Star Trek: The Video Game – Preview and Chat with Paramount SVP Brian Miller

Star Trek The Video Game (Kirk-and-Spock)

I was understandably dubious when I was invited to demo Star Trek: The Video Game earlier this week. Movie tie in games don’t have the best reputation amongst gamers for their quality and what little I’d seen of the game before attending left me fearing this would be just another mindless cash-in to help sell this year’s new film. Amazingly, this game is as far from a lazy cash-in as it could be. With very polished combat mechanics, an interesting story, great voice acting and co-op gameplay firmly embedded in every element of its experience, Star Trek: The Video Game is shaping up to be an impressive journey.

Featuring an original script by BAFTA Award winner Marianne Krawczyk, the likenesses and voices of Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock and new music from Michael Giacchino, the award winning composer who worked on the 2009 film, Paramount seem to have spared no expense at making this a game that can stand on its own two feet, regardless of the brand it’s tied to.

Throughout the evening I had the opportunity to talk to Paramount SVP Brian Miller, first talking about the game’s development process and how it differed from the standard movie based game.

“We wanted to make a great game,” said Brian. “The fact it was a Star Trek game was just a big bonus for us. We asked ourselves, ‘How do we break out of the movie based game space and make something truly memorable?’ Because I’m sure most of us in the room have that movie game we’ve taken home and said, ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t what I was hoping it would be,’ and it’s really with brands and franchises that we’re the most in love with.”

He then began to explain why this is often the case. “We broke it down to, ‘What were the problems that made those games maybe not as memorable and fun as we wanted them to be?’ One of those was obviously time. We get calls a lot of times from developers when films start to work and the trailers get out there and we get asked, ‘Can we make a game?’ And we license it out and they make us a game. One of the problems is that there’s never really enough time to make a great game. We wind up with a piece of merchandise that honestly just isn’t very good. We wanted to give ourselves enough time with this.”

“We’ve been in active development for about three years,” said Brian. “That’s a pretty big span of time for a movie based game. If you get nine to twelve months on a movie based game you’re lucky, we wanted to make sure we gave ourselves that big leg up.”

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Having seen several levels from the game and had a good chunk of hands on time with it, I can tell you that the additional development time really shows in the polish of the core areas. The presentation is superb, with a very polished visual style. The shooting mechanics are also smooth and fluid, as are the platforming and general movement controls.

One of the game’s main focuses is on co-op, something that will be obvious even if you’re playing in single player. When starting you have the option to play as either Captain Kirk or as Spock, both of whom have their own branching objectives, their own abilities and experience different parts of the story. If you’re playing in single player you’ll have to select one of these characters and stick with them through the whole game, with the other character being controlled by surprisingly intelligent AI, following you through the levels. Where the game really shines however is getting a friend into that additional character spot and working through the experience together. One great example of the differences between the two characters is a segment where Kirk injures his leg pretty severely, so Spock has to carry him and help him get to a med-bay to repair the damage. While Spock is busy lifting, Kirk will have to fend off any enemies that come their way and continue to do so while Spock takes part in a mini game to repair Kirk’s leg.

Don’t worry if you’re playing the game by yourself however, Brian assured me that the single player experience is just as well developed. “We were very cautious making sure this could be played both single player and co-op,” he said. “We worked very hard to make sure that the single player experience was up to speed and that meant working with our developer to make sure their AI was up to speed; if you’re playing as Kirk making sure Spock does what he’s supposed to do. We’re supposed to help each other. While it’s definitely designed to be played co-op we were careful to make sure the single player game worked as it was supposed to.”

I was able to play through two main sections; the first being an early mission and the other being closer to the end of the game. The first demo saw Kirk and Spock on the Enterprise receiving a distress signal from a power station orbiting dangerously close to two stars. They approach the base only to find that it is primarily manned by Vulcan developing an experimental piece of technology called the Helios device, which they hope will allow them to rebuild their home which was destroyed in the 2009 film.

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You’re equipped throughout the game with a device called the Tricorder, which essentially acts like the Scan Visor in Metroid Prime. It was mainly used for help in exploration during the demo level but it also found use when playing as Spock as it could be used to deactivate certain lasers, and can also be used to hack and control enemy drones.

In this same level we also saw a mini game in which you have to match signal frequencies within a time limit to unlock a door. It seems like these types of mini games will be fairly common, with Brian saying that there will be “lots of fun little mini games” spread out across the story.

The other section I was able to play through was an out of context scene, but one in which we were able to see more of the complex fights, platforming, puzzle solving and other types of activities. There are apparently between 20 and 25 different weapons in the game, each of which has two separate firing modes you can effortlessly switch between. Kirk’s default Phaser has Stun and Kill settings, but other examples include a shotgun that doubles as a grenade launcher. At any time you can be carrying two weapons, as well as being equipped with other items like grenades. The combat is smooth and polished and exactly the kind of shooting quality you’d expect from a AAA shooter.

We also got more of a glimpse into the overarching story. It seems that the Helios device being worked on opens a rip in space allowing the game’s main enemy, the Gorn, to come through and attack the station. They steal the device, take over the Enterprise and it’s Kirk and Spock’s responsibility to retake the Enterprise and recover the device.

gorn-lovinThe Gorn are a classic Star Trek enemy that, despite only ever being in a single episode titled Arena, have gain a cult following amongst Trekkies. Even if you’re not a Star Trek fan, there’s a good idea you’ll recognise this shot of them from the episode.

Talking to us about the Gorn, Brian said, “We were very excited about the Gorn because we had that room to really work on and expand a classic and beloved character and bring it into this universe. We were allowed to make a species and a culture and we have 15 different classes of Gorn. It’s also really challenging, taking one of the most loved villains of all time and to be able to make them into a much more robust unit, which was very difficult for us and very challenging, but we’re really happy with the way they’ve turned out.”

Brian also praised the episode where the Gorn made their appearance. “I think the Arena episode is one of the better written episodes in the whole of Star Trek,” he said. “And that’s saying a lot because some amazing writing happened on that show. I thought it was very important not just to show their dark side but also their motivations. There was a lot to draw on from that episode; it was a great nod to the fans but also a great unexplored enemy for our game.” 

I did have a few problems during my time with the game. There were occasional issues with dialogue overlapping and causing me to miss story information. The cast outside of those drafted from the 2009 film are not terribly impressive voice actors and if you’re playing on PC I found that the mouse pointer stayed on screen if I played with a controller which was distracting. I’ll give these issues the benefit of the doubt for now as they may be fixed in due course, and the fact that those were my biggest issues shows that a lot of the game is being handled very well.

Toward the end of the evening I took some time to chat to Brian about the challenges of creating an impactful story that is in canon with a pair of films, but exists completely outside of those stories for the most part. “We wanted this to be in canon,” he said. “That was important so that people don’t come away saying, ‘Oh it’s just an offshoot, I don’t need to read that book or play this game.’ We have some nods to the 2009 film and maybe some other stuff but we wanted it to be a completely standalone story with its own weight to it. We had to make sure everything worked with all the existing canon so that’s why we at Paramount are taking the lead with Namco and our developer as we put this game out.”

I was able to play Star Trek: The Video Game in both single player and co-op, 3D and 2D and on PC, PS3 and 360. It looks a lot crisper on PC, with some blurring of textures in the distance and on the edge of the character models on the console versions. The 3D effect was used brilliantly on a section of the first demo level where you’re approaching Solar Flares that leap off the screen at you, but you won’t miss 3D if you’re playing in 2D. It’s good, but not essential.

Star Trek: The Video Game is released across Europe on 26 April. 

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