Star Trek game brings the crew, and an old enemy, back together

Eric Pfeiffer
The Sideshow

Star Trek video games have been around for so long that many cast members from the 2009 film were not even born when Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator warped into arcades in 1983.

But today’s release of Star Trek for Xbox, PlayStation and PC is the first major gaming release to feature that new cast, which surprised fans of the well-received J.J. Abrams film.

So, does the new Star Trek game deliver?

In short, yes, though not without some caveats.

As we discussed with Paramount’s Brian Miller, producer of the game, back in January, gaming titles based on movie properties can be a tough sell. And Star Trek's latest falls short in a few areas. But unlike most major licensed properties, Star Trek’s story is actually its strongest selling point, just as it was in the 2009 film.

In a clear ode to Abrams’ method of storytelling, the game opens with a flash forward, showing Captain Kirk and Commander Spock fighting for their lives on a desert-like planet—and apparently under the influence of an alien technology that has turned the friends and compatriots against each other.

And yes, there are lens flares.

This is where Star Trek shines. The game picks up shortly after the events of the 2009 film and serves as a bridge between that film and the upcoming sequel, “Star Trek Into Darkness.” But the game’s story is far more than a mere segue. Its developers clearly put in a lot of love for the Star Trek series and do an outstanding job of pushing the story forward.

James T. Kirk talks and behaves more like the classic Captain Kirk in this game. Yes, he’s still brash and reckless, but the game opens with him and Spock in a heated game of chess. That may sound strange, but it’s entirely in character with the Kirk that Star Trek fans have come to love over the years: a brilliant tactician and historian, not just a guy with a phaser gun.

See the new Star Trek launch trailer:

The strong chemistry between actors Chris Pine (Kirk) and Zachary Quinto (Spock) also comes through in their voice work. The entire cast from the 2009 film is back for the game, but the story was intentionally designed primarily as a cooperative experience between Kirk and Spock.

Paramount also brought in composer Michael Giacchino and a 100-piece orchestra to produce an original soundtrack for the game, which really helps immerse players in the experience.

On the surface, the story, acting and music are enough to give any die-hard Star Trek fan a positive experience with the game.

However, more serious gamers will have a few issues to gripe about. First, the game controls are a bit clunky. The game’s action-heavy levels require players to duck and cover, a technique used by many third-person shooters like Gears of War and Mass Effect. Unfortunately, the experience can be frustrating in Star Trek, with Kirk and Spock clumsily shuffling into the line of fire as you try to hide them behind cover before engaging in combat with the enemy.

The game’s graphics also feel a bit dated. While the Enterprise crew resemble their real-life counterparts (clearly, attention was paid to details), the rest of the game’s graphics feel standard at best.

And the game’s main enemies, the Gorn, look like run-of-the-mill alien monsters. These days, the Gorn from the original Star Trek series might be seen as iconic in an ironic way, but at least they were memorable. These Gorn are far more threatening and realistic—so far as any giant, sentient lizard race can be realistic—but a little more personality behind the creatures would have gone a long way.

What would have made this game a classic, rather than a solid action entry, would have been more role-playing elements. For example, how fun would it have been to send an away team down to the surface of an alien planet to interact with local populations and create a genuine sense of discovery and wonder? Answer: Very fun.

This game hints at those possibilities, but it quickly throws the player into another gunfight rather than letting him or her explore in any great detail.

Still, the action can be exhilarating. Remember the awesome skydiving scenes from the 2009 film? You get to experience that thrill in this game. And if you have a 3D TV, you’re in for a real treat. Kudos to Star Trek for including this option, which is always a sign that a game developer cared enough to go the extra mile to enhance the gamer’s experience.

At the end of the day, it feels good to be back with the crew and getting a full-fledged, standalone story.

If this were an episode of a new "Star Trek" TV show, it would be a very good one. Maybe even a classic.

Going forward, I’d absolutely buy another Star Trek game. The minor technical shortcomings and limited use of the Enterprise crew could easily be expanded in a sequel. It’s usually a good sign when a gaming experience leaves you wanting more, not less, of the world you’re exploring.