Star Trek: The Video Game by Digital Extremes seems to have launched as an unmitigated disaster. There are numerous bugs and glitches. The co-op AI appears to be somewhere between moronic and suicidal. If you’re playing on PC, online co-op doesn’t work. Basically, if you didn’t know that Paramount delayed release to promote with Star Trek: Into Darkness, you would swear it was rushed to co-promote it.
If the game’s failure wasn’t bad enough, the PR buzzwords Paramount and Digital Extremes threw out didn’t help either. They called it the most authentic Star Trek experience in a video game. While that might be true for the action-packed vision of Star Trek that J.J. Abrams is bringing to the screen, that’s not true of the Star Trek that damn near every Star Trek fan grew up with.
Despite the very shaky track record of licensed games, it is possible to make a great Star Trek game in the rebooted universe while staying true to Star Trek series and movies that we all know and love.
First, let’s talk setting. I doubt that Paramount would allow for a game to be set prior to Into Darkness so I’m just hoping that my base scenario fits the post STID Trek-verse. You would be the captain of a newly commissioned starship that isn’t the Enterprise. That allows the ship to be designed around the game mechanics to make it easier or more intuitive to play.
The game would be played in two different types of phases. Let’s call the first “on foot” and the other “ship command.”
On foot gameplay would look and act like your typical third-person shooter game. You can wander around your ship, interact with your crew, go on away missions and engage in combat.
Unlike Star Trek: The Video Game, while this hypothetical game would be a third-person shooter, the game is not a straight third-person shooter. It would borrow a lot of dialogue and RPG inspiration from Mass Effect with some tactical and character inspiration from XCOM.
To go on an away mission, you can pick squad members from your bridge crew and generic crew members like in the Star Trek 25th Anniversary game. Those “generic” crew members could be customized by you like XCOM characters so you might be incentivized in to bring them along instead of the same folks each time.
Your away team members would have unique powers or abilities based on their specialization and race. For example, your science officer can point out things in the environment that you might not notice instantly like shortcuts or a rock that you can shoot and drop on enemies. A security officer can set up a turret or small defensive shield. An engineer can use his tricorder to jam enemy weapons for a short period. These powers can be unlocked and upgraded RPG-style as the characters level up from use on missions.
Just to add something for fans of either TOS and TNG, you can choose to go on away missions or stay on the ship. Staying on the ship and not playing a direct role in the mission forces you to be smart in picking away team members lest it ends up a failure and everyone on the team ends up dead because of a mistake you made.
It wouldn’t be Star Trek if there wasn’t a little diplomacy involved. You can talk your way out of some situations if you have built up enough of a reputation in certain areas. Are you a brilliant tactical captain? The Klingons and Romulans will think twice about crossing you if you arm weapons during a conversation. Routinely have to retreat from battle or get emergency beam outs from away missions? The Cardassians will scoff at your threats.
Since I’ve already made a comparison of the “on foot” portion of the game to Mass Effect, let’s liken the “ship command” part to FTL. For those who haven’t played it, FTL is a roguelike indie game in which you command a space ship and its crew back to Federation space.
Unlike the piloting and shooting segment(s) of ship command in ST:TVG, you get ship systems management and command issuing of FTL. Do you shunt power from life-support into the shields or weapons? Should you re-orient shields to face an enemy but leave yourself exposed to that Romulan Warbird that might just be cloaked to stern? Do you risk dropping shields for ten seconds during a firefight to bail out your away team? These are the decisions that Kirk and Picard wrestled with every week. We should get to deal with them too.
Since I mentioned RPG elements for the third-person part of the game, we can incorporate them here. Like in FTL, the can be benefits to using or working on a system frequently. The tactical officer would get better at aiming and increasing firing rate over time. The helmsman would get better at evasive maneuvers Even the engineering team would perform faster repairs as they make frequent repairs from your mouth getting the ship into fights with three Klingon battlecruisers.
That’s just all the game play to make a Star Trek game work like a Star Trek game should. That whole long diatribe doesn’t include important Star Trek things like downtime on the ship, talking to the crew, the need for a general sense of life on the ship, galactic exploration, scientific research missions, exploring the galaxy, seeking out new life and new civilizations and boldly going where no man has gone before.
Creating the perfect Star Trek game that can satisfy the fans and the license holders won’t be an easy task. We’ve seen the major individual components that the game needs in other games. Putting it together in a cohesive whole is the challenge facing the developer that would undertake what would almost certainly be a thankless task.
Star Trek wasn’t solely about shooting phasers at the enemy. When I watched Star Trek, it was about exploration and diplomacy and characters and discovery. That’s all lacking from the need to make Star Trek into your typical summer blockbuster. By putting that into a game, you can salvage the original spirit of Rodenberry’s Star Trek while keeping it in the new timeline. Let’s just hope that Star Trek’s spirit isn’t dead, Jim.