"Arena," a 1967 episode of "Star Trek," features the original series' most laughable fight scene, an epic duel between Capt. James T. Kirk and a rubbery lizard-man of the Gorn species. Now Canadian video-game developer Digital Extremes is paying tribute.
"Star Trek" (Namco Bandai/Paramount, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99) takes that notorious Kirk-Gorn showdown and stretches it out to an eight-hour adventure. The game, alas, doesn't have any of the low-fi charm of "Arena" — it's just a flat-out mess.
The story lands somewhere between the events of J.J. Abrams' 2009 "Star Trek" reboot and this month's "Star Trek Into Darkness." The Vulcans are settling on a new planet with the help of the world-altering Helios device until the Gorn pop through a wormhole and scamper off with the darned thing. It's up to Kirk, Mr. Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew to stop the reptilian savages from flipping the switch on Helios that turns it into a galaxy destroyer.
Forget about setting your phasers on stun; the object of this "Star Trek" game is to have Kirk and Spock kill every Gorn that stands between them and Helios. It's a dispiriting, cynical approach that rejects the core values of Gene Roddenberry's Federation — particularly, respect and cooperation between wildly different life forms — in favor of a scenario in which it's OK for the heroes to slaughter hundreds of aliens because they look like lizards.
It's the same formula that's made "Halo" and "Gears of War" into blockbusters, but "Star Trek" lacks their attention to detail. As in "Gears," you're meant to find cover and then engage, but alien bullets still managed to find me no matter where I was hiding. On the other hand, the enemies are so dumb you may not even need cover; frequently, Gorn warriors just stared my way as I strolled up and unloaded my phaser.
"Star Trek" is built for cooperative play, allowing you and a friend to control Kirk and Spock. If you're playing solo, be prepared for the awful artificial intelligence that takes over the other character. I played as Spock, and when I wasn't waiting for Kirk to quit lollygagging I was watching in horror as he kept wandering aimlessly into Gorn gunfire. There isn't much gameplay difference between the two officers — both feel equally sluggish, as if the present-day William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were hired to do their motion capture.
The Abrams-era Kirk and Spock, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, do show up to deliver solid voiceover performances, though they're not given much to work with. Kirk's chatter is a tiresome combination of bluster and sexual innuendo, while Spock gets to constantly explain whatever the player has to do next, but their camaraderie somehow comes through.
That's as close as "Star Trek" gets to capturing the old magic. At one point, you do get to take the helm of the Enterprise, but that thrill quickly dissipates when the scenario turns into a stationary shooting gallery. It's an all-too-characteristic moment of this dismal adventure. Instead of exploring strange new worlds, "Star Trek" settles for rehashing the most exhausted cliches of sci-fi video games. One-half star out of four.
Follow Lou Kesten on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lkesten