Star Trek preview: "When you're playing on or as the Enterprise, it's all there"
“It's about Kirk and Spock” says Brian Miller, Paramount's SVP of Games, “they're different sides of the same personality.” Miller is talking me through the new co-op Star Trek game. It might just be one of the few times the Enterprise and its crew have been done justice in a videogame.
Central to that is its focus on Star Trek's two most enduring characters. “It was a no-brainer for us to do a co-op game,” says Miller. Kirk and Spock's traits and behaviour were so central to the plot of the first movie, and their problem-solving styles are so different (Spock think, KIRK SMASH) that this kind of co-op with specialization makes sense. Their different perspectives give different experiences throughout the game; whilst Spock is doing a mind-meld in the game, what his player sees (a hallucinatory flood of memories), is going to be very different from what Kirk's player sees (essentially Spock holding someone else's head.) Spock is also stronger, faster and stealthier than Kirk – which means much of his gameplay is actually stealth, as he can leave Kirk to shoot while he goes and explores.
From the description that Miller gives me, this game should be titled 'The Further Adventures of The Enterprise'. “This is just one of the missions they go on. It's not the plot of the second movie, we don't want to relive the game.” For this reason, everyone's favourite euphemistically-named Sherlock Holmes actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, won't be appearing. However, there might be some surprises about who is: the game has the entire cast of the first movie, as well as most of the crew.
“We started working on this game over two years ago.” says Miller. “Most movie games haven't worked well, and have year if they're lucky. We needed more time, more investment, and the right people. Our developer, Digital Extremes, and the movie makers, are the right people.”
Let's be clear about that; this game has involvement from the entire cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, and director JJ Abrams. Miller mentions that these are just a fraction of the team that have leant their help, voices and images to the film. (He refuses to be drawn on Leonard Nimoy – though he won't deny it either.) Bob Orsey, one of the writers of the first and second movies, is also involved. The in-game music is made by the same composer and orchestra. The production designer, the costume designer, the creature designer.
Indeed, many of the in-game assets are taken directly from the special effect files, provided by Industrial Light and Magic. The Enterprise you see in the game is the Enterprise in the movie, as are the costumes, weapons and so on. “When you're playing on or as the Enterprise, the sounds, the math data, it's all there.” says Miller. Wait. You get to play as the Enterprise? “The Enterprise is a character – it's not Star Trek without the Enterprise” Miller responds, but won't confirm or deny any more.
Miller shows me a whole bunch of extra footage not in the GamesCom trailer – and it's pretty impressive. But first you need to know a little backstory. After the first movie, the Vulcans are trying to build a new home, called New Vulcan. One of their space stations, situated between two suns in a binary system, comes under attack and Kirk and Spock are sent in to rescue the crew.
The station's design means that's not simple. There's an awful lot of running around on the outside of the station to get there. Moreover, as the station is right between the two stars, the intrepid duo have to take cover from solar flares, use their tricorders to find deployable vents that could provide cover, and get through some tricky revolving puzzles.
The tricorder is a magical toy for solving problems – using it to scan the world often reveals tricks or shortcuts. For example, in one section Spock, inside a starbase, is attempting to get past a flaming section of cabin. He simply scans for the sprinkler system and turns it on remotely. Other puzzles are going to be more trying, I'm told.
“We're not just rehashing elements from the movie – it's a whole new world.” says Miller. To tie into that, the new enemy on these further adventures is the Gorn, a race of giant lizardmen from ye olde Starre Trekke. There are about ten different species of Gorn in the game: big, little, teleporting, armoured, etc., and they're responsible for the attack on the Starbase. That Starbase, again, is based off set photography from the movies.
It looks like Paramount has learned from its earlier, disastrous outing with Star Trek DAC. It's invested time, money and its Hollywood cred to get make everything right. Sure, it's a slightly-more than dumb co-op shooter, but it's a great move in the right direction. Could this be the first Hollywood blockbuster that's also a games blockbuster?