The upcoming Star Trek is boldly going where no co-op game has gone before.
Playing through games cooperatively with a friend is far from a novel concept. In fact, offering players the option to save the world, survive the zombie apocalypse or thwart terrorist threats alongside a gun-brandishing buddy has practically become a requirement. In most cases, however, teaming up usually means one player gets to control the “cool” character while player two is saddled with a lame sidekick or clone. While a handful of franchises — Kane & Lynch and Army of Two come to mind — have attempted to buck this trend with some success, Namco Bandai Games’ upcoming Star Trek may be the first to truly evolve the experience.
Filling the narrative void left between director J.J. Abrams’ 2009 cinematic reboot and its forthcoming sequel, Star Trek serves as more of a complement than adaptation of its big screen counterpart. Developer Digital Extremes is keeping the specifics of this prequel story under wraps, but the team wasn’t so secretive about its gameplay approach during a recent sneak peek of the title. Describing its play-with-a-pal focus as “asynchronous co-op,” creative director Sheldon Carter dove into a demo to show off what this buzz-y term was all about.
The strictly hands-off preview opens with Kirk and Spock, outfitted in Life Support Propulsion Units (read: cool jet-packs), flying toward the USS Enterprise. Apparently, communications with the iconic spacecraft have ceased, so pop culture’s defining sci-fi duo is off to see what’s up. We get our first taste of what Carter described when the two land on the ship in a fashion specific to their characters; The Vulcan gracefully touches down feet first, while the Captain tumbles through a pile of crates. It’s a modest but effective example of the passion that’s being put into representing the pair’s unique personality traits.
After entering the ship and examining a dead Red Shirt, the two are attacked by some alien uglies. The switch from careful exploration — which Digital Extremes states will be an integral part of the experience — to intense combat offers a deeper look at what this tweaked co-op is all about. Armed with their preferred weapons, Kirk and Spock approach the encounter in very different ways. More the guns-blazing aggressor, Kirk unleashes hell from behind his phaser like a galaxy-spanning gunslinger; Spock, on the other hand, uses his Vulcan repeater’s stasis beam to freeze targets before taking cover and thoughtfully planning his next move. The varied combat styles not only complement each other and reflect the odd couple’s personalities; they also provide a reason to play through the game twice to experience different perspectives on the action.
While Spock escapes the assault without a scratch, Kirk’s cowboy antics earn him a nasty injury. With evil ETs nipping at their heels, the two make for the medical bay. Kirk’s wound slows him down, though, forcing Spock to shoulder most of his pal’s weight. In an especially cool co-op scenario, the limping Kirk does his best to suppress the attackers with his phaser while Spock assists him to safety. When they arrive in the med-bay, Spock starts tending to the Captain, but before he can slap a Band-Aid on the battle wound, the door’s breached by more baddies. Still prone on the table, Kirk continues to empty his phaser into the fresh threats while Spock works to get him back on his feet. Even though we aren’t clutching the gamepad ourselves, the tense exchange still manages to spike our pulse.
Our demo concludes on a cliffhanger as the pair is eventually captured by the Enterprise’s unwelcome guests who, by the way, are only serving as placeholder enemies for the demo (the game’s real antagonists are yet to be revealed, but at press time were rumored to be the Gorn [*editor’s note: they are the Gorn – confirmed at E3 2012). The promising preview, though brief, offers a glimpse of the title’s personality-driven potential and its ambitious take on co-op. On top of evolving the cooperative experience, Star Trek’s also separating itself from the dreaded “movie-based genre.” Unlike most games associated with Hollywood blockbusters, it’s being crafted over a two-plus-year development cycle, which is more than double the time game makers are usually given to crank out a film-tied title. Additionally, Abrams, a seasoned gamer himself, is closely collaborating with the team to guarantee a product that doesn’t tarnish the property. And, while it hasn’t been officially revealed, it’s assumed the film’s actors will lend both their voices and likenesses to the project as well.
The final game will support its asynchronous co-op both locally and online, so you can play alongside a pal on the couch or across the country. We look forward to doing both — as the logical Vulcan and hotheaded Captain — when Star Trek docks on consoles and PCs next year.
- Matt Cabral