunslinger pose during every single cut scene, or watching any character run into a room and run on the spot before coming to a stop, or even just watching Spock walk around as if his feet are on a different plane of existence from the ground is fairly depressing. Frankly, the game isn't the prettiest pig in the sty. But looks aren't everything.

 photo spock-kirk_zpsb8914b2b.jpgThe main letdown of the game is the gameplay itself. I don't care who you are, your game can be ugly as sin, but if the gameplay is tight, then you have little to worry about. I'd be lying if I said that was the case here.

There are a number of problems with co-op AI that actually surpass the benchmark ineptitude of Sheva from RE5. Kirk would often get stuck on scenery, or run around like an excited toddler during fire-fights, often right in front of Spock, making attempts to line up a shot a little frustrating. You can tell him to go hide in a corner somewhere, but sometimes he'll just stay there, other times he'll wander around once the fight is over, sometimes he'll just say "no": there doesn't seem to be a set behavior model for the co-op AI. I know that that's impossible, but there were times when I honestly thought Kirk was trying to get me killed. While I'd like to go into more detail about online co-op, the only two players who joined me online either adopted a gung-ho attitude, or just spent their time taking pot shots at me. A pointless endeavour, as their phaser blasts had no effect. Fascinating. What was slightly annoying (at least the first couple of times I played online co-op) was the game resetting to the previous checkpoint anytime somebody joined my game. Again, this didn't happen every time, but enough for me to remark on it.

Objectives are highlighted by red markers when the environment is scanned with your Tricorder. Or at least, sometimes they are - if it's a puzzle (or what the game decides is a puzzle) the objective AFTER whatever it is you need to do gets highlighted. This led to many an occasion when I just didn't have a clue how to proceed. The game goes from holding your hand at every turn, to leaving you in a room and essentially saying "go on then". It's not ideal, and at times I genuinely thought the game was just broken. It kind of reminded me of The Cube (the film - not the gameshow).

As you proceed through levels, challenges become available to earn Starfleet Commendations and extra XP (and you know what XP means? Upgrades!). These tend to fall into two categories - stealth or morality. You either have to sneak past the enemy to your objective without being seen, or use only stun takedowns to pacify them. It will become clear when you play it WHY not killing somebody would be the decent thing to do, and the chance to use Spock's Vulcan nerve pinch did delight the fanboy inside me. The latter commendation is fairly easy to achieve - use stun, then knock out enemy. However, the stealth commendation very nearly caused me to smash my controller in frustration.

To successfully implement stealth in a game you need to make sure your controls are watertight, that your cover system can be used as if it were second nature and that your checkpoints aren't unnecessarily punitive. The enemy AI lends itself well to the stealth aspect of the game: the Gorn are predictable, and scanning with the Tricorder allows you to see through the scenery and familiarise yourself with enemy movement patterns, but occasionally you will get caught out by a swift head movement. The cover system, on the other hand can be immensely frustrating. The game occasionally adopts a one button jump between cover, but at times the button prompt just fails to appear no matter how much you move the third person camera around, only to appear for a split second and then promptly disappear again. Also, the scenery that CAN be used as cover seems to fluctuate depending on the game's mood. At points, the waist high fence surrounding a platform was absolutely fine to crouch behind and snap to for cover - other times, the game made me commando roll into enemy fire. Not ideal. Perhaps the worst thing about the stealth commendations is the checkpoint spacing (but then, it always is). To get past all but one Zorn lackey, only to get busted at the last hurdle, after scouring the environment for collectables and hacking all the security devices is rage inducing. You are promptly returned to the last auto-saved checkpoint, and have to repeat the entire process, collectables and all. You don't NEED the commendation to proceed through the level, but completionists be warned. You are going to spend a lot of your time repeating yourself in this game.

The upgrade module is fairly standard, but doesn't make all too much of a difference. Upgrading your Tricorder and main phaser does give you a couple of handy perks: the ability to cover up and create your own sound distractions is a great help during stealth mission, and the standard ammo upgrades allow you to increase the strength and the capacity of your main phase. The only downside is that you are limited to one perk per category, so if you want to be able to create a distracting sound AND muffle your own footsteps, you'll have to go into the upgrade menu and switch perks, which kind of negates only having to have one perk active in each category at a time - all they've done is made it inconvenient. If the perks were locked at the start of each level I'd understand, as it would probably add some much needed depth to the game.

The hacking function is fairly well implemented. By either walking up to a door or security/computer console, or scanning them from afar with your Tricorder, you open a hacking mini game. These fall into three categories: match the sounds and waveforms for doors, negotiate a current from point A to point B for security, and match your co-op partner's waveform for mission critical computer hacks. None are enjoyable, but dammit they work Jim!

 photo gorn_zps06e95011.jpgEnemy and weapon design is also fairly fault free. It's always clear what class of Zorn, or miscellaneous bad guy you're up against, and you will need to adapt your tactics slightly with each one. Some you can just run in, phasers blazing, but others require a bit of forward planning depending on their strength and weapon used. Once you've taken most enemies down, you can pick up their weapons (which use universal ammo - it's the future, so rechargeable phaser packs are the norm). If you're feeling particularly cheeky, you can take down autonomous enemy gun drones by stunning them, and then one-button-hacking them (no mini game) to make them switch sides. This is extremely useful during the game's later stages, when the Zorn start throwing everything they've got at you.

 photo enterprise_zpsc887238e.jpgThe Vulcan mind meld and piloting the Enterprise during battles are both forgettable experiences. The best view during a Star Trek battle is always from the captain's chair (in my opinion - personally, you'd have to go a long way to beat 1997's Starfleet Academy), so setting the POV to an exterior over-the-hull shot of the enterprise doesn't do the game, or the graphics any favours. Plus, it's hardly an iconic moment in the game - once it's over, you don't miss it. The mind meld appears to have been reduced to a means of securing intel from enemies (and when I say intel, I mean the code to a locked door), and in one instance a flashback. I kind of wish there was a punctuation mark to denote a shrug.

Now to the bugs.

Even a AAA title is going to have a few bugs knocking around, but Star Trek kind of pushes the line in what is acceptable for a gold release. The edge of Spock's rifle consistently disappeared into his bum whenever he pried open a door, NPCs appeared to have no substance when they moved (Kirk consistently walked through me, as did Keenser, Scotty's annoying little alien friend, during his mission) and the sight dot appeared on screen during a lot, but not all, of the cut scenes - it looked particularly out of place during the Vulcan mind meld. Phaser rifles floating in midair after NPCs have walked away from them was also a recurring, and hilarious, problem. Who are these ghost gunmen and what do they want? But they don't really affect the game.

What does affect the game is Kirk getting stuck on scenery and staying stuck (and unable to heal or defend you) until you die, despite you commanding him to move forward. Mysteriously sliding through scenery until you're trapped and unable to move after a nerve pinch takedown affected me four times in a row during one level. And suddenly dying. Sometimes, I just died and I didn't know why. Pretty frustrating stuff.

 photo new-vulcan_zps26e4d605.jpgThe question you have to ask yourself is how much you love Star Trek. I'm not obsessive, but I'd call myself a huge fan of the original series, movies old and new and The Next Generation. I had a hard time motivating myself to complete this game. I'm glad I did, but the payoff isn't that great - the story kind of just stops. There's a post credits epilogue, but just to set up the movie. I haven't played as Kirk, and I doubt I will. Once was enough for me, and only a few occasions present themselves in the game where you'd get a different perspective. I do hear that his gun works differently.

 photo kirk_zpse2816713.jpgI'd like to say that it's worth enduring the game for the story, but there's nothing really that remarkable to it. Like I said before, it's your standard generic Star Trek plot with a lot less exposition. The in-game dialogue gets pretty repetitive, even if it is voiced by the actors from the films, and if anything I actually like the character Kirk a lot less than I did before I played the game (nearly all of his dialogue reinforces him as a cocky asshole throughout the game, to the point where it just sounds inappropriate. We get it - Spock's Vulcan). There's also a lot more swearing than I expected, but that might just be to match the tone of the rebooted film franchise.

Getting to blast away inside the new Enterprise is pretty cool, scouring for log audio clips, but in the context of this game you're just reminded of what could have been. And that's the problem. This could have been a great game. If everything had been tweaked a little more, the story had been given a bit of TLC, and the bugs ironed out, then this would have been a completely different review. Unfortunately, what we have is a game that tries to do a lot of things and ends up doing pretty much all of them badly.