Star Trek the game: could this be the best movie-tie in game to date?

Let’s not tip toe around it, games based on movies have typically been bad. Painfully bad. It has gotten so rotten that when most gamers see a title come out that is a direct tie in to a movie, they know to recoil from it with fear and horror. Shouting “burn it with fire” is a justifiable reaction. You have to really, really enjoy the property in question in order to brave trying out a tie-in game and even then only the most dedicated will be able to withstand the onslaught. There have been a few exceptions here and there, but for the most part, the games in the sub-genre feel rushed. And that is putting it as diplomatically as possible.

Part of the problem has always been the timeframe. The development cycle of a movie is typically much shorter than that of a game. So when a game uses the art design of its respective tie-in movie, it means the game developers need to wait for the film’s art designers to complete their work before they can even start on their design. It results in games that are rushed and generic at best, broken and frustrating at worst. Even in the best cases, games that use their own art are still going to be rushed simply because the time it takes for a movie to go from being greenlit to the screen can be as little as half the time a game takes to develop.

Developer Digital Extremes know this, and made the decision to skip the lucrative window surrounding the release of the 2009 Star Trek movie from JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot Production company, despite having the approval to develop a game based on the property. Instead, the developer decided it would rather make a good game.

Based on Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek franchise, the upcoming game will tell an original story set between the 2009 movie and the upcoming sequel, which is due on May 17, 2013. No release date has been given for the upcoming game, and it has been in development since long before the movie sequel was officially confirmed, but it could be timed so that the game and the movie end up being released in the same general time frame. That is still just a guess, but it makes sense. Lucrative, lucrative sense.

The plot is still being kept under wraps, but it will be an original story that won’t directly connect to either movie, but it has been given the blessing of JJ Abrams and will be considered to be part of the same universe. Digital Extremes hasn’t announced who the enemy will be, but they have promised that it will be someone Trekkers will appreciate. 

But while much of the game is still shrouded in secrecy, last week at Namco Bandai’s Gamer Day in Vegas, the developer showed off a bit of the game. We have already seen that the gameplay of Star Trek will be a third-person action title, with a huge emphasis on the co-op gameplay, but the demo gave us a much better idea of what to expect.

One character will take control of Kirk, while the other steps into the shoes of Spock. There will be both local and multiplayer drop-in co-op, and when a genuine human being isn’t around to step into one of the roles, the AI will be your BFF. And while the story will remain the same regardless of which character you play, each will have their own pros and cons and make the experience feel different as you boldly go where no bros have gone before.

In the level shown, Kirk and Spock return from an away mission to discover that the Enterprise has been ensnared by energy tentacles that are holding the ship in place, and preventing the runabout from getting too close. To reach the ship, the duo threw on their space suits and jumped from the shuttle, using boosters to fly to the Enterprise while dodging debris. Once aboard the ship, the game takes on an action game feel.

As Kirk and Spock made their way down the deserted hallways, a garbled transmission for help directed them to the shuttle bay where an ambush awaited, giving us a look at the combat.

Each character will have their own style, which is reflected through the weaponry. Kirk will use a modified Starfleet phaser with kill and stun settings, which is deliberately reminiscent of a Wild West revolver. Kirk is the loud, brash cowboy, and his weaponry reflects that.

Spock offers a contrast to Kirk, and Digital Extremes described him as being almost ninja-like. Spock’s Vulcan firearm is a bit more subdued compared to Kirk’s weapon, but it is equally powerful. Unlike the phaser’s stun setting, Spock’s gun has a stasis attack. When an enemy is stunned, they awaken and begin to look for whoever knocked them out, while the stasis gun freezes the enemy in time and leaves them unaware of what happened when the effect wears off.

Both weapons will also feature an experience and leveling system that opens up better options the more you use them, and there will also be weapons scattered throughout the game that you can pick up and use like Starfleet rifles.

During the ambush, the combat played out a bit like a traditional third-person shooter, as cover mechanics are key and drawing fire gives your partner a chance to get up close and personal. The obvious comparison is EA’s Army of Two, and while not entirely accurate, it isn’t unfair either. Each character will also have unique melee attacks: on display was Spock’s mind meld, which can turn an enemy into an ally.

As the encounter played out, Kirk was wounded in the leg by an infectious agent that required immediate medical attention. Although Kirk was unable to walk, Spock supported him as the duo made their way to the med bay with Spock walking (or steering might be a better description) and Kirk firing at oncoming enemies.

Once they reached the med bay, Spock threw Kirk–who continued to act as the offensive character even as his display blurred— on a table and then operated a tool that cut the disease out and returned the captain to full strength.

The nature of the virus will be explained in the main narrative, but to really hear the details about it, and the details of the entire story, you will need to use your tricorder to scan objects throughout the game. It isn’t a requirement to progress, but it will give you more of the story.

Once Kirk was up and ready to double fist punch aliens in the face again, another battle commenced that showed off some of the weapon upgrades. One upgrade being highlighted was a deflector, which collected enemy (and ally) fire and then used it to create a powerful counterattack. It wasn’t enough though, and a cinematic soon saw Kirk and Spock captured and taken to the bridge.

The alien invaders demanded the metaphorical keys to the Enterprise, but Kirk had one more trick up his sleeve. Using a remote control unit, he took control of the runabout and flew it towards the bridge. The impact caused the deck to be exposed to the vacuum, and as Spock and Kirk clung to nearby consoles to avoid being sucked out into space, the demo concluded.

The game looks fairly amazing, and it appears that Digital Extremes have done a movie-tie in game justice. The art work is detailed and striking, and much of the concept art on display was lush and imaginative. The graphics and movements were crisp, and the technical aspects looked sound.

There are still several unanswered questions, however. Although the character models for Kirk and Spock are taken from Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, the voices being used were not. There is still plenty of time to record new dialog in the coming months, so hopefully the movie cast will be more involved in the final product. The rest of the Enterprise crew was not seen at all, but they will certainly be in the game in some capacity.

Then there is still the question of who the enemy is. Digital Extremes is promising that fans won’t be disappointed which suggests that the enemy will be familiar, but since the game is not a direct tie-in to the next movie (it has been in development since long before a story for the sequel was even commissioned), the enemy will likely be unique to the game and yet also approved by the Bad Robot production team. Could that mean Klingons? Romulans? Tribbles?

We will know more, including who the enemies are, at this year’s E3. Following that we will have to settle in for the long wait until Star Trek is released in the Spring of 2013.

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