My name is Chris, and I’m a sucker. I freely admit it, because it seems, unlike the majority of most gamers, I actually get excited about video games that are adapted from movies. It’s an enthusiasm that is, by and large, followed by massive disappointment, since movie games tend to suck a lot more than they likely should. While there’s a long-standing history of this, both in the world of gaming and in my own life as a genre film fan, I think it might be best to try and make my point through the latest movie-to-game transition that left me, and apparently one of the hottest directors in Hollywood, crestfallen. That game was 2013’s Star Trek, developed by Digital Extremes and published by Namco-Bandai.
You see, Star Trek was first announced at the Electronics Entertainment Expo in 2011, a full year before it was scheduled to come out. Back then, we Trek fans weren’t exactly sure when we’d be seeing the second film in the newly established universe by J.J. Abrams, as delays in production and in writing the screenplay left the final release date in question. The game, seemingly confirmed for 2012, would be the next stop for an official adventure with the new crew, and we’d be able to live it ourselves! The initial trailer showing pre-Alpha gameplay footage looked extremely promising, especially for a game in that stage of development, and I quietly allowed myself to become optimistic about the possibility of a movie game not sucking. For once.
After not hearing anything for a good stretch of time, news started to trickle in about what would become Star Trek Into Darkness. When the May 2013 release date was finally announced for the film, the game decided to alter its street date to April 23, 2013, three weeks shy of the film. This made me, oddly enough, even more excited for the film, because it meant that they’d have an additional ten months to work on the game and conceivably make it more awesome than it already looked! With nearly a year more to fine tune and polish your game, you’d think that it would be nearly immune to sucking, wouldn’t you? Well, that was my feeling. Not to mention the fact that the developers secured both the likenesses and voices of the entire primary cast, so if nothing else, the game would at least feel pretty authentic.
I’ve often qualified myself as an absolute Star Trek freak. So, as you can imagine, by the time the arrival of Into Darkness was imminent, and by the time the release date for the game came around, I enthusiastically journeyed into my local Best Buy and picked it up at full price. When I went home, I installed it on my Xbox 360, and started playing. One thing that the game has going for it pretty well is presentation. The music, the likenesses, the set design, and the voices all contribute to a feeling of playing an authentic adventure with the new crew of the Enterprise. Beyond that, though, things start to go very wrong.
Collision detection is awful. Since this was conceivably (and allegedly) designed as a co-op game, you always have another character with you when playing alone, and there are several moments where you can walk through your companion character as if he’s not there. The enemy A.I. is pretty shoddy as well, as there were several instances where I was standing right in front of an enemy and they didn’t acknowledge that I was even in the same room as them. Oddly enough, this was helpful for some of the ridiculous stealth missions where you have to avoid detection, but it still shouldn’t have happened.
At the same time, though, during those stealth missions there were inexplicable moments where enemies would see me through walls. There is very little in the world of gaming that is more frustrating than having an enemy not see you when you’re right in front of them, and then exhibit X-ray vision when you’re a floor above or below them! HOW DID THIS PASS QUALITY CONTROL, especially with an additional ten months of time to develop and bug test?
While I consider my tolerance for such things to be high, I really couldn’t take it anymore. I was so sure that this would be the game that could most effectively avoid the licensed game curse, but I was too disappointed, and traded it in before it dropped too much in value.
Some time later, an interview with J.J. Abrams began making the rounds, and he actually discussed the outcome of the Star Trek game. He divulged that he was “emotionally hurt” by the reception to the game, and had actually bowed out of the development process when it became clear to him that they weren’t getting the type of gameplay experience that he and his team at Bad Robot had wanted. “To me the video game could have been something that actually really benefited the series and was an exciting, fun game with great gameplay and instead it was not,” he said. “For me emotionally it hurt, ‘cos we were working our asses off making the movie and then this game came out and it got, this isn’t even my opinion, it got universally panned and I think that it was something without question that didn’t help the movie and arguably hurt it.”
Digital Extremes’ Stephen Sinclair, a developer on the game, actually had the gall to respond to Abrams’ critiques when he said, “I don’t think J.J. was trying to throw Digital Extremes under a bus, I think he was talking about the political forces that were affecting the game.” Riiight.
He continued, “I don’t mean to speak cryptically, and I’m not trying to diffuse blame, but the game we did just before that was The Darkness 2 and it was the same crew working on that game as it was on Star Trek. That game came out with an 80-plus Metacritic rating. The ambitions were high for Star Trek and there’s some awesome co-op stuff there.”
And that, dear friends, is what zero responsibility looks like. Not only did Sinclair and his team make a game that is undeserving of many of the good production points put into it (story, aesthetic design, likeness and voices of cast), but Mr. Sinclair is still in denial that the game is indeed a bad one. Even with ten additional months to refine it (I cannot stress that enough), the team at Digital Extremes and Mr. Sinclair either could not, or more likely, would not do what they could have and needed to in order to bring the game’s quality up to the exacting standards of the fanbase. I almost laughed out loud on my first play through when I saw that a quality assurance team was in the credits, because they, and several of the developers including Mr. Sinclair, did not do their jobs. The only people who did their jobs exceedingly well were the cast.
I recently revisited the game (since it’s severely discounted to $4.99 for a new copy at the Microsoft Store) and came to a conclusion: that price is more like it. I like the story (you can watch it without having to play the game HERE), and I think the voice performances are largely pretty great. THAT’S the value I find in it. As a game, though, it does no justice to the Star Trek franchise, and until developers who actually care about delivering an experience that Trek fans deserve can develop these games again, then we’ll have more Steven Sinclairs making excuses for why we’re in the wrong for thinking that these meager efforts don’t pass for a good game.
The moral of the story? Even if it looks good, and if it’s a brand or franchise you really enjoy, you owe it to yourself to try and get as much information about it before you plunk down your hard earned money. While my life is hilariously full of instances just like this one, that doesn’t mean yours has to be too.
This isn’t the last case of licenses in video games gone wrong, though. Oh, no. I can think of a few more times where the promise of such a game has also gone very wrong, and at least one instance of when it’s actually managed to go pretty right. Keep an eye on GeekNation for further discussion of those projects in the coming months, and in the meantime, let us know what you think about this Star Trek game in the comments below.
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