Hailing from a single Star Trek (The Original Series) episode titled "Arena," the Gorn is an alien race of lizard-men that do battle with Kirk in the California desert. It's clear now that this is the moment that launched William Shatner's travel-site-spokesmen career. I mean, if you had to dress up in a hot costume, drive out to the desert and hug another dude who also happens to be dressed in a rubber dinosaur costume for hours, you'd want to get away too. I guess in some circles this episode could be coined "beloved" just for its goofy nature, but I wish Namco Bandai and Digital Extremes could have dug deeper for inspiration.
The Gorn has been abused frequently in other cross-media Star Trek projects, if only for their combative and throwaway nature. In the original run of episodes, the species only appears once and all as some sort of trick to teach Kirk a lesson. Take the latest movie-tied video game for example, where Kirk and Spock mow down scores of Gorn, all in search of the Helios, a device which has the ability to terraform planets and subsequently aid the Vulcan in building a new home world. This battle with the Gorn takes place after the JJ Abrams-directed film from 2009 and, you guessed it, it just so happens a new movie will be out weeks from now! Kirk may have learned a valuable lesson at the end of Arena, but by the end of Star Trek you'll hopefully have learned an important lesson about licensed games yourself.
Players choose between Spock and Kirk, but the reality is that this choice doesn't matter. Fans with their own set of pointy ears might protest that Spock is smarter, that he can do the Vulcan nerve pinch, or that he has the power of super disassociation. They'd be wasting their breath. Everything Spock can do, Kirk can do too. There's little difference in gameplay between these two characters, meaning both you and your co-op partner will be bored to death. Is that something the Vulcans do to their enemies too?
Spock and Kirk run around, shoot at Gorn, complete mind-numbing hacking mini-games, and generally show how difficult it is to program video games. Any little unexpected action can break the level, your AI partner, or the very balance of offense and defense in combat. AI Kirk might leap an impossible gap and catch the ledge with his fingers or he might miss the ledge, land in the fiery pit below, and run in circles until you reload the checkpoint. AI Spock might huddle behind cover and fire infrequently at the enemy or charge straight ahead and butt heads with a charging Gorn like a ram. Those are ears, Spock, not horns.
It's clear where every cent of budget went in churning out another disappointing Star Trek game—the license, the actors, the soundtrack, and the cinematics—all of which make the dull and soulless story seem more like a popcorn-blockbuster. Of course it's dumb, though at least there's air conditioning in the movie theater and maybe you get to watch stuff blow up. That might sound logic for any licensed game, but the mechanics barely resemble the amazing games Digital Extremes was trying to rip off (is this supposed to be Mass Effect 2 or Uncharted?) and as a result the faultless deaths and broken AI completely undo any cinematic appeal.
Some levels do feature admittedly pretty architecture and effects, but others feature textures that look like they came from the inside of a Gorn's stomach: large smeared walls down generic-looking hallways, and cover with little appropriate use. Why does this research lab need so many damn waste-high barriers? Someone's going to trip!
Players can use their transponders to scan the environment, hack databases, and earn spare credits. Weapons can be upgraded for greater stun capacity or more power. None of this is necessary, however. Running forward and ignoring everything else finishes the game faster, and you won't benefit much from upgrades or credits anyway. Scotty offers shotguns, rifles, and more, but all you need or will likely use is the phaser. A few set pieces have the appearance of excitement, but lack any player agency or real content.
In one level, Kirk and Spock suits up with wing-suits to glide a great distance, but I was wrong to expect anything more than simple rapid-transit. What should have felt like a roller coaster played like a bus ride. Adding to the monotony was yet another sarcastic cinematic flourish. So much of what I'd actually like to see and play happens in loading screens. In the end it feels like your only job is to push and pull the levers you're meant to.
No one around me was unobservant enough to try playing the game with me in split-screen, so I journeyed onto Xbox Live, the final frontier, in hopes of finding intelligent life. I though playing with XxKlingonBluntsxX would improve the experience I was having so far. But in single-player, Star Trek's glitches make it a broken, unentertaining, and painful-to-play mess, turning what should be fierce fights with Gorn into monotonous meat-grinders. As with many games these days, a willing co-op partner could save this heap they've called the Enterprise.
I joined another player's game as Spock and started to play normally, cutting down Gorn everywhere I went, nerve-pinching them until they faded out of existence to conserve memory usage as seen in Nintendo 64 games. That sentence feels like I just killed Santa, so maybe we'll just assume they went to Gorn heaven which recently hit capacity. We stomped through an early combat sequence, but everything fell apart in traversal gameplay. In turn we jumped and hoped space gravity would take us far enough only to see us clumsily collide with the geometry and plummet however far it takes to kill a human and a Vulcan.
On the second try I managed to grab on, but Kirk was a little too close behind and we died again. On the third attempt, we stared at each other for a moment silently debating who should go first, until Kirk's transgression last time finally overwhelmed him with guilt. Kirk made it to the ledge, clambered up, and made it to save ground, but I had had my fill. I took a step off the ledge and quit out a few seconds later in frustration.
There have been a lot of failures to capitalize on the brand over the years, but few have felt so boring and rote. I never once felt like the captain of a space vessel and every time a Gorn reared his ugly head, I was reminded of Arena.
Star Trek missed the lesson. It throws countless Gorn at the player, ignores opportunities for variation, and feeds you hours of broken, knock-off gameplay. Even your favorite characters as-they-appear onscreen and a few nicely produced cinematics can't save what should have been an easy re-skin of an established gaming genre. The AI makes first-class Starfleet officers into red shirts and adding a second player only serves to give the game ample opportunity to break itself. Trust me when I say you'll have more fun testing a phaser set to stun on yourself.