As far as sci-fi properties go, Star Trek hasn’t really had a video game treatment that really nails it. In fact, it hasn’t had very many games that attempt to nail. For a property that has such a prolific and dedicated following, it is kind of amazing that more effort hasn’t been put into game development. I don’t know if Namco-Bandai’s new attempt is going to rectify the situation but sitting down to watch their 3D game play demo makes me think that they are certainly trying.
This new Star Trek game takes place in the current movie continuity and follows Kirk and Spock on an adventure that bridges the gap between the first movie and the upcoming second installment. The voice acting is done by the cast of the film including Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock. This adds an extra level of credibility to the proceedings as the characters not only look like themselves but sound like themselves as well. It seems like a no-brainer but ask the Bourne game how well things work when you don’t have your lead actor’s likeness on board.
Likeness rights and voice acting only take you so far if the graphics aren’t up to par but Star trek doesn’t have a problem in this area. The visual fidelity is very good and the characters look like they should with environments that are rich and detailed that fit very well with the look of the film. The animation looks to be very smooth as well with the characters moving in a realistic way.
The game play shown in the demo seemed to be fairly standard co-op third person shooter play but it did seem to offer a bit of depth in terms of playing off the different strengths and weaknesses of the characters. If you are playing Spock, for instance, you are going to be doing a lot more science/research based things like analyzing enemies for weaknesses or hacking systems for information. This isn’t really anything new but the implementation is novel in that it places a higher emphasis on the Co-op part of the multi-player experience. One example is the aforementioned analyzing enemies for weakness during combat. This isn’t a system where Spock just scans the enemy once and updates the database but rather one in which Spock has to maintain the scan on the enemy to show weak points while Kirk fires at them. Spock can forgo that by just shooting at the thing himself but the scanning makes the fight a bit easier and adds some gameplay variety. How much player 2 is going want to hang back and scan things remains to be seen but the team promises that there will be a wide variety of game play throughout to keep things from getting stale.
The enemies in question here were revealed to be the Gorn, the rubber suited lizard monster that Kirk exchanged karate chops with back in the original series. Here, the species has been re-imagined into a variety of different lizard monsters of varying sizes and ability levels that look like if you took Killer Croc and gave him phaser rifles. Some of them are huge boss sized monsters and some are smaller foot soldier type enemies. They are all pretty lethal though and Kirk and Spock looked like they had their hands full dealing with them.
The Gorn aren’t just violent brutes though, there is something else going on that could have to do with the venom the Gorn have which can cause hallucinations and death. There looked to be a bit of a mystery to solve here, which is nice as it opens up the game to more in-depth storytelling and doesn’t just rely on action and gunfights. This is very good considering that the source material is more known for the former rather than the latter. To keep the story true to the source material, Digital Extremes has brought in God of War writer, Marianne Krawczyk, in collaboration with the writer/producers of the new Star Trek films, Bob Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof. This is good news for fans of the movies as it should keep with a consistent feel across the platforms.
The game was running in 3D at the show and I have to question that choice just because it seemed to not be particularly stable yet. When it was working, the 3D provided impressive depth of field that looked pretty good if you are into that sort of thing in games. When it wasn’t working, however, everything looked really blurry and hard to follow. I checked my glasses and it did not seem to be an issue with that hardware. The game is still in development and it is reasonable to assume that 3D issues will be worked out before launch however I wonder why they decided to show it in that format without that format being stable. I understand wanting to highlight a unique feature but doing it with spotty implementation is a bit curious.
Overall Star Trek looks like it is going to be pretty interesting and fun if all works out between now and its early 2013 release window. From the demo it looks like a lot of thought is going into not just the story content but the game play content to keep the experience fresh over multiple play throughs and with friends. The writing and voice acting seemed solid as well so if everything comes together this should be a pretty strong game. Licensed games like this can often fall to disaster but with the right amount of care Star Trek could be something pretty special.