By Kevin Kelly
Play as Kirk. Play as Spock. Those are the selling points behind the upcoming "Star Trek: The Video Game" from Digital Extremes and Paramount. During the filming of the 2009 movie, the development team got together and decided to pursue an immersive Star Trek video game experience, and they are certainly doing that here by heaping tons of fan service into this title. You can mind meld. You can Vulcan neck pinch. You can find Tribbles. You can flirt with girls as Captain Kirk. You can watch Redshirts die. You can shoot phasers, tricord, beam. Just about everything you would expect to run around and do if you ever found yourself aboard the actual Enterprise.
The game was first shown to press behind closed doors at E3 back in 2010, although at that point the game only used temporary audio, and not the actual voices of the cast. Luckily, Paramount was able to secure them, and the entire cast of the film from Kirk down to Chekov will be adding their voices to the game. Along with actual assets from Bad Robot and Industrial Light and Magic, the developers have worked to recreate the world that J.J. Abrams brought to life from a video game point of view. Have they succeeded? We were able to play the game for the first time at GDC, so beam down for our impressions.
While the entire cast is represented in the game, you'll take the reins as either Kirk or Spock, arguably the heaviest hitters in the Trek canon. Although there's an argument to be made that a Bones game would be pretty damned exciting, if not just for the dialogue choices alone. As Kirk or Spock, you aren't limited to styles of play, although Spock can be more methodical and stealthy, while Kirk is a bit better if you like charging in with guns blazing. There's a rudimentary cover system, which allows you shield yourself from enemy fire and other environmental forces. In our demo, we were on a space station that was coming apart, and needed to duck blasts from the engines, lest we get burnt to a crisp.
Both Kirk and Spock has their own weapons, and these can be upgraded as well. You can also pick up and use weapons that you find, and these range from pistol-sized to full on shoulder-slung guns. You can carry two of these, with one holstered at your side, and the other across your back. While the different weapons use different technology, the shooting is fairly standard, with a cover and regenerative health system being the norm.
While there is a large amount of combat in the game, we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of puzzle solving and exploration they've added here. During our time on the space station, we used Kirk to open up some panels via a control station, and Spock would blast away at the innards, allowing us both to continue. Both Spock and Kirk have their tricorders, and you can scan plenty of areas in the game including dead bodies, giving you information and insight, and in some cases allowing you to unlock upgrades. This will encourage you to check out every nook and cranny, although preferably not while you're engaged in combat. Which we did. Whoops, sorry Spock.
The game is set inbetween the 2009 film, and the film that will be out this May. But it exists squarely in the gaming plane, and Paramount announced earlier that they would be bringing the Gorn into the game as the bad guys, tying the game back to the Original Series, and the slowest-moving-battle-ever between Kirk and a Gorn. But these Gorn move a lot faster than that, and they carry guns, both a step up over the predecessor. But those differences aren't just cosmetic. The story itself promises to be epic, and is written by "God of War "scribe Marianne Krawczyk. We only had about 30 minutes in the game, but there were hints of a much larger story everywhere.
Case in point. While the Gorn was just a name for a guy in a rubber-suited alien costume back in the 1960s, the developers have fleshed out the race and given them a full background and biology. What if the Gorn had venom? And what is that venom could infect others? Along the way, you'll encounter infected Starfleet individuals as well as Vulcans who have turned against you. But the game encourages not to kill the Vulcans, as there are so few of them left. Instead, you have the option to stun them, and then you can use Spock mind meld with them, and see some of their memories. And, you can also mind meld with the Gorn.
We were shown a quick snippet of a mind meld, which emulates the scene from the 2009 film, complete with echoing audio and ambient visuals. It's a nice touch, particularly for Vulcan fans, and a perfect Trek-esque way to fill in story points. Only Spock sees these moments, leaving Kirk to ask what happened, which provides a nice reason to try the game as both characters. Like we mentioned, there's a lot of fan service like that throughout the game, including the opportunity for Spock and Kirk to fight each other, borrowing a page from the "Amok Time" Original Series episode.
In fact, while the game and the story are very cinematic, the only thing that disappoints here are the visuals. By using real assets from the movie creators, and the actual voice cast from the film, you want this to look just like J.J. Abrams' vision. The trouble is that the characters suffer from a very severe case of uncanny valley. At times the models in the game strongly resemble the actors, but whenever they speak, that illusion is destroyed. There's a lot of engaging gameplay and fan elements through "Star Trek: The Video Game," but it definitely comes down to looking like a game that needed more visual polish.
But, hardcore Trekkies probably won't mind, and it will fill a bit of the time void until "Star Trek Into Darkness" hits on May 17. "Star Trek: The Video Game" will be released on April 23 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PCs.