Monday, May 13, 2013

"Star Trek" The Video Game--A Review (Or "Someday I'll Learn My Lesson")

I am a science fiction fan.  I don't belong to any one camp; I don't prefer Star Trek to Star Wars or Doctor Who to Red Dwarf (well, actually, I do prefer Doctor Who to Red Dwarf, only because it's apples and oranges, but I digress.)  The long and the short of it is that I will pretty much give anything remotely resembling science fiction a try.  This includes video games.  For example, I'm a huge fan of the Halo franchise.  Who wouldn't love a game based on a cyborg warrior with a cute girl AI helper who goes after hulking evil aliens who want to exterminate humanity because their religion tells them to?  I mean, it's a no-brainer.

So when I read that there was going to be an Xbox 360 game based on J.J. Abrams' reboot of the Star Trek franchise, I was pretty excited.  It was going to be an original adventure bridging the time between the end of the 2009 film and the new adventure Star Trek: Into Darkness which opens in a couple of weeks.  Even better, the entire core cast was involved in providing the voices for their characters in the game -- Chris Pine is Captain Kirk, Zachary Quinto is Spock, Karl Urban is Dr. McCoy, Simon Pegg is Scotty ... you get the idea.  Sulu, Chekov, everybody -- all there.  Add that to an original adventure involving one of the cool villains from the original Trek series, the reptilian Gorn, and I was sold.

Unfortunately, I forgot something very, very important.

There is a rule that I keep forgetting.  A simple rule, which, when followed, keeps money in your pocket and a song in your heart.  The rule?

Video games based on movies ALWAYS SUCK.


Without fail.

And "Star Trek, The Video Game" is no exception.  I have been playing it (or more accurately, attempting to play it) for about a week now.  The list of problems and flaws is long.  Here are the worst offenders:

• Control of the characters is clunky and unresponsive.  They don't jump when you want them to jump; they keep getting stuck in the furniture -- it's downright embarrassing.

• Control of other elements is equally unresponsive.  There is a recurring puzzle wherein you are required to divert power from one element to another across a partial grid.  It's pretty third grade.  The joystick is supposed to change the direction of the moving line as you negotiate its path from Point A to Point B.  Except it doesn't, which results in repeated failures at an insultingly simple puzzle until you get lucky enough to have a sequence when the joystick actually works the way it's supposed to five times in a row.  It's maddening.

• Other puzzles are equally simple.  Memory matching of wave patterns, matching a sine wave, etc.

• The game is meant to be played cooperatively with Spock and Kirk.  Which is great, except when you're playing alone.  Then the AI controlling your fellow character becomes moronically infuriating.  "He" will stand in the middle of a field of fire and get killed, or wander into electricity, or run into a wall and get stuck as he beelines toward the door or the goal or whatever.  It reminds me of the original series episode "Spock's Brain" when said brain is removed to run a civilization's master computer.  The Spock body that was left behind was about as bright as the Spock I'm currently trying to play with.

• The Gorn look nothing like the Gorn.  Not even a little bit.  They tried to give them different classes of reptilian badness, but they just look silly.  There are raptors, commanders, warriors, etc., and they all look worse than the rubber suit that the original Gorn wore in the "Arena" episode.

• And all of the usual complaints that go with any bad game -- gameplay is repetitive.  Level design is poorly thought out, often leaving you stuck because things can't progress until you kill all the bad guys and the last bad guy is stuck behind a locked door.  Scenery, although otherwise pretty, glitches in and out of existence.  Controls are terrible:  in addition to the complaints outlined above, camera control is a joke and characters are extremely slow and unresponsive.  Stealth missions are almost impossible because of how difficult it is to move and stay in cover because you keep getting "stuck" behind a box and can only get "un-stuck" by standing up and being seen.  Not that the enemy is always looking, because the AI of the bad guys is just about the stupidest I've ever experienced:  often Gorn just stand there blinking at you until you kill them.

(And I SO wanted to love this game.  Image courtesy of Xbox The Official Magazine.)

Some of the puzzles and levels could have been really fun and interesting, like the one where you have to manually guide a photon torpedo to a weak spot on an enemy ship.  Except that, as usual, you tweak the joystick to dodge a piece of space debris and absolutely nothing happens.  I wound up playing that over and over until I was sick of it.  I finally had a run where the joystick actually worked all six times that I needed it and could move on.

In short, it's a terrible, terrible game.  If it's not too late, save your money.  And whatever you do, never, ever, EVER forget:


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