Reviews

Star Trek: The Videogame Xbox 360

An ignoble enterprise

Space. The final frontier, or at least the one with the most expensive SFX. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise... F? G? I forget which letter we're up to now. Its sadly continuing mission? To explore strange new worlds that are actually giant broken hamster-runs, packed with strangely magnetic boulders to cower behind, terminals and locks to "hack" by way of vacuous minigames, and yellow-tinted ledges to sob at hysterically as you die of magic ragdoll sickness on the rocks a whopping 10 whole feet below.

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To seek out spasmodic, brain-dead new life beset by clipping errors and peck at it with miserable, degrading, heft-less weapons, or waddle around it like a ninja made of pillows and arthritis, or scrape generally inessential XP from it using retro iPhones, or ignore it completely and make a despairing break for the waypoint, only to get stuck on one of those magnetic boulders and expire. To boldly go where literally everybody in the entire action games industry has gone before, and do its absolute, smiling best to ensure that nobody ever wants to go there ever, ever again.

The new Star Trek game isn't simply a generic, shoddy cover shooter, rushed out by Namco to capitalise on the new film's marketing - it's a shooter that at times feels like it's actually trying to annoy you. Like a jaded clown caught in a bankrupt routine, it bumbles and staggers theatrically from one utter failure of imagination and execution to another. Swimming sections that are compromised by ineffectual physics and collision detection. Stealth sections in which patrolling lizardmen stare gormlessly (or should that be Gornlessly?) through your moronic AI partner as he trundles around in full view. On-rails flight bits where you faceplant space debris till sheer, blind luck comes to your rescue. Hammer-X-for-salvation QTEs.

The so-so script makes no bones of all this - indeed, it frequently revels in the game's hand-me-down impotence. "You mean we have to hack three terminals to open the door again?" whines Kirk, as Spock hauls him up from the peculiarly rigid sitting position that is Star Trek's equivalent of Down But Not Out. "I fear it may be so, Captain," comments the good Commander, as yet more Gorn reinforcements sizzle out of the ether.

Beaming with promise
In theory, Star Trek: The Game's plot and co-op mechanics are all about this kind of back-and-forth - a celebration of the 23rd century's best known double act, beginning with a flash-forward sequence in which - shock! - Spock and Kirk battle to the death. In practice, the plot quickly degenerates into a save-the-princess mission garnished with boring banter in which Kirk sputters roguishly and Spock oozes thin-blooded irony. And the mechanics foster no real distinction between these eminent characters, as both Spock and Kirk have almost exactly the same (upgradeable) capabilities, give or take a mind-meld sequence or two.

The nearest the game comes to making something of the show's old "rationality versus emotion" gambit is our Vulcan friend remarking that he'd be ever so obliged if Kirk set his phaser to stun (downing rather than outright killing human enemies is often key to earning level commendations, which grant bonus XP). Spock also tends to see the point of covert infiltration where Kirk prefers to shoot first, think later or preferably, not at all, but again, this is never manifest in how you play.

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It's hard to say which is least enjoyable here - stealth shenanigans or All Guns Blazing. Sneaking around requires that you spend longer contemplating levels that are either puddles of khaki-coloured rock, or chrome tunnels packed with red pipes, not to mention contending with the yokel AI's alternating hyper-alertness and blindness. But that's often preferable to the combat, which is hamstrung by a cover system which outright refuses to let you move around, along or over what you're hiding behind. The game also struggles to distinguish between the evasive roll and lock-to-cover, which means you're permanently gluing yourself to the wall behind when moving out of fire.

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