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Friday, May 3, 2013

Star Trek videogame review

In recent times, the state of Star Trek videogames got so bad that then-licensee Activision sued Trek owner Viacom for letting what used to be TV's most popular sci-fi die on the vine. Then came JJ Abrams and his cinematic, high-action reboot of the Starship Enterprise, and now we here are in 2013 with a sequel en route and, to accompany it, the highest-profile Star Trek game in a decade.

Probably the worst Star Trek game in a decade too, which is really saying something considering how woeful 2006's space combat bore Legacy was. 'Star Trek', as this third-person shooter is simply and confusingly known , has been in development for two years, significantly longer than your average movie tie-in gets, so it's a surprise to see it turn out quite so turgid.

It aims high, at least, trying to emulate the shooting/climbing/pithy dialogue stylings of the Uncharted series, but for whatever reason (budget? Ability? Fire in the server room?) it just doesn't pull it off. What it winds up being instead of a thrilling adventure in space is a series of deeply tedious jogs through corridors, interspersed with slightly less tedious (but still tedious) cover-based shooting sections, a malfunctioning stealth system and some jaw-droppingly irritating hacking mini-games.

While technically proficient for the most part, some segments are so wretched, so very far from any right-thinking person's idea of what would entertain players, that it's tempting to wonder if there was deliberate sabotage at play. Yet, simultaneously, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, the silver screen Kirk and Spock, provide voices for plenty of relatively entertaining dialogue and comedy bickering  - somewhere, at least, Star Trek wants to be decent.

Sadly, occasional quips aren't anything like enough to rescue this its away mission to the planet Ennui. Faintly monstrous attempts to photo-realise the crew's faces don't help matters, as no matter how lively the voices may get, the characters they're attached to are dead-eyed waxworks with textures from 2001 and weirdly thick, pepperoni-like eyelids. And at least Kirk and Spock get to run around shooting stuff and climbing up things - the rest of the crew are stuck performing incidental dialogue on intermittent revisits to the Enterprise. Half of them don't even get to stand up.

Nominally, Star Trek is a co-op game, but on the list of ways to spend time with a friend this ranks somewhere below rummaging through the bins outside the back of Sainsbury's in search of stale cakes. The numbing repetition of its every aspect, of trudging from door to door, of enduring nonsensical quick-time events and of miserably scanning corpses and computer terminals with your tricorder to earn bonus experience points, falls short even of so bad it's funny territory. In fact, there's a sort of cheerless adequacy to it, which is a far drearier thing to spend time with than an outright disaster. Though the tendency of your AI-controlled partner, when playing singleplayer, to sprint in insane circles or creepily vibrate on the spot will likely result in a fair few a couple of point-and-laugh YouTube videos.

To a degree, Star Trek's failures are understandable. The 2009 movie essentially transformed Gene Rodenberry's sci-fi franchise from space politicking to superheroics, landing any game in a situation where it has to pursue big glossy action rather than exploration and spaceship management. 

If, however, said game doesn't have the resources or wherewithal to make its action big  enough and glossy enough, as very much appears to be the case here, it's got nothing else in the bank. Small, dull action mightn't have been such a problem if there were any other meat on Star Trek's bones.  The whole thing essentially hangs on whether or not the finished product looks spectacular - and it really, really doesn't. We think it's dead, Jim.

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