Video Game Review: ‘Star Trek: The Game’ is a Vulcan Mess

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CHICAGO – Of “Star Trek”’s 725+ hours of film and television over the years, I’ve seen at least…650 of them, probably more. I care about the franchise, care about its canon, and absolutely love taking every opportunity I can to explore its themes, scientific theories, history, and lore. It’s a show with nearly unequaled depth. Hell, seemingly years of my life have been spent at reading about the soft-sciences behind the “Star Trek” mythos. I also really liked what JJ Abrams did with the property in the 2009 reboot, and its sequel, too - despite its…murky relationship with the laws of physics.

Thus, considering all the elements to pull from: ship battles, interpersonal conflict, phasers, away missions, science, exotic locations, planetary exploration, the ability to travel at faster-than-light speed, replicators, lens-flare, holodecks, photon-torpedos, transporters, aliens, engine rooms, “I’m giving her all she’s got captain!”, and a near limitless supply or iconic lore, it seemed impossible for developer Digital Extremes to screw up the “Star Trek” game released in conjunction with “Star Trek into Darkness”. Video Game Rating: 1.0/5.0
Video Game Rating: 1.0/5.0

So they went and made a crappy rip-off of “Gears of War”. Emphasis on the crappy rip-off part. Within the first twenty minutes of playing this game-like substance, I experienced a Gorn enemy get stuck in an archway, and with no weapons, manage to kill me from across the room. I saw doors that wouldn’t open, laser robots that wouldn’t deactivate, chest-high walls I couldn’t take cover behind, context sensitive walls I couldn’t climb, ill-explained and over-long ‘hacking’ segments, the jankiest of janky platforming segments, a good dose of “where do I go now?” - and worse, a bastardization of “Star Trek”’s score and visuals so inauthentic that I’ve read fan fictions by teenagers with more care and passion for its source material - and they had the added bonus of being an absent a loud and blaring horn to accentuate ‘dramatic’ moments. That’s what hurts the most, by the way. I can live with haphazard controls, iffy gameplay, mass murder, and abundance of glitches if there was even a hint of care paid toward delivering an authentic “Star Trek” experience. If Kirk felt like Kirk, and Spock felt like Spock, and there was a cool and moderately enthralling plot, I’d at least be able to recommend this game to hardcore Trek nerds like myself. But I can’t even do that - nothing rings true. If your game has you longing for the days of “Enter the Matrix”, something has gone pear-shaped.

Star Trek: The Game
Star Trek: The Game
Photo credit: Namco Bandai

And It’s not like “Star Trek” has a particularly lustrous history in the world of gaming, either. Mostly, there’s been some good ideas spread out across lots of mediocre titles in a variety of genres including RTS, FPS, adventure, tactical naval-command-esque warfare, and a card game, too. My favorites: “Bridge Commander” for PC, “Starfleet Academy” for the SNES, and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” for the Sega Genesis, managed to combine a few different gameplay styles to make the player really feel like they were the captain of their very own Federation Starship. The worst games opted to focus on a single element that kind of betrayed what “Star Trek” fans were looking for. For an example, look no further than “Star Trek: Hidden Evil” from 1999, which assumed the thing trekkies wanted most was bland puzzle solving and third-person phaser shooting - sounds familiar, don’t it?

To me, “Star Trek”’s has always prized duty, optimism, rationality, and morality. The best episodes of “Star Trek” almost never focused soley on space-battles, or action pew-pew, instead opting to put well-defined characters into tough situations you can identify with. And, sure, while the new J.J Abrams-i-fied flicks have far more, and far better, action than any of the previous TV shows or movies could ever hope to achieve, the best moments were character driven. So, then, maybe it was my own fault for giving “Star Trek: The Game” the benefit of the doubt; for thinking that despite the bad press and lack of promotion, I’d find something worthwhile in this curdled offering because I’ve been a fan of the “Star Trek” franchise for as long as I can remember.

Star Trek: The Game
Photo credit: Namco Bandai

But, no “Star Trek: The Game” is without a doubt the worst kind of bad video game. Not so bad that it’s unintentionally hilarious like “Superman 64”, or piss-poor like the cheap cash-in shovelware still being released for the Wii. No, it’s worse. It’s the kind of bad normally reserved for malformities like Hilary Duff covering The Who’s “My Generation” and changing the lyrics. It’s bad in the same way a star-studded Gary Marshall holiday-themed romantic comedy is bad despite the assembled talent. It’s bad in such a way that it sucks your enthusiasm for gaming from you like a tick, leaving you with a baffled and empty feeling, wondering how exactly anyone, ever, could get it this wrong.

“Star Trek: The Game” was developed by Digital Extremes and released by Namco Bandai. The version reviewed was for the Xbox 360 but the game is also available for the PS3. video game critic Paul Meekin

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