Star Trek Sets its Phaser for ThrillS

So, yes, I saw the Phaser. The PlayStation Move attachment showed off to oohs and aahs at Sony's E3 press conference is, indeed, a beautiful thing. More importantly, so is the game that's arriving with it.

Star Trek, despite the series' long history, and its long history of video games, has rarely done action-adventure shooters on a console and has never done them with a playable Kirk and Spock. Bringing those two together in a third-person shooter, with cooperative, drop-in/drop-out play through all of its game modes, will be wish fulfillment enough for many.

What Digital Extremes has done and shown so far is much more than skin a standard over-the-shoulder, cover-based shooter in the universe of the Chris Pine/Zachary Quinto Star Trek reboot of 2009. In the game, Spock and Kirk will work cooperatively but asymmetrically, and not just through using unique weapons and talents on the same targets. Certain sequences will place them together on the screen doing different things. I saw Spock dragging a wounded Kirk while Kirk belted out covering fire for their getaway. In the med bay, Spock worked precisely through a healing minigame as Kirk, from his sickbed, blasted away at enemies pouring in through the door.

The focus is on action-we were told there would be no interstitial cutscenes; any story advancement typically accomplished by a cutscene will be instead be done during live gameplay. (In one example, an ambush sent Kirk and Spock diving for cover in a scripted sequence, yet their weapons were fully controllable throughout it). But Star Trek didn't devolve into a run-and-gun shooter for what I saw of it. You have your Federation weaponry, of course, with good ol' stun/kill settings (Spock has a stasis setting on his Vulcan particle weapon). The Tricorder, however, is as indispensible as any weapon. Our gameplay sequence showcased its necessity to getting through combat as well as its investigative uses.

For example, Kirk and Spock, having boarded the Enterprise in the wild space-dive sequence (fully playable) seen at Sony's newser, find the obligatory dead redshirts, killed by some kind of alien toxin. Scanning them with the Tricorder delivers a payoff down the line, in this case, Spock's healing game in the medbay becomes easier. The Tricorder also was useful for overloading control banks, exploding them and taking out enemies. I saw Kirk use his to raise a forklift in the Enterprise's shuttle bay, removing an enemy's cover. It also deployed shield cover to help Kirk press forward without getting shot to pieces.

Star Trek promises a robust weapons loadout. However, as Kirk and Spock progress through the game, they'll rank up and unlock special customization talents that are portable weapon-to-weapon. Kirk, for example, upgraded his captain's-issued phaser which has a revolver-type firing animation, to a vaporizer setting.

Spock's weapons and talents reflect a calm demeanor that uses stealth in armed conflict. We saw him use his stasis setting on a foe, slip behind him, perform a mind-meld, and send the enemy out to attack his comrades.

Informing the game's design are the original set blueprints, schematics, prop and costume design documents created and used for the 2009 film, which gets a sequel in 2012. The interior of the Shuttle Bay was built to the dimensions called for by that set and its concept art, for example. Hallways and the bridge dimensions were similarly constructed, with the only change being an adjustment in ceiling height in certain areas to accommodate the camera positioning.

But Star Trek is not an adaptation of the upcoming sequel. Its story is set between the two films, and is written by God of War screenwriter Marianne Krawczyk, in collaboration with Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the writer/producers of the 2009 film.

Digital Extremes has licensed both Quinto and Pine's images for use in the game (in pre-alpha, we heard lines read by placeholder actors; no official word on voices yet). We didn't see Bones or any other principal characters, as the sole Federation personnel in the mission we saw were just Kirk and Spock.

As for the Phaser, it was under glass, and I couldn't photograph it, but it includes all of the DualShock face buttons and a separate Move button (you won't have to reach for it on the Move controller set into the barrel). The silver matte finish and chrome accents looked fantastic. It's easily the best-looking Move peripheral I've seen.

Folks know my bro-gamer tendencies, and Star Trek's long history in role-playing or strategy titles, and poor performance on consoles, has kept it off my radar. Star Trek, however, really looks fun, with or without that Phaser. The game arrives in 2012 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.