So here we are. After three years of development, Star Trek: The Video Game is almost complete and asking us to push Start. And that’s when we’re presented with a dilemma: Do we play as Captain Kirk, or Mr Spock? Being (now sadly frustrated) fans of Heroes, our first choice is simple. This Spock model looks exactly like Zachary Quinto. Spock it is.
Produced by Paramount Pictures and developed by Digital Extremes, the game is a third-person actioner and sees you beaming down with away teams to shoot things with phasers, all the while pitying red-shirted ensigns who will surely perish before the level’s out.
The story has been written by BAFTA award-winner Marianne Krawczyk and, while separate from the events of the two films, is considered canon by Paramount. Indeed, the first thing you notice is how much like JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek movie everything is. And the reason is simple. This is Zachary Quinto. And Chris Pine, too. The ensemble cast from the movie were immediately signed to provide their talents for the video game, which gives this a supreme air of authenticity. That said, the likeness of Simon Pegg as Scotty reminds us a little too much of Shaun of the Dead. It’s rather zombie-esque.
Taking control, we’re presented with the iconic corridors of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Ensigns in Star Fleet uniform talk to each other and the geeky Trekkie fuzzy feeling gets even sweeter as we head onto the bridge, which has been recreated extremely well. A cutscene kicks in explaining the need to take an away party down to a stricken vessel, and the scripting is strong.
The warm banter continues into the levels themselves. At one point, Kirk says of a female captain “I like her”, to which Spock replies “There are few you don’t”. We won’t spoil all the lines for you, but we’d recommend you try sitting in the captain’s chair as Spock.
The game adopts the now-staple over-the-shoulder approach. Considering Namco-Bandai is publishing the game, it was refreshing to hear Senior Vice President of Paramount Pictures, Brian Miller, name non-Namco titles as the team’s favourites, including Mass Effect and Uncharted. Of course, he also stressed that no single game has been copied directly, but that he’s a gamer and knows which games he should be influenced by.
Star Trek certainly has elements of those two games. There's a snap-to-cover system which we used to cross the outside of a ship whose heat shield is failing in the face of a looming sun. Standing up during the blasts sees firey trails blazing around your character’s profile, although the game seems much more forgiving in practice than the preceding cutscene would suggest. We stayed in the flames for ages and still lived to tell the tale, which diminished the drama more than a little.
There's Tomb Raider-esque climbing too, which feels a little clunky. We actually had difficulty getting Spock to relinquish his grip on the current platform as we aimed for another. Of course, there’s still some polishing time before release.
The Tricorder is activated with the left bumper and overlays a wireframe grid onto the screen, highlighting objects of note. It also acts as a Metroid-style scanner and handily allows you to deactivate robotic laser arms blocking your path, even while climbing. Scanning enemies also earns you XP, which can be used to purchase upgrades for your weapons.
Oddly, we didn’t get to shoot much during the demo, although there was plenty of hands-off shooting action shown to us. Classic lizard-like foe ‘The Gorn’ returns, although now there’s a whole race of them, complete with different classes and even females. They're determined to conquer the galaxy, so you'll be fighting them in several distinct locations, including on the surface of New Vulcan.
‘At least’ 20 weapons are included, from the classic phasers to sniper rifles and grenade launchers. Every weapon has a primary and secondary mode of fire and you are able to pick up weapons from downed enemies. However, you can only carry two weapons at any one time. You also have a shield which recharges, although your health needs to be replenished at specific medi-points.
Co-op play lets two players join in and (as we mentioned in our preview last year) there are asymmetrical elements in the gameplay, acted out by the computer in single-player mode. Oh, but remember that episode where Kirk fights Spock? Miller says there will be a moment late in the game where you and your co-op buddy have a little scuffle...
With hacking minigames and spacewalk/flight sequences to break up the action, there's definitely a feeling of ‘gaming by numbers’. There’s very little here you haven’t seen before. Although, if you think about it, Captain Kirk was setting his phaser to ‘kill’ before home computers even existed. So perhaps complaining about originality isn’t strictly fair.
The game is due out on April 26 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.