"I'm really hurting here," exclaimed the dashing and courageous Captain James T. Kirk, bruised and bloody on the cold metal floor of the space station, phaser gripped tight in his shaking hand. "That's the logical result of charging face-first into a fortified turret, you stupid son-of-a-bitch," I replied in a calm, measured tone. My Spock is a bit of a potty mouth.
I lay the blame for my Vulcan vulgarity largely on the shoulders of Digital Extremes, the developer behind Namco Bandai's Star Trek, released yesterday on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. Largely, but not wholly — I shouldn't have expected miracles soloing a game designed with cooperative multiplayer in mind.
Set between the first and upcoming second films in the J.J. Abrams reboot, this Star Trek drapes a series-standard plot over a framework of friendship. It's about the United Federation of Planets' Odd Couple. We've got James T. Kirk, a young man who has absolutely no reason to be sitting in the captain's chair of a Federation starship, and his best pal Spock, the only being in the universe that can accept Kirk's rank with a straight face.
The plot is one that Star Trek writers love to pull out for special occasions. An outrageously powerful technological thing has been created by the Vulcans, one of the most intelligent and logical races in the pantheon of face prosthetic aliens. Blinded by all of that logic and intelligence, the Vulcans are caught completely off-guard when a race of evil velociraptors arrive to steal the powerful technological thing in order to do evil.
It's up to Kirk and Spock to save the day, because Mr. Should Not Be a F***ing Starship Captain doesn't know how to delegate responsibility. Senior staff members are continuously telling him that he should stay with the ship, maybe send a couple of the dozens of highly-qualified, more experienced people on away missions. His response? "Where's the fun in that?" This man is in charge of a starship.
I can't stand New Kirk. They never should have changed the formula. Kirk Classic was smooth. He didn't give a shit because he didn't have a shit to give. New Kirk is pooping all over the bridge like an excited puppy, and there are no rolled-up newspapers in the future.
The poopy little puppy metaphor works particularly well with artificial intelligence New Kirk. On the deck of the U.S.S. Enterprise we were given our very first mission, my tricorder (a rather nifty Metroid Prime-like educational tool) directing us to the turbolift located not five feet from where we were standing. Kirk goes shooting off into the opposite corridor, tail wagging excitedly. I followed, thinking perhaps he knew something my player-controlled Vulcan did not. Nope, he was just wandering about. Maybe he smelled bacon.
He hung out in the corridor while I returned to the lift. The game tried pathing him back to me but eventually gave up, teleporting him to my side so we could continue our mission. This happened quite a lot in the five-or-so hours I put in last night.
Later, during a particularly thrilling bit of gameplay that saw the two of us climbing about the outside of a space station orbiting a sun as the heat shielding intermittently failed, I had to continuously remind AI Kirk that he should not stand out in the open as the full fury of a dying star raged about us. Space was on fire, and he just stared at it. Shiny.
Had I given him the chance, he probably would have charged it, heedless of danger. AI Kirk isn't good at heeding danger. He'll run into a room filled with lizard men with assault rifles and then beg to be healed when nature takes its course. He will try to hug turrets as they fire lasers powerful enough to pierce a ship's hull. He will, from time to time, try to hump a turbolift, which, as sexy as it sounds, seems pretty dangerous.
Mind you, AI Kirk isn't completely useless — just mostly useless. He knows how to fire his weapons, and will actually take out the enemy if you give him half a chance. He'll listen to your commands to hack doors, move to specific locations or attack specific enemies. He'll try to revive you should you fall in battle, often while enemies are standing right next to him, shooting him in the face.
The biggest failing of AI Kirk has nothing to do with his boundless enthusiasm — it's almost endearing, really. The biggest problem with AI Kirk is that he's not a real person, and you really need a real person to help you wade through the more broken bits of Star Trek’s experience.
When the velociraptors (not calling them Gorn) get stuck behind cover and forget you exist, laughing with another player makes it better. When a piece of scenery explodes, leaving bits of climbable rubble for no other reason than to remind folks that Digital Extremes put climbing in the game; when you spend two minutes trying to place a phaser on a table because the game only lets you turn in 180 degree increments while standing still; when Chekov takes two minutes to shut down the turbolifts (seriously, isn't there just a switch?) — these are the moments when having a real player by your side makes the hurt go away.
Plus the hacking mini-games are more fun with two players, and there are plenty of opportunities to make suggestive comments as Kirk and Spock wiggle against each other while squeezing through pried-open doors. You can taste the sexual tension.
If you're going to play Star Trek, it's best you play it with a real person, be it a friend or a stranger. There are just some things you should not suffer alone, and who knows — you might get lucky.