New Star Trek, Still Retro
Forget 3D planes, shield modulation, transporters, away teams, escort missions, and all the other complexities of nearly all the past Star Trek games ever developed. What you’re left with is Star Trek D-A-C, the latest Star Trek game and the first one based on J.J. Abrams’ latest film. Developed by Naked Sky Entertainment and published by Paramount, Star Trek D-A-C has all the classic characteristics of a movie tie-in game, which leaves most experienced gamers hesitant. Let’s face it, historically, games based on movies just aren’t that great.
Perhaps the fundamental problem with games based on movies is the idea that it must somehow complement the movie, whether by contributing to the story or by attempting to invoke the same emotions. Either way, games are just too different from movies to really accomplish either very successfully, and, thankfully, this lesson seems to have been learned by the developers of Star Trek D-A-C.
Star Trek D-A-C is an action game, and it knows it. The game is based on ship-to-ship combat between the Federation and the time-traveling Romulans; sorry, no Klingons. Played from a top-down, 2D perspective, D-A-C has an almost nostalgic feel to it, as if it seems more like the kind of 8-bit Star Trek games our fathers may have played. Nevertheless, the amount of polish and gloss applied here is not to be underestimated.
Visually, the game looks about as good as it can considering its 2D limitations. The new Star Trek style captured in the film translates well on the Xbox 360. The environments are colorful and deep, allowing gamers to navigate them with ease, and the visual effects for the weapons and explosions are just as good. Sure, they aren’t going to blow you away, but they aren’t meant to either. Instead, they complement the game’s style and gameplay as well as they can.
Fans of the film will be happy to know that the sound effects and music in D-A-C is copied over and works perfectly. Despite being an arcade game, D-A-C boasts some rather deep and rich sound, which is just another example of its production quality. The only downside here, and probably only for a select few, is that the game features no voiceovers from the film’s cast, but considering there is no direct tie-in to the movie’s plot, it isn’t a big deal.
Players will have three different ship types to choose from while playing, which can be changed before each respawn. They are the Flagship, which is the Enterprise for the Federation, the fighter, and the bomber. Each ship handles very differently and requires a different style. For example, the Flagship’s weapon requires the player to aim a small circular reticule around the screen with the right analog stick. On the other hand, the Fighter just needs to have its nose pointing in the direction it wants to shoot. Each ship has its strengths and weaknesses, whether it’s having powerful weapons, being fast and agile, or having a little of both. Furthermore, while the Federation ships look different from the Romulan counterparts, the game mechanics are identical, making both teams’ ship types balanced.
The game also features a total of four maps, only two of which can be played in Assault or Conquest mode. Throw in some interesting power-ups that can be collected, such as short-term shield boosters and a type of shockwave that pushes enemy ships away, and the simplistic arcade-style gameplay gets a little interesting. There are also repair power-ups dispersed throughout the map, and they also drop from destroyed ships, so the best way to stay alive is to stay on the offensive.
One interesting twist to the gameplay, which adds another dimension, is the use of escape pods. When the player’s ship is destroyed, he or she has a few seconds to eject an escape pod. Once the escape pod is away, the player must guide the escape pod in retreat and remain alive for a few seconds. If accomplished, the player is rewarded by being allowed to instantly respawn. However, if the escape pod is destroyed, the player must sit in a respawn queue, wasting valuable time and giving the enemy an advantage. While it certainly isn’t the most novel feature to ever grace a game, it is nice to see.
To help expand on its simplicity just a bit, D-A-C also features three game types: Team Deathmatch, Assault, and Conquest. Besides appearing to be the answer to the mysterious “D-A-C” in the title, which many gamers are still debating on the game’s official forum, the three gametypes do provide some replayability. Of course, team deathmatch is rather standard, Assault makes one team the attackers and the other team the defenders. Then, control points are setup on the map, each one is a step closer to the defending team’s base control point. The attackers must capture each control point one at a time until, eventually, capturing the enemies’ base, all within a time limit. The mechanics here are simple, players fly into the control point areas and remain there until the point is taken.
The Conquest gametype also features control points that must be taken, however, both teams act more as attackers and defenders. There are two control points placed in the middle of the map, equidistant from each team’s base control point. Each team must capture both middle control points before they are able to attack and capture the enemies’ base. However, once one of the middle points is lost again, the attacking team must go back and capture both before being able to continue capturing the main base.
Overall, the three gametypes suit the style and gameplay of D-A-C perfectly. They are simple and easy for gamers to jump into without the need of a tutorial, which is available just in case. Nevertheless, Conquest and Assault are probably too similar for one to be distinctively better than the other, while Team Deathmatch is just way too standard to turn any heads. While the three gametypes provide enough gameplay variety for now, they will definitely become repetitive quickly. With any luck, players will be given new gametypes in the form of downloadable content.
There are a few apparent flaws in Star Trek D-A-C, however, that keep it from being a near-perfect arcade game. For example, when playing in games with other players, if the host of the game is disconnected or leaves, all the players are immediately disconnected in mid-game. While this isn’t necessarily a problem with Xbox LIVE, it can become frustrating, especially if it occurs repeatedly. On a comedic note, this particular element has caused many gamers to jokingly refer to the game’s title as Star Trek “Drops All Connections.”
One limitation is the number of players that can play together at once. Sure 6 vs. 6 is plenty considering the average size of the maps and how quickly players can navigate them, but it isn’t uncommon to lust for larger battles. Star Trek D-A-C isn’t Halo 3; it isn’t going to tax your Xbox 360 or bog down your connection either, so why the limitation of 12 players? With larger maps available, D-A-C feels like it should be able to accommodate at least 32 players, which would allow for some serious ship-to-ship carnage. And, while a PC version is planned, there has been no word as to whether it will suffer the same 12-player limitation. Once again, these are things that could be improved upon through downloadable content, but whether that happens remains to be seen.
Star Trek D-A-C is a movie tie-in game that manages to be fun and entertaining, even if it does seem to lack the depth of previous of Star Trek titles and any plot tie-in to the film. The controls are about as uncomplicated as they come, while still taking practice to completely master. With only four maps, three ship classes, and three game types, D-A-C’s replayability is called into question, but could be extended with the help of downloadable content. Interestingly, it’s difficult to say whether Star Trek D-A-C should be considered a “good” movie tie-in game. Frankly, aside from the visual style and sound effects, it’s connection to the film doesn’t really go beyond the marketing efforts, which in hindsight, is probably a good thing.
The bottom-line is that Star Trek D-A-C is a fun action game that does most things right. And for many, similar to the movie, its appeal is very much hit-or-miss. Star Trek fans that have been disappointed with past games that focus too much on ship combat aren’t going to find their sought-after depth here. With that said, downloading the demo before throwing down the 800 Microsoft Point is the way to go.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Vibrant visuals and strong animations stylized to match the film help bring this top-down, 2D action game to life. 3.5 Control
Easy-to-learn controls are a breath of fresh air, all the while maintaining a certain level of “mastering” that can be done. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Music and sound effects taken from the film are top-notch, while the lack of voiceovers from the cast is the only disappointment. 3.5 Play Value
Plenty of fun, arcade-style action to be had, even if a little simplistic at times. Replayability may be a problem without future downloadable content to help expand the game. The 12-player limit seems unnecessary. 3.9 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.