Review

Star Trek

Warp Drivel

A new Star Trek video game exacerbates the worst tendencies of the J.J. Abrams era.

By Samantha Nelson • May 6, 2013

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.

Star Trek

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.

Star Trek

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.

Star Trek

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.

Star Trek
Developer: Digital Extremes
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Price: PC—$50; PlayStation 3, Xbox 360—$60
Rating: T

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  • rvb1023

    I was barely following this game but I just learned now that it was $60. I thought it was a $15 downloadable title and I didn’t even think it was worth it then.

    • SamPlays

      Wait, didn’t you know? Gameological was giving away five free Xbox copies, which is a highly logical way to add this title to your library. I’ve got dibs on the copy played by Samantha Nelson!!

  • The_Helmaroc_King

    Captain, it appears that these “developers” forgot to set their game to “fun”.

    This is highly game-illogical.

    • Citric

      With games like this, Digital Extremes won’t live long and prosper.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Just think: if they’d actually put some effort into it, they could have made something truly Spock-tacular.

        • itisdancing

          I’m reporting this entire thread for violations of the Pun Directive.

        • Effigy_Power

          And this gum is all bones.

        • George_Liquor

          I almost bought this game on… impulse

          You know, because it’s the thing that, when they’re not moving around at warp speeds in space that makes them move around in space, but not at.. warp umm, speed. Thing. How are you?

          I’ll, uhh… I’ll see myself out.

        • http://twitter.com/roundthewheel Uncle Roundy

          You guys have a warped sense of humor.

        • http://twitter.com/marlowespade Chris Holly

           Chekov another disaster on the Trek video game list.

      • sirslud

        DE does some decent things, but generally more as a co-production team. It’s London, Ontario so cut them some slack. These kinds of tie in games are generally designed (or just kicked in the balls) from afar and involve all sorts of wacky conversations with the license holders. I worked on an Indiana Jones game, and every producer we had to deal with from Lucas Arts was … well, let’s just say JPod wasn’t that far off from the truth.

        • Citric

          That may all be true, but it doesn’t take Spock’s Brain to figure out I was making an awful Trek joke. It’s not The Final Frontier of humor, but I, Mudd amused myself. Thus, your Errand of Mercy on behalf of DE may have been too hasty by a Wink of an Eye. So let’s call off this Private Little War and celebrate with The Naked Time.

        • sirslud

          In light of a bunch of groan worthy Trek puns, I had to deploy an inverse tachyon field of DE information. I do applaud your mastery of Trek episode names!

        • The Guilty Party

          In my experience, producers in general could not outwit a bunch of hogtied lobotomy patients.

        • valondar

           @Citric:disqus Looks like Digital Extremes will Live Fast and Prosper.

          Don’t google that.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          Liked for referencing JPod. I don’t think I’ve ever read another book that made me laugh so much.

        • fieldafar

          I really need to read JPod again.

        • Citric

          @google-ad11b5fc6e812fcfddafc59b953591fe:disqus I was on the Threshold of googling that, but I figured it was Voyager or Ferengi (or, god forbid, Voyager with Ferengi) and thought better of it.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      They were seduced by the Dark Side.

  • Bakken Hood

    So did I win a copy or not?  Please say no.

    • Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle

      No, you did not win a copy.

      You won TWO COPIES! One for you, and one for your soon to be ex-friend!

  • evanwaters

    I think the review ought to have focused more on the game and less on the horrors that Abrams hath wrought on the franchise. Seeing as he wasn’t actually involved with the game it’s a bit of a digression.

    • valondar

       Fun digression though, you have to admit that.

    • Fluka

      I actually think it’s a pretty good metaphor for how the game goes wrong.  Rather than taking advantage of the setting, the rich themes, or the characters to make an interesting game (or film!), it uses them as a backdrop for an entirely predictable action shooter (or film!). Difference seems to be that, unlike the film, this is just kind of boring.  What game there is, you’ve seen a dozen times before.

      (I enjoyed the new Star Trek, but only as mindless entertainment, and don’t consider it canon, *pushes eyeglasses back up.*)

      • Effigy_Power

         http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRuuF-5ZST8

  • caspiancomic

    It’s a fact, sure as day follows night, sure as eggs is eggs, sure as every odd-numbered Star Trek game is shit.

  • mango

    Mass Effect is just a reskinned Star Trek anyways (though with less thought and more explodey).

    • valondar

       And with even some of the cast. Marina Sirtis (Counselor Troi) was Matriarch Benezia, Michael Dorn (Worf) played  krogan, there’s probably others I don’t recall offhand.

      Really a third person shooter is entirely the wrong KIND of game for the Star Trek license. You either want a space sim (and there have been many, even some really good) or a game built on good old fashioned choice and story – essentially, something like Telltale Games’ Walking Dead only for Star Trek. Do you break the Prime Directive or… okay stop breaking it already.

      • dreadguacamole

        I’m not a huge fan of trek, but Telltale does sound like a good fit.
         They had a couple of adventure games back in the C64/Amiga era – If I remember correctly, you went on missions and had to choose between the different suggestions of your team at every obstacle.
         They were pretty good.

        • Raging Bear

          My brother had one of those. I mainly remember a scene where the away team is trying to cut through a rock to escape a cave, or some such, and the redshirt gets killed, and all Kirk says over his corpse is “let’s get back to work.” I found this hilarious.

          (might not be C64/Amiga style – more like a Sierra style point-and-click).

        • duwease

          There was an early PC Star Trek adventure game.. around the VGA era, I think.  It wasn’t bad, but not especially memorable either.  “Star Trek 25th Anniversary” I think?

        • SamPlays

          @duwease:disqus The adventure games from the 90s were actually really good. The two done by Interplay (25th Anniversary and Judgment Rites), for me, are very memorable. A lot of it was puzzle-solving in the vein of Tim Shaffer’s games around the time – collect items, combine items, hit switches in a particular order, dialogue trees, etc. There were a few phaser-action sequences that were similar to Dragon’s Lair – often, timing was everything – as well as some space battles that were not on par with Lucas Arts games but still enjoyable. By and large, they were high quality games with a fair amount of replayability (because it was always fun to play the game “on your own” after beating it with help from the manual). 
          Footnote: Interplay was involved with the development/publishing of other games of my adolescence including Carmageddon, Clayfighter, MDK, Boogerman and I just learned that they started the Fallout series.

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          Yeah, Interplay was the shiznit for a while in the early 90s.

          Wasteland was the first post-apocalyptic RPG, which inspired Fallout.  Wasteland 2 was just funded on Kickstarter a while back, and I am eagerly awaiting the finished game.

        • dreadguacamole

           Fun fact: Interplay bankrolled Black Isle and early Bioware games. Before they went belly-up, they financed some of the best RPGs ever.

        • http://twitter.com/roundthewheel Uncle Roundy

          Don’t forget the Battle Chess games! The original and Battle Chess 4000 were some of the most fun I had on the computer as a kid.

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        Something like “Star Control 2″ would be really great: fly around forging uneasy alliances with the Romulans, Klingons, and other races so as to stand united against some galactic threat.

        • https://twitter.com/tymcast Tyler Mills

          This, a million times this. A Star Trek themed Star Control 2-esque game would be perfect.

    • Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle

      The mission in Mass Effect 2 where Shepard and Garrus fight each other to the death in a pit using explosive versions of those long handled ax thingys suddenly makes sense.

    • Fluka

      I’d actually say that Mass Effect is a good deal more Star Trekky in its inclusion of moral dilemmas and talkiness than the J.J. Abrams film is.  Particularly if one goes the Paragon route.

    • http://www.facebook.com/james.slone James Slone

      The Mass Effect series is probably a bit deeper and more thoughtful than any Trek film since Star Trek VI. Even a lot of the pre-VI Trek films weren’t all that thoughtful (3 and 5 spring to mind). Abraham’s Star Trek is actually considerably dumber than the Mass Effect games. It’s more on the level of the Halo story, or more charitably, Half-life 2. Star Trek is just another soulless, borg-assimilated shit fest now, and I’d rather play Mass Effect (even the reviled third one) than sit through another one of these movies.

  • Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle

    FROM AROUND THE WEB

    Bikinis: Are they too risqué for our babies? (Kidspot)

    What kind of obscene material are you promoting, Gameological?

    • SamPlays

      Strangely, it would appear the answer is, “It depends.” This answer applies to both questions.

    • OldeFortran77

      Because you’re never too young for skin cancer!

    • fieldafar

      Of course it leads to an Australian website.

      • SamPlays

        Proposal Title: 

        A Dingo Ate My Bikini Baby – A Cross-Provincial Examination of Variable Skin Exposure, Dingo Predation and the Impact of Moral Evolution on Urban Ecologies

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          *runs a regression of bikini sales on UV radiation levels and proximity to dingo habitats*

        • SamPlays

          @Merve2:disqus I was also planning a survival analysis to determine how long a baby might survive the onset of dingo hunger and how the survival rate is impacted by varying levels of bikini-skimpiness.

  • JohnnyLongtorso

    Yeah, this turned out to be terrible. Enter a room, fight some Gorn, enter a room, fight some Gorn, do an annoying hacking minigame, etc. etc. Also, the pacing is completely screwed up. There are eight levels, including one that’s about five minutes long, and three that are about 1.5-2 hours each. It’s interminable.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      It’s like high school. A teacher told a class of 20 students, “Your homework is to make a level for the new Star Trek game.” Three eager beavers turned in the really long levels. Four average students turned in levels of average length. A slacker turned in a five-minute level just to get a grade. And the remaining twelve students didn’t show up for class.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martin-Nolan/584781976 Martin Nolan

    a starship is full of people so why are there like TWO characters and you don’t hack doors in Star trek they open I like star trek but I somehow new Digital dreams would fuck this up  and  I was Write and the $60 is jut a real PITA

    • Jeremy Parish

      Is this a joke account, or are you mentally unfit, or both?

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        Anyone who trolls the British National Party boards, even as a joke, is probably mentally unfit.

        QED

      • https://twitter.com/tymcast Tyler Mills

        No one can possibly dim-witted enough to replace ‘pity’ with ‘PITA.’ So I assume joke account? 

        But I could totally accept that someone would accidentally replace ‘right’ with ‘Write’ and ‘new’ with ‘knew.’

        So the odds are 2:1 that it isn’t a joke account, I guess.

        Gentlemen, place your bets.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          My theory is this is in fact, an alternate universe comment.  You’ll notice at about the second non-capitalization of ‘Trek’ is where this deviates from normal joke account canon.
             I suspect while this account gimmick bears much of the same content and superficial features of a familiar joke or troll account, it has been streamlined and made a bit more action-packed for broader joke/troll account appeal.

        • http://sarapen.ca/ Sarapen

          PITA stands for Pain In The Ass, it’s a legitimate Internet acronym.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        After doing some simple Facebook sleuthing, I’m pretty sure that this isn’t a joke account, just a guy with less-than-stellar grammar. I think we could stand to be a little more welcoming.

        • feisto

          I agree (even if that sentence is just so… mesmerizing). Plus I now know that PITA is short for “pain in the ass.”

        • https://twitter.com/tymcast Tyler Mills

          You’re right. I was just trying to be silly and I got all carried away. Welcome to Gameological comments, Martin Nolan. Also, I too have learned the true meaning of PITA.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/PJ-Schwackhammer/100003243883722 PJ Schwackhammer

    Yeah, but the commercial with Shatner is still AWESOME.

  • Kyle O’Reilly

    Ugh to the max.  I hate everything about this, I hate everything about the JJ Abrams movies, and mostly, I hate Mondays.

    What!?!  Not you too Garfield?  Will this cursed crap-licensed games malady spare no one!?!?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkodwWUig8c

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      I remember when Garfield was dark and clever. What happened to that?

      • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

         Garfield used to be Punk, then he sold out.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        You could say his humor became… neutered.

           …Jon had his testicles removed surgically.

  • Fortyseven

    None of this plot shit really matters.  The game itself — JUST AS A GAME — is broken in a couple dozen different places.  Just ignoring the plot and trying to play it as a vanilla co-op shooter is tortuous.

  • Mercenary_Security_number_4

    “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.”

    well said.  I mentioned a few weeks ago how even the Gorn episode showed Kirk willing to choose peace over war if given the chance.  I did not know at the time that the game featured the Gorn.  Too bad, another species that is just being cartoonized.  These movie people need to watch a little more TNG season 5.  “Darmok,” “Unification” and “The Inner Light” are some of the best episodes that feature everything good about Trek that seems to have been lost.

    (edit: I know the Gorn has always looked a cartoonish villain. But the whole point of the original episode was that humanity is moving beyond first-impression based antagonism).

    • The_Helmaroc_King

      In a way, turning the Trek game into a fairly typical co-op shooter is the perfect parallel for turning the Trek movie(s) into slick popcorn munchers. They may not capture the spirit of the property, but it’s what sells the big numbers, so damn the property, sayeth the producers.

      I suspect the upcoming movie will be a blockbuster, whereas the game will be a failure for most of the reasons you’d expect (licensed game, $60 price point, tougher competition, etc.).

      • Mercenary_Security_number_4

         Yeah, well I’m a big fucking hypocrite in that regard because as much as I hate what Star Trek has become, fanboy-wise I’m still a sucker for any version of that universe and will probably see the movie opening week.

    • http://sarapen.ca/ Sarapen

      I wonder what a game version of Darmok would be like? Maybe something like the Al-Bhed language in Final Fantasy X and a simple substitution code that you slowly unlock? Or you learn a new word for every Gorn that you brutally kill, extra words as bonuses for how bloody you make it. “You have unlocked: ‘cellar door’!”

      A game version of The Inner Light would be, I don’t know, The Sims? Or some kind of Harvest Moon-type game?

      Wait, idea: a Star Trek TNG game where you play through a season. The Drum Head court martial episode is a Phoenix Wright game, The Best of Both Worlds season ender is an action shooter, etc. Since the show is episodic then changing the outcome of an episode won’t massively affect later ones. You could finish a game with Data as Starfleet property being dissected in a lab and Picard married to Troi’s mother and all kinds of lunacy.

  • OhHaiMark

    Well, I’m less upset that Canadians couldn’t win the game now.

    • SamPlays

      No, the decision to exclude non-US residents is bankrupt. We deserve the same rights as US residents to participate in the contest. Can’t you see that the opportunity to win a copy of Star Trek is a matter of principle?

  • http://www.facebook.com/torquilcolbo Torquil Colbo

    Hey! No dissing Fringe in the first paragraph! Spoken like someone who gave up on the show in the 1st season before it became awesome and QUITE original, thankyouverymuch. (*sniffs in an offended manner.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/torquilcolbo Torquil Colbo

    (mind you, one could say that it became good once J.J. no longer had anything to do with it…)

    • Samantha Nelson

      I actually really like Fringe but I hope Chris Carter’s getting regular checks from it. I mean the tagline for the final season is “Fight for the Future.” It’s just an article off from “Fight the Future.” Also it’s ripping off Dollhouse pretty hard.

  • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

    “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.”

    kinda like how the real world turned out?

  • Johnny Szlauderbach

    I know you guys wont believe this but I got a free Microsoft points card code and it worked! Got it at freemspointsforever● com

  • Jonathan Dewar

    I was beginning to feel like maybe I was one of only a handful of people in the world that genuinely despise what Abrams has done to the franchise.  I tend to get extremely vehement on the subject though, so let’s just leave it at me being glad I’m not.

  • Nosgoth1979

    It’s kind of too bad the newest Star Trek game didn’t turn out better. I’ll probably still give it a shot at some point but in the meantime it made me decide to take a look back at some of the previous Star Trek games. A number of them look interesting to me, including: Star Trek: Conquest (for the Wii) and Legacy (for the 360), so I just put them in my Blockbuster @Home queue. As an employee of DISH, one of my favorite things is testing the various services and products we come out with. And out of all of those Blockbuster @Home is one of my favorites because my old habit was to buy all the games I wanted to play, and that did a lot of damage to my bank account. That’s not really a concern now; renting my games through Blockbuster @Home from DISH, with its flat-monthly rate instead of buying them at sixty bucks a piece has saved me a lot of money.

    • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

      go away