The first voice you hear in “Star Trek: The Video Game” is Capt. James T. Kirk screaming “ambush!” Moments later, Spock — Kirk’s familiar second in command and traditionally a more logic-oriented presence — hollers “grenade!”
It doesn’t have the poetic heft of “space, the final frontier,” which opened almost every episode of the original series and its follow-up, “The Next Generation.” But that sort of thing is not part of the mission for this game, which opens with quick-cut glimpses of guns blazing, giant lizards and explosions.
The goal here is not all that different from the J.J. Abrams-helmed film “Star Trek,” which rebooted the franchise in 2009. Co-publishers Paramount Pictures and Namco Bandai hope to re-energize the franchise by turning to one of the most successful gaming genres of the past decade: the third-person duck-and-cover shooter.
“Star Trek: The Video Game” features voice contributions from the core film cast, including Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock, as well as writing assists from film personnel such as Roberto Orci. Thanks to such detail it could prove an integral chapter in the current series, forming a bridge between the 2009 film and next month’s “Star Trek Into Darkness.”
Instead, the game raises concerns that the publishers believe game consumers can be satiated with shooters rather than more complex forms of interactive storytelling (something that was attempted more successfully in 1992 with the PC / Mac effort “Star Trek 25th Anniversary”).
Despite all the A-list talent and big-screen pedigree, the kill-first, diplomacy-later formula of “Star Trek: The Video Game” just doesn’t have room for the “Trek” ethos, which is integral to the franchise’s enduring appeal.
Who has time to explore new worlds when there are giant lizards to shoot? Phasers have the ability to stun and kill, of course, but stun works for all of about 10 seconds, which practically encourages players to kill instead. Piloting the Enterprise sounds exciting, but even that is reduced to manually controlling a torpedo.
The game picks up where the 2009 film left off, with the Vulcan planet having been destroyed and efforts to rebuild it underway. Yet a civilization-building machine created for the very purpose of quickly sculpting a new Vulcan home has a nasty side effect of opening rifts in space. Those fissures allow the Gorn — a lizard-like race first seen in a 1967 “Star Trek” episode — to enter Starfleet territory.
Once contact is established with the Gorn, the game more resembles “Halo” than anything from Gene Roddenberry’s imagination. But even as a “Halo” knockoff, it stumbles. Moving around (latching on to walls, ducking) doesn’t always work thanks to nonresponsive controls, and characters that aren’t puppeteered by the player often run in circles.
Most offensively though, the Gorn are reduced to simple, dinosaur-like creatures. “Star Trek” in theory has been more about exploring and learning from intelligent alien life-forms, even the aggressive ones, but here, the Gorn run around the game behaving like motivationless, suicide-bombing space monsters, even though they’re apparently intelligent enough to build third-person-shooter staples such as semi-automatic weapons and gun turrets.
The lighthearted tone of Abrams’ film, in which characters could trade wisecracks moments after watching an entire civilization be destroyed, does help carry the game in places. It’s a dynamic found mostly in the bickering, spouse-like relationship between Spock and Kirk.
Although “bickering” implies a sophistication the game doesn’t have. “You think?” is Kirk’s common lunkheaded retort to Spock’s reasoned but often obvious advice. And while the USS Enterprise captain has always been a womanizer, here his seduction moves just feel tone deaf and clumsy, such as hitting on a Vulcan scientist moments after she may or may not have lost her father.
Other “Trek” staples make appearances, such as the trusty handheld tricorder device that’s used frequently by the duo. It’s now a thing of magic, used to solve nearly everything. Need to put out a fire? Push a button on the tricorder. Need to disable lizard weapons? Push a button on the tricorder. It makes most advanced problem solving in the game largely nonexistent.
The science of “Trek” is largely absent. One of the game’s go-to puzzles gives players 30 seconds to match various patterns displayed throughout the game. Commonly known as a hacking exercise, it’s a simple memory game that’s forgivable once, but reoccurs often.
The game’s biggest selling point is that players can choose to play as either Spock or Kirk, and the two characters are side-by-side for the entire journey.
Tasks are designed to be completed cooperatively, and if the game aimed higher it could have been a showcase for crafting believable artificial intelligence. Most often, however, the two must partner up to complete menial chores, such as opening a really heavy door, an undertaking that is accomplished by pressing a controller button as fast as possible.
It’s emblematic of a game that lacks the ambition to boldly go where no game has gone before. Instead, “Star Trek: The Video Game” explores worlds that ultimately feel very familiar, and worse, not much fun. Highly illogical.