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Can famous actors and classic monsters sell 'Star Trek: The Video Game'?

Can famous actors and classic monsters sell 'Star Trek: The Video Game'?


The gorn and the beautiful

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Kirk and Spock
Kirk and Spock

Is three years long enough to make a Star Trek movie game that's actually good? That's what Paramount is hoping with the aptly titled Star Trek: The Video Game, a story nestled in-between JJ Abrams' 2009 reboot of the franchise and the upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness. Working with developer Digital Extremes, Paramount boasts that it has put a lot of effort into making the game feel authentic — including everything from accurately recreating the bridge on the Enterprise to including the likenesses and voices of the major actors from the film. But can Chris Pine’s face really make a licensed game worth playing?

Can Chris Pine’s face really make a licensed game worth playing?

"What is Star Trek about?" executive producer Brian Miller asked during a recent demo of the game. "It's about Kirk and Spock." And that's why Star Trek: The Video Game is a co-op game. You can play the third-person shooter with a friend, with each of you taking on the role of one of the two leads, or you can play solo and let the computer control your partner. Either way, the game is structured around the idea of Kirk and Spock working together. For instance, in one scene, Spock has to tend to Kirk's injured leg (by playing a mini-game), while Kirk uses his phaser to fend off waves of enemies. Other sequences require similar teamwork, and, at least during the early portion of the game we saw, it's all fairly simple stuff: hitting a button at the same time to open a door, or keeping pace with one another while escaping an exploding space station. The action is perhaps best described as unremarkable, punctuated by explosive non-interactive moments, but the Star Trek style may be enough to sell some players. And it's here that Paramount appears to be putting the most effort.

"We started working on this game when we were working on the last movie," explains Miller. That was in 2009. Three years is a long development period for most games, let alone a movie tie-in, and during that time the developers made use of a number of tools provided by Paramount. That includes things like blueprints of the Enterprise's bridge (yes, you can sit in the captain's chair if you want) and the creature and costume designers who worked on the films. And then there's the acting talent; all of the major characters in the game are voiced by the actors who portray them in the films. It's a nice touch, though in practice the acting feels a bit up and down, at least during the portion of the game we saw. Pine and co-star Zachary Quinto sounded bored, while Simon Pegg was unsurprisingly a big burst of energy. The characters also look like their real-world counterparts. It's not quite the same level of fidelity as Ellen Page in Beyond: Two Souls, but you can easily tell who each person is supposed to be.

Since it doesn't follow the events of any particular film, Star Trek: The Video Game also has the freedom to introduce some new elements that you won’t see in the movies. There’s a newly rebuilt Vulcan planet, multiple permutations on the standard phaser, and even an old enemy: the gorn, a reptile species that made its debut during the classic "Arena" episode of the original series. Their look has been updated so that they now look like lizard men instead of men wearing rubber lizard suits.

They now look like lizard men instead of men wearing rubber lizard suits

Real actors (bored as they may be) and nods to the original series are great additions, but it'll take much more than that to help Star Trek: The Video Game shed the stigma of being a movie tie-in. It looks and sounds like Star Trek, but playing it doesn't necessarily feel like Star Trek. It's more like a standard third-person action game, but with a Star Trek skin. Much like the Star Wars: The Force Unleashed series, it's a game you really want to work — there's so much about Star Trek that could make for an amazing and unique game, but that's not apparent in the portions we played. Any number of games let you scan the environment, which takes away much of the tricorder’s charm, for instance, while Kirk's ability to call in an Enterprise-powered airstrike just feels forced. We won't know for sure whether the lengthy development period was worth it until the game is released on PC, Xbox 360, and the PlayStation 3 on April 23rd, just a month before Into Darkness comes to theaters. Just don't go in expecting to fight a digital version of Benedict Cumberbatch.