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Star Trek Game Misses The Point Of Star Trek

Star TrekIt is not easy to make a Star Trek video game that stays faithful to the core of the Star Trek concept.  Digital Extremes is the latest developer to try to create a Star Trek game that holds true to the spirit of the franchise, but they missed the mark by a wide margin.  Poor Justin McElroy at Polygon had to suffer through the recently released game for the Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, and PC and while his experience was poor, at least an entertaining review came out of the madness.  You really should read the entire piece to find out why Star Trek fails so much (there are many technical issues holding it back), but my favorite part of the review explains why this game was doomed from the start: it does not understand Star Trek at all.

Is there a worse fit for the world of Star Trek, that subversively powerful force of social equality and acceptance, than a brainless, cover-based third-person shooter? I submit that there is not. (You do get to pilot the Enterprise for one stage, but by "pilot" I mean you play a terrible, poorly explained turret mini-game.) Everywhere else, Kirk and his partner Spock are given optional objectives that emphasize phasers set on stun rather than kill, but rewards are paltry and a fourth of the game's achievements are built on accruing kills. So you tell me.

At one point, a crewmember on the radio refers to the Gorn (the disposal phaser blast catchers that keep you from your objectives) as "creatures." A sentient alien race that happens to not speak English. A Starfleet officer. Creatures.

The "creatures" have absconded with a dangerous, magical MacGuffin that the Vulcans need for their "New Vulcan" colony to replace their exploded homeworld. Kirk and Spock set out to shoot every possible Gorn to bring that MacGuffin back.

The Gorn have also "infected" some Starfleet officers and turned them against our heroes, possibly because developer Digital Extremes already had the character models lying around.

Here's the thing about Star Trek that people don't usually remember: it's not about space battles.  Star Trek is not really an action program.  Sure, characters shoot at each other and starships engage in a little space combat sometimes, but most of Star Trek involves Starfleet officers sitting around a table discussing how they should handle the crisis of the week.  Most of Star Trek is meetings.  Deep Space Nine engaged in more combat than any other Star Trek because it was set during the Dominion War (and there's going to be action in wartime), but typically when the fighting breaks out on Star Trek, it's because the characters failed to find a peaceful solution to their current problem.  Dropping Kirk and Spock into a generic third-person cover-based shooter just doesn't work if one hopes to be true to the characters.

Strangely enough, when I first saw this game back at E3 2011, it was meant to be a downloadable title and not the full $59.99 retail disc release that it became.  At the time, it looked impressive.  It was at an early stage and featured placeholder enemy characters (so as not to reveal the actual villains) and the voicework was just a series of temporary tracks, but it looked like the team behind it was on to something.  God of War writer, Marianne Krawczyk, in collaboration with the writer/producers of the 2009 Star Trek film, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, as well as Damon Lindelof were in on this.  I was excited.  I'm not anymore.  I don't know what happened during development, but something went terribly wrong somewhere along the way.  Perhaps the rush to finish the game before the next film, Star Trek Into Darkness, premiered has something to do with it. 

The best Star Trek game of all time has to be Star Trek: 25th Anniversary for DOS (DOS!), Amiga, and Macintosh.  Released in 1992, it sends Kirk, Spock, and McCoy on a series of missions in which they walk around alien planets and talk to people.  It's an adventure game with glorious branching dialogue trees and item-based puzzles to solve.  The characters are armed, but rarely use their phasers to shoot other people.  I don't think anyone could make that kind of game work today outside of Telltale Games or Double Fine, and the kind of audience that Paramount wants to attract with the new J.J. Abrams take on Star Trek probably would not flock to that kind of game.  I understand why the new Star Trek game is a generic third-person shooter.  On paper it must have looked like a business slam dunk.  Maybe it's possible to make a solid game in that style and still be consistent with Star Trek's ideals.  This game, however, is not it.