E3 2012: Star Trek First Look
Developer: Digital Extremes / Publisher: Namco Bandai Games / Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC / Release date: 2013
WHERE NO MAN HAS GORN BEFORE
As Machinima’s most prominent—or at damn well the very least, its most outspoken—Contributing Trekker, I suppose it falls to me to (re-)voice the obvious…and also somewhat-painful; Star Trek has, as a rule, fared neither terribly prominently nor terribly well in the videogaming universe. Mark that ‘prominently’ business in particular, for that’s a large part of the problem: Not only has Trek suffered the ignominy of, let’s face it, some pretty crushingly sub-par games that actually got published, but it’s also suffered by dint of the types of titles that clearly should have been made…and weren’t.
(Remember that reasonably big, cinematic hoo-hah back in 2009, when J.J. Abrams’ much-awaited Star Trek hit, with financial and critical success, even with audiences who previously didn’t give 3/16ths of a Tribble’s ass about Star Trek in the first place? Yeah, the gaming industry completely missed the warp-out of orbit on that one; we got precisely one major-console-resident game out of that. After the fact. A top-down, arcade-leaning downloadable shooter, in fact, devoid of any canonical story, characters or deep tactical considerations, for that matter—whither Star Fleet Battles: The Videogame? Uh, yeah, some of us are bitter.)
Well, better to overload a single hand-phaser than to curse the darkness, I suppose: Namco Bandai’s forthcoming game, titled simply Star Trek, at least seems to have some Big Game aspirations. Star Trek is a third-person action-adventure game, set between the 2009 film and its forthcoming sequel, and its focus is on two-player, cooperative/supportive gameplay featuring Captain Kirk and Commander Spock. At E3 we were treated to a split-screen and 3D (thanks to some impressive Nvidia-powered tech and glasses) look at how elements of the on-foot combat gameplay would play out.
Much like the movie on which its storyline piggybacks, the Star Trek game makes (and unselfconsciously runs with) a fairly huge assumption right off the bat, in this case, that the ever can-do Federation has already located a suitable relocation site for the miserable, displaced masses of Vulcan, the late, great planet so sadistically and genocidally annihilated by what elder-Spock refers to, with literally inhuman reserve, as a “particularly-troubled Romulan.” What’s more, New Vulcan is apparently already in deep shit once again; at the start of the demo, Kirk and Spock beam down from the Enterprise (to whose film-faithful interior we are treated to a brief walkthrough prior to beam-down) in response to a distress signal from the planet. What they find upon arrival is an amok of uncharacteristically violent Vulcans, evidently in rabid thrall to some kind of infection. What results, at first, is a running, gunning pistol-phaser firefight in which Kirk and Spock must subdue the initial resistance they encounter, until they discover the cause behind it. Which is, of course, markedly worse.
Since it’s already a matter of record, there’s no particular foul in saying it: It’s the Gorn, famed reptilian antagonists from the Classic Star Trek TV series. They’re considerably nastier-looking in their videogame incarnation here—not only clearly responsible in some way for the infected/hostile Vulcans earlier encountered, but each individually, physically strong and scary enough to visibly dent massive, metal hatches with their bare claws or scaled-fists or whateverthehell they have. Taking the roles of Kirk or Spock you must combine their combative efforts, sometimes fairly ‘asymmetrically’; of course, they can both crank off bolts of stunning and/or lethal energy from their phaser pistols, but there will be times, for example, that Spock will need to use his tricorder to analyze in-game objects, or his efficient neck-pinch to quickly immobilize foes. Also, we saw the use of picked-up alien energy weapons that clearly have only one setting…and it’s sure as hell not ‘stun’ (after grabbing and using one of said alien weapons for the first time, Kirk quips “Scotty is going to love this.”)
Speaking of quips: To their credit, Namco Bandai has enlisted the authentic voice-talent of all the principles from the movie, including Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho and Anton Yelchin (although, beyond Scotty, we didn’t see anything to speak of in terms of the supporting cast members in the demo).
The split-screen (for purposes of our demo) action showed a large amount of action-based adventure and cover/fire combat mechanics that called to mind games such as Uncharted…and just when some of us were perhaps dispiritedly wondering where Enterprise was in all this, she suddenly came to the rescue as Kirk was obliged to call down a photon torpedo strike from orbit, which I had to admit WAS pretty damned hard-ass; it’s not clear this early on to what degree Enterprise herself will be utilized in the game, or if there will be segments which are focused on ship-to-ship—rather than biped-to-biped—combat (although since Enterprise’s depiction onscreen is quite gorgeous and awesome, we can only hope this aspect is not overlooked).
It also wasn’t clear at the time of the lengthy demo just how much of this current ‘vertical slice’ of the game is in fact set in stone: Frankly, some of the dialogue (and indeed whole story-assumptions) had the air of ‘placeholder’ to them. Sure, it’s kind of funny to hear Spock suggest an initial away-team guard as ‘prudent’ and Kirk to quip that it’s prudent but not nearly as ‘fun’…but it seems a little too facile and cute—is this really how we’re expected to believe that Starfleet handles beaming down to a dangerous situation? Writing and dialogue for a game can make all the difference between ‘buying’ the world as presented or not, despite the visuals and mechanics. For now, we can only hope that at least some of the sparkle, wit, and deadpan seriousness of the (better parts of the) 2009 film will surface as the game continues to take shape. Star Trek will be available for PS3, X360 and PC in 2013; here’s hoping for a long-overdue vindication of Star Trek in the videogaming universe worthy of J.J. Abrams’ reboot.