J.J. Abrams may be Hollywood’s most successful imitator. Whether he’s paying tribute to Steven Spielberg in his film Super 8, The X-Files in Fringe, or Godzilla films in Cloverfield, Abrams knows how to take a pop-culture touchstone and dress it up into something fun—if devoid of originality. The same is true of his Star Trek “reboot” film. It’s a well-acted and visually attractive special effects bonanza, but it borrows what little emotional impact and gravitas it has from Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. Abrams uses Star Trek’s characters but neglects the themes that made the series great.
The Star Trek video game (with which Abrams had no creative involvement) takes that tendency even further, using the series to dress up conventional design. Picking up after the 2009 film, the Vulcans are seeking a replacement for their destroyed world on a planet they’ve creatively named New Vulcan. The normally logical and patient race apparently can’t wait to set up their new home, so they employ an experimental technology that has the unfortunate side effect of opening wormholes. These wormholes, in turn, release ships filled with space dinosaurs—specifically, the Gorn from the original TV series. Now Kirk and Spock have to save the day.
They do that by shooting monsters, chucking grenades, and grabbing weapons off dead foes. They run and duck for cover in a manner highly reminiscent of Uncharted. They occasionally do things that you might see in an episode of Star Trek, like scanning a sick Vulcan with a tricorder and crawling around a ship’s vents to get a jump on an enemy, but more often the developer, Digital Extremes, simply takes familiar pieces of the Star Trek universe and uses them with no regard for context or logic.
In Star Trek: First Contact, the Enterprise crew uses magnetic boots to explore the outer hull of the spaceship, creating a suspenseful scene as they plod along under constant threat of attack. In this game, you don the boots and are immediately sprinting. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Spock uses his psychic mind meld to pry information from the mind of a traitor, and it’s an incredibly disturbing rape parallel. Here, Spock does it just to get the code that opens the next door. The game does try to incentivize civilized Starfleet officer behavior—as opposed to shooting everything that moves—by awarding bonuses for avoiding lethal force. To earn the bonus, you set your phasers to “stun,” but this is less effective than in the movies or TV shows, as you then have to perform a bare-handed “take down” move before your enemies start attacking you again.
You can play as either Kirk or Spock, with the other always tagging along if another player wants to drop in and take control. With Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto providing the voices, they offer the same amusing banter as they did in the movie. Unfortunately, the game lacks much in the way of stimulating teamwork, instead offering mostly pointless tasks such as having both players press a button repeatedly to pry open a door. The game is also populated with plenty of other lame video game tropes, like doors that have to be opened by tedious hacking mini-games, and consoles that you turn on by lugging power sources from other rooms. It’s also ugly, buggy, and has a score ripped off from John Williams’ work for Star Wars.
If you can get past the space dinosaurs, the game does have some decent plot points. An early section where mind-controlled Vulcans beg you for help, even as they attack you, is disquieting. Considering that only 10,000 members of the species remain, I wished I had some version of the population blackboard in Battlestar Galactica to keep track of just how screwed the Vulcans are every time I stepped over a pointy-eared corpse. I might have even enjoyed this project if it were an animated film, but with the script slapped on an entirely generic shooter, it just confirmed my worst fears about where the series is heading. Gene Roddenberry imagined a world based on hope, peaceful cooperation, and intellectual exploration, but now the Star Trek universe has become a setting for irrelevant violence.