Stace Harman explores the brotherly love that exists between Star Trek’s iconic protagonists but is left cold by its reptilian antagonists.
As reboots go, Paramount Pictures’ 2009 Star Trek film was quite the success. It offered fans of the decades-old franchise an origin story filled with a wealth of referential moments, included classic Star Trek iconography and sound bites that long ago bled into wider pop-culture and managed to be an entertaining sci-fi yarn for those that had previously neither seen nor cared for the Star Trek property; it could have featured a whole lot more Seven of Nine, but that’s a very personal preference.
Digital Extremes’ Star Trek video game is aiming to further this positive re-start by occupying the interesting but challenging space between the narrative of the 2009 film and that of its 2013 sequel, while at the same time plundering the brand’s rich history for reference material of its own. It boasts the vocal talent and visual likeness of the crew of the Enterprise thus ensuring fidelity – though it does occasionally fall headfirst into the uncanny valley – and looks to have the makings of a solid, co-op-based third-person cover-shooter for those that are more Gears of War than Final Frontier.
At this year’s E3, we saw new gameplay footage for the first time in 12 months, which further explored the relationship at the very centre of the franchise and also introduced the game’s antagonists. These key tenets will be crucial to the game’s appeal, both to Trekkers and those interested in nothing more than a polished shooter; but while one earned a cheeky Kirk grin, the other raised a questioning Spock eyebrow.
“When you look at what Star Trek is at its core from a character perspective, it’s really about Kirk and Spock; they’re like different halves of the same person,” says Brian Miller, senior vice president and game producer at Paramount Pictures.
“There’s the cavalier, gung-ho kind of guy and a very logical guy and I think that we all see ourselves in those characteristics. So, when we looked at it from that perspective, it absolutely made sense to make it a co-op game and we really needed these guys to work together and to have this banter back and forth.”
This banter reflects the approaches of the two protagonists at numerous points during the demo level that takes place amidst a colony on the newly established planet, New Vulcan. Where Kirk opts to leap a gaping hole in a walkway, Spock takes a moment to look around for the controls to operate the bridge; though not all examples of their differing personalities are quite so heavy-handed.
It’s apparent that a certain amount of the behavioural differences between the pair is scripted, and although Miller is coy about how much the choice of character might affect the game play options available to either player – or change the experience for solo players fighting alongside an AI-controlled partner – he insists that the differences between the two will extend further than the choice of jersey colour.
“You have the option to go into a scenario as Kirk, who is a little more cowboy, going in all-guns blazing or as Spock who might take a different approach and be more stealth-like,” Miller explains.
“For us it’s really important that the different personalities of the characters shine through so, yes, you’ll absolutely be able to experience that as two separate personalities.”
More natural instances of co-op play that better enforce the characterisation of Kirk and Spock occur during combat. As Kirk lays down covering fire, Spock is able to get up close behind an enemy (in this case, an infected and unnaturally aggressive Vulcan) to deliver a trademark Nerve Pinch; though if such a move can be effectively used during any of the boss fights I’ll eat a photon torpedo. Later, as Kirk once again plays cannon fodder, Spock uses the distraction to scan a particularly tough enemy with his Tricorder to reveal a video game staple: the glowing weak spot.
They’re simple, established methods of promoting co-op play that have an added layer of charm thanks to the historical interplay between the two allies. While some of these moments feel a little forced, others work better for the established relationship between the two men and create a partnership instantly more believable and affecting than most other co-op shooters are capable of. The portrayal of this relationship, along with the confirmed voice talent of the entire Enterprise crew, prompts me to ask Miller if the team at Digital Extremes considered going all-out four-player co-op and utilising some of the other recognisable characters of the cast.
“For us, it’s always been about Kirk and Spock."
“For us, it’s always been about Kirk and Spock,” replies Miller. “But we do have some really exciting announcements that we’re going to make about some other playable parts of the game.”
Sadly, those announcements aren’t for right now, but don’t be surprised to see familiar faces like Sulu, Chekov, Uhura, Bones or Scotty crop up in a separate game mode – or as ripe-for-the-picking premium DLC.
Captain, I cannae hold ‘em
While Kirk and Spock’s relationship is a welcome depiction of Star Trek lore, I’m less convinced by the inclusion of the Gorn as the game’s intergalactic antagonists. Where Kirk and Spock have a universally recognisable dynamic, regardless of one’s knowledge of Star Trek, the presence of the Gorn will at once delight Trek fans but risks being perceived as a race of generic, video game space-lizards by those not in the know. A more interesting and recognisable choice might have been the irrepressible Borg or well-known Klingons and whether this choice is in any way influenced by the 2013 Star Trek film is currently unknown. However, Miller recognises the risk the team is taking.
“We’re very conscious that we want to appeal to everybody but, granted, we’re not going to make everybody happy,” he offers.
“It was a big leap for us to the make the bad guys the Gorn because they’re one of the most iconic villains in Star Trek lore and it’s exciting for us to bring them up to date in this rebooted universe and to show people how we imagine the race.”
Whether the Gorn are the only adversaries that the crew of the Star Trek Enterprise will have to face will be left to the drip feed of information between now and the game’s Q1 2013 launch to reveal.
Star Trek’s big-screen reinvention at the hands of director J.J. Abrams is leading the effort to assimilate a new era of Trekkers, and this third-person shooter is looking to leverage the brand’s newfound kudos brought on board by its young, sassy crew. There’s not been too much in the way of innovative game play thus far to suggest it’ll boldly go where no third-person shooter has gone before, but the decision to focus on the relationship between Kirk and Spock looks to provide a solid base for cooperative play and, as such, is only logical.
Star Trek launches on PC, 360 and PS3 in Q1 2013.