Three decades ago, Interplay Productions released the first Star Trek video game to deliver the space franchise’s winning formula of good people solving complex situations primarily with their brains and not their brawn.
Star Trek: 25th Anniversary, it was called, and it truly made players feel like they’d taken on the role of Captain James Tiberius Kirk on multiple missions filled with mystery and drama. A sequel soon followed called Star Trek: Judgment Rites, and that one’s even better.
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Tragically, precious few gaming takes on Trek have hit remotely close to the mark, since. That’s not to say they’re all bad – far from it – but it’s frustratingly rare for one of them to offer that smart, narrative-driven experience. That’s why I had high hopes that developer Dramatic Labs’ turn at the helm would reverse course and deliver the goods.
Star Trek: Resurgence, the brand-new story-centric adventure game from numerous former Telltale personnel, can be a tale of two worlds – though I’m pleased to say the good outweighs the not-so-much.
On one hand, stiff controls and some undeniable jank is impossible to ignore. Sure,
Star Trek: 25th Anniversary was far from flawless in that regard, but that doesn’t mean Resurgence circumvents any well-founded side-eye when a few particularly nasty bugs stifle progress and irritate to no end.
On the other hand, Star Trek: Resurgence tells a pretty excellent tale with ample intrigue, challenging plot-altering choices, and all of Trek’s familiar trappings. It took me a little while to embrace the game’s rough edges and get comfortable portraying its dual protagonists, the half-human First Officer Jara Rydek and engineering crewperson Carter Diaz, but once I did, I never stopped feeling like I was living through a serialized season of Star Trek. And that’s pretty cool.
Jara Rydek’s other genetic half is from an alien race that’s nearly extinct and suffered harshly at the hands of Cardassian oppressors in the past. (Cardassians, not Kardashians. They’re an important race in the Trek pantheon. If you didn’t know, now you know.)
This gives Jara an important perspective when the story gets going, as it involves a worker uprising against some rather arrogant overlords. It mirrors things that Jara herself is familiar with, anchoring her and granting players keen insight into the goings-on. At the start of the journey, she’s newly assigned to the USS Resolute, the ‘hero ship’ of Resurgence.
Carter Diaz is your doorway into the Resolute’s ‘lower decks’ lifestyle, and early scenes involve him behaving with far less pressure on his shoulders relative to Jara. His closest allies, including a Trill best friend and a possible romantic interest, both develop in meaningful ways alongside him across the campaign.
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Speaking of the campaign, I finished Star Trek: Resurgence in a bit over 12 hours. That may not sound like much in comparison to ‘content-filled’ video games that proudly tout a ton of time-per-dollar, but this is a nonstop story. The size of its script matters far more than the square footage of its settings. Being the nerd that I am, I kind of looked for breaking points that felt like natural endings if Resurgence was delivered in TV episodes, and I counted about ten ‘episodes’ worth, so no complaints there.
In fact, this is where the trouble begins. I might have preferred a solid hour or so less here. It’s admirable that Dramatic Labs worked so hard to make players feel like they’re engaging in the countless activities of an engineer, but many of Carter’s gameplay sequences are, in a word, annoying. I played on Xbox Series X, and I really love that console’s controller, and even still I felt like Star Trek: Resurgence was actively fighting my every effort to press the buttons it asked of me at times.
Needlessly finicky mechanics are not fun. Again, I applaud the creators for showcasing how hard a job iconic characters like Miles O’Brien must have – if Carter’s tasks are anything to by, that poor TNG/DS9 fan-favorite never knows a moment’s peace – but there is a marked difference between thought-provoking puzzles and – for one example – waiting an astoundingly long time for bars to fill so that you can press something at just the right instant, or else you’ve failed and it’s time to wait all over again.
Alas, it’s not just Carter who gets the short end of the stick, though he does get the worst of it. Most of Jara’s non-dialogue stuff fares far better, but she also bears the burden of something that was downright busted for me, and I can only hope it’s tidied up for the game’s launch. At times, Resurgence tasks you with scanning areas with your high-tech tricorder gadget, which is peak Trek and I’m here for it… except, that is, when I have to replay half a stage five times before the tricorder gameplay quits glitching on me and locking me out of crucial controls.
These issues add up. They can’t not add up. Star Trek: Resurgence isn’t exactly the prettiest game around, either, but it’s never ugly. The visuals get the job done, and the aforementioned ‘Trek trappings’ go a long way toward smoothing things over; that is to say, the art design is stellar from start to finish. It’s just that rigid character animations can become a tad sigh-inducing in conjunction with the above technical problems.
Even still, I can’t speak highly enough about the storyline, and most of the cast is terrific in their roles. There’s not an awkwardly-directed voice actor among them, and the characters they bring to life consistently charmed me, or in the case of the game’s villains, convincingly earned my ire. Without spoiling much, longtime Star Trek fans who tire of potentially ‘galactic stakes’ in the more modern shows won’t necessarily breathe a sigh of relief here. But it’s all so neatly built into existing lore, whilst bringing a refreshing amount of new bits of worldbuilding, that I recommend even the most jaded among fandom give this plot a fair shot.
And really, I recommend most interested parties give Star Trek: Resurgence a shot. Even if you’re not a preexisting guru, even if you don’t know your Borg from your Bajorans, you’ll more than understand the gist of what the writers intend to convey.
Though if you’re especially sensitive toward shoddy gameplay mechanics, you might give it a pass, or at least wait for a patch or two. The game’s status as more of a visual novel arguably shields the USS Resolute from some degree of criticism toward its other aspects, but frustration is frustration, and every time I felt it, I just wanted to get back to the dialogue and critical choices again, please.
On a final note, there is a five-issue comic book series by IDW Publishing that you might pick up before playing the game. I have not read it yet, as I wanted to see whether the game would stand on its own without necessitating the multimedia approach. It does.
Star Trek: Resurgence goes boldly, but the refit Resolute’s shakedown cruise can be a bumpy one. Yet, for all the game’s faults, Jara Rydek and Carter Diaz won me over in full, and I bet they’ll win you over, too.