Too many Star Trek games end up like the Star Trek aliens: the result of a lot of cross people with extremely frowny foreheads, and even though you’re sure it was a lot of work behind the scenes, the results look lazy and unimaginative. Just like those aliens, but with some surface detail glued on.
The assumption that obsessed geeks will buy anything with Star Trek written on the box has caused some truly terrible releases. But then and again, in Kirk-like moments of brilliance, there are games that really shine through in this universe. In fact, there are so many offerings in general, that it’s a wonder how the Star Trek franchise hasn’t quite solidified its place in the video game industry.
And we’re going to get to the bottom of this by looking back at the Star Trek video games we’ve received so far. There are far too many games to list, so instead, we’re going to look at the absolute worst and best.
Warp speed ahead…
Star Trek Online
2010 | Cryptic Studios | PC
Massively multiplayer online games are the Borg of gaming: absorbing as many people as possible into a computerized network with no other urge than optimizing themselves. If the Federation could just install World of Warcraft on the Collective they wouldn’t have any troubles.
Unfortunately, Star Trek Online wasn’t the unstoppable force of The Next Generation‘s Borg, but the brokenly product-shilling series of minor obstacles that was Voyager‘s Borg. A once impressive force reduced to a few pantomime-grade challenges. Fun space combat is constantly interrupted by boring people doing the same boring things over and over again. Instead of assimilating the lessons of everything that came before, Cryptic Studios painted by the numbers in a way that even Seven of Nine couldn’t save.
Star Trek: Shattered Universe
2004 | Starsphere Interactive | Xbox, PS2
Star Trek‘s Mirror Universe awesomely inverts Starfleet by turning good to evil, but when it appeared in Shattered Universe, it just turned good to suck. The game was abandoned for two years when its original makers, Interplay Entertainment, until a TDK Mediactive programmer presumably asked, “Shouldn’t we try to update or improve this old and unfinished wreck even a bit before releasing it?” We imagine his/her boss shouted, “That’s the opposite of getting free money for old licenses and other people’s work!”
Most Star Trek titles can at least recognize the importance of the starships. Shattered Universe can’t even manage that, loading the player into a range of single-pilot fighter ships – something the Star Trek universe doesn’t actually have (and a runabout wouldn’t be seen dead in this).
The graphics were clunky even for the PS2, and while they managed to get Sulu and Chekov’s voices, they didn’t manage to capture their interest. You can almost hear them reminiscing about the days before they were typecast, as they grind out another paycheck. Or maybe they were just playing the game, and were as bored by the “Hold down the fire button and it doesn’t matter if you die” gameplay as everyone else.
Star Trek: Legacy
2006 | Mad Doc Software | X360, PC
This may be the first Star Trek computer program designed explicitly to prevent AI from becoming self-aware and attempting to kill the crew. By being too stupid to do anything. This is a starship tactical combat game with a single locked camera, unredefinable controls, a single save file, and allies so stupid they’d rather die than repair themselves.
If this game was an alien, it would be the original Gorn: a shambling idiot only important for its nostalgia factor. Kirk defeated him by fashioning a crude gun out of bamboo and saltpeter, which would still have been more sophisticated than the starship combat in this game. And the way Kirk fired priceless diamonds just to hurt an idiotic enemy perfectly captures this game’s handling of the license.
Star Trek: D-A-C
2009 | Naked Sky Entertainment & Bad Robot Interactive | X360, PS3, PC
D-A-C stands for Star Trek: Deathmatch-Assault-Conquest, which is a pretty meat-headed contradiction when it comes to Star Trek. Do you remember the famous speech where Kirk talks about finding strange, new worlds and Assaulting them for Conquest?
D-A-C isn’t even Asteroids. It lacks the rigid plotting and escalating tension of Space Invaders. It approaches the theoretical limit of how few pixels you can bother to program in exchange for some sweet license money. The result isn’t a game so much as a simulation of how Q must see our universe: a bunch of ants insignificantly bouncing off each other, and he may as well poke them a bit to try to relieve the tedium. Except D-A-C doesn’t relieve any tedium. And even Q wouldn’t be bothered with it for a full forty-five minutes.
2013 | Digital Extremes | X360, PS3, PC
The 2013 Star Trek game, aka the three millionth boring cover-based shooter with slightly different licensed likenesses. The game couldn’t even come up with a subtitle! Trust us, we’ve read through the entire history of Trek games for this article, and arriving without a subtitle is like arriving without pants. It’s far past mere laziness and contempt for those around you and into painful violations of basic decency.
It’s not even a good shooter. The code is stuffed with so many fatal mistakes, idiotic errors, and wild glitches in the basic laws of physics, you’d swear it was something LaForge and Data had come up with to cripple an evil computer.
Star Trek: The Next Generation – A Final Unity
1995 | Spectrum HoloByte | PC
A Final Unity is the most Star Trek: The Next Generation game there has ever been. Adventuring through the galaxy, following tenuous clues, and standing around talking for far too long way more often than fighting. It’s also about as subtle in its morals, with one alien society divided between rich “Patricians” and worker “Plebeians.” Real actor voices made it feel like an interactive episode, which is all the fans ever wanted.
Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force
2000 | Raven Software | PC, PS2
Elite Force leapt into the sterile Starfleet universe and used everything it could grab to kick ass, trusting the pacifists with tricorders to take care of the taking names. It’s such an unapologetic first-person-shooter, you’d swear it was a Klingon. They got the mandatory holodeck fake-out out of the way early so you could get on with vaporizing the rest of Gamma quadrant. This was a game which let you set off Voyager’s self-destruct for no other reason than you wanted to. Qapla’!
Pinball Arcade: Star Trek The Next Generation Pinball
2012 | FarSight Studios | PC
The Next Generation pinball machine was nerdy perfection. Everything from Worf’s assurance that table-tilters are “without honor” to a new Borg threat based entirely on multiballs was a perfect resonance between the franchise and fun. The table was more perfectly built Star Trek fun based on inevitable defeat than the Doomsday Machine. With Pinball Arcade’s release of a digitized table, it even counts as a video game. And is a better simulation of real items than the holodeck ever managed.
Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator
1983 | SEGA | Arcade
Strategic Operations Simulator is a gloriously geeky retro orgy of TRON-Trek. The starting synthesized Star Trek theme bars are beauty in bass reverberation. The arcade machine captures the Enterprise in a mesh of energized straight lines more perfectly than the Tholians.
It doesn’t matter that the entire game can be played in the upper-right corner, where a map represents everything you need to see in fewer blobs of light than the original Enterprise’s consoles: you’ll be basking in the wireframe Birds of Prey you’re exploding anyway.
The makers loved Star Trek so much, they worked out how to synthesize voice samples because back then there wasn’t enough memory to record them. And we can’t think of more perfect capture of the spirit of Star Trek than Spock being represented as a set of cunning equations.
Luke McKinney is a freelance contributor.