iPhone – Star Trek Review
One of the side effects of a summer blockbuster movie is the incredible array of ancillary merchandising that accompanies such a release. From glass cups at Burger King to toys in Happy Meals to cereal boxes and even to bed spreads and undergarments, nothing is safe from the impending launch of a merchandising behemoth. Kids and diehard fans love this time of year although I have an inkling that most parents groan and get headaches just thinking about all the toys and props that have to be bought in order to satisfy their offspring.
For gaming fans this is the time of the year where the inevitable movie tie-in video game is unleashed upon the unsuspecting public. This is a kind of perverse joke for diehard gamers as just about every movie based offering is, to be blunt, totally devoid of quality. There are, of course, many reasons for this but it really just boils down to the lack of time due to the shortened development period. Software developers are placed on an exceedingly compressed schedule in order to finish the work in question at roughly the same time as the movie’s intended opening. Sure, there are cases where this is not possible but most, if not all, of these big movie companies such as Paramount or 20th Century Fox will obviously not be pleased if the game comes out much later than the movie as it might potentially torpedo this revenue stream. You know the saying, “Strike when the iron is hot.”
The summer of 2009 is no different as we’ve already seen Fox’s Wolverine open on May 1st along with its own video game but for myself as much as I am fond of comic book adaptations I was most looking forward to Star Trek. Then again I feel as if I am repeating myself as most readers of this blog will no doubt be well aware of that fact. However, while the Wolverine game was well publicized in advance of the movie I was not aware that Star Trek would be getting not one but two video games during its release window. One of these was for Xbox Live called Star Trek: D.A.C. which I will review at a later date but the other, most surprisingly, was simply called Star Trek and was for Apple’s iPhone.
Star Trek for the iPhone is at its heart a simple shoot-them-up or “shmup” in video game slang. Played from the customary top-down perspective you take control of the new J.J. Abram’s inspired USS Enterprise as you shoot your way through 12 levels populated by waves upon waves of Klingons, Cardassians and Romulans. There’s basically no narrative whatsoever as the game throws you through increasingly difficult levels whose only purpose is to reach a final boss fight with another large starship.
The first thing that strikes you when booting the game is that for a simple “shmup” the graphics are quite pleasing with no sign of slow down whatsoever even during the later levels when the screen is plastered with phaser and photons torpedoes all over the screen. The Enterprise herself is well enough animated although the various enemy ships are not so lucky. Still, everything is clean and crisp with some nice fake gradient lighting although the art design is exceedingly eclectic as all the ships, save the Enterprise, come from the Next Generation era or past films featuring the original crew like William Shatner or TNG’s Patrick Stewart.
Now I’m not a Trek purist so I got a laugh when the new Enterprise suddenly faces off against a massive Vorcha Klingon vessel from the 24th century or the familiar Cardassian cruisers. I fear diehard fans that can’t accept change are going to get a heart attack here. Still, this is a simple “shmup” and there’s no need to nitpick. They could have programmed the Enterprise shooting Flipper the dolphin and it wouldn’t have mattered as long as it was enjoyable.
Torpedoes glow a dazzling white and the one-continuous-beam phaser fire from the Next Generation era is back which makes for some nifty effects as it tracks from the Enterprise to follow the closest enemy target. Since this takes place in space the backgrounds are mostly sparsely decorated but the requisite colourful nebulas and gaseous anomalies are present along with the genre staples such as asteroid fields and mines that drift towards the Enterprise whenever you mistakenly wander too close to.
Control wise, the game offers a few different control schemes but I found the default settings to be more than adequate. The Enterprise moves according to the way you tilt your iPhone and it is set to automatically keep firing photon torpedoes and phasers whenever a target enters its firing arc. It’s actually funny to think that the ship shoots off thousands of torpedoes into empty space but like I said, it’s a “shmup” game so there’s nothing to complain about. The other control layouts are more tactile as you are given a choice of controlling the Enterprise with a virtual joystick (not recommended) or by directing movement with your finger. In all three cases you can either leave auto fire on or turn it off. When it is turned off you have to employ finger tapping to shoot torpedoes and phasers. This is much tougher than it sounds especially when the screen in inundated with too many objects. I would recommend the default settings for the first run through as you can always switch to the more difficult manual controls when you get the hang of it.
The game also has a quasi-RPG element to it by presenting each level with a primary objective along with two secondary requirements. Some of these are easy such as destroying a set amount of enemies or getting a high kill combination but these requirements actually serve a much deeper purpose in that each time you successfully complete them and finish the level you are awarding stars for each condition you have met. These stars can in turn be used to upgrade the Enterprise by increasing the proficiency of subsystems such as better shields, more powerful phasers or torpedoes or a better tractor beam. With an upgraded ship the game feels much easier and you can certainly discern a noticeable difference in performance as enemies are mowed down with ease.
Sometimes destroyed enemy ships will turn into dangerous debris that must be avoided but other times they will drop powerups, survivors or health packs. These are all genre standards with powerups giving the Enterprise a momentary increase in firepower (sometimes picking one up adds wingmen), survivors boosting your score and health packs regenerating your shields. This is all fairly standard stuff and nothing that “shmup” fans do not expect.
The game itself is not particularly difficult and can probably be completed in about 2 hours of play time depending on your skill. The boss battles are ones of attrition but they rarely come close to being game breakers. Thoughtfully, the game does have checkpoints so if the Enterprise blows ups you mercifully don’t have to start at the beginning of the level again. With an upgraded ship the early levels are a total breeze as the Enterprise is much too powerful for the enemy fodder and while it’s sometimes nice to blow right through a level the lack of difficulty is a real downer in terms of replayability.
Every so often a still image of one of the characters (featuring the new actors no doubt) will flash on screen along with some banal piece of dialogue that doesn’t do much but state the obvious but at least it never blocks the view of the battle.
That said the Cardassian levels in particular are a real pain in the ass as the Enterprise has to navigate through a giant space complex. It’s frankly too cramped to weave through the space maze especially with imprecise tilt control. Couple in the fact that enemies fly over the maze while firing and you have a situation where you inevitably just let the Enterprise take many hits to the shields in lieu of ramming it straight into an obstacle. This wouldn’t be so bad but the developers have irresponsibly made not hitting the structure one of the objectives to get a needed upgrade star which left me frustrated to no end. I eventually achieved it but it was not in the least enjoyable.
The other issue here is that the game lacks any sort of sustained intensity. The Enterprise is not a particularly spry ship but neither are the various targets. This deliberately slow movement doesn’t do the game any favours and there are precious few instances where you really feel that the Enterprise is in any real danger especially when you get Halo-inspired regenerating shields. There is also a great propensity to just weave side to side horizontally across the screen especially with upgraded torpedoes that track toward enemies and the only times you’ll need to move up is to pick up powerups or to avoid incoming fire from the big bosses.
Still, for a relatively minute $2.99 the game has a rather nice sheen of polish and I remember it only crashed on me once and that was at bootup during the EA logo. Other than that it was smooth sailing. As a movie-tie in the game is slightly above average but it does entertain for its short running time. When compared to other “shmups” on the iPhone its lack of any palpable tension is a real negative especially for those fans that thrive and demand a high degree of difficulty. This is in essence a shooter meant for casual players. It might not really have anything to do with the new movie but it’s a reasonable way to pass the time waiting for your bus to arrive.
**1/2 out of ****
Developed by: EA
Published by: Paramount Pictures Corporation / CBS Studios
Size: 13.2 MB
© 2009 The Galactic Pillow