The Good (Or Better than Bad)
1. The Script
One of the first things the game hits right on the head is its script. Penned by Marianne Krawczyk of the God of War series, it feels like a sequel to the first film all by itself. Kirk, obviously older, wiser and more experienced, sounds exactly as we would expect him. He's witty, charming and brave, all without losing that rule breaking attitude, seen as early as the introduction. The performances from the other cast are a bit mixed - Simon Pegg is spot-on as Scotty while Zoe Saldana's Uhura feels slightly phoned in. Regardless of performance, everyone is written well and it is obvious that the camaraderie between cast mates is growing, which makes the prospects of a new film in three weeks all the more exciting. The bits of fan service here and there are enough to make any hard core Trek fan chuckle as well, particularly an homage to the original Kirk's encounter with the Gorn.
It's also important to stress that unlike previous Star Trek games, the story in Star Trek is considered canon. Will we possibly see references to New Vulcan and the Gorn in Star Trek Into Darkness? Regardless, the fact that the film script writers also had a hand in the story lends to its credibility, and makes the adventure seem grander. While most may be disappointed by aspects of the game, the fleshed out story feels like an action packed episode of a Trek TV series. All that's missing is the opening credits.
2. The Music
It would have been very easy for Digital Extremes to hire any game music composer to create a generic score for Star Trek. Rather than half-assing it, Michael Giacchino and staff scored over two hours of original music specifically for the game. Regardless of whether you like Giacchino's score for the prior Star Trek movie, the amount of time, money and effort needed to compose and record a full orchestral score for a video game had to be immense. If you happen to be a fan of the last film's music, you are in for a treat.
The music feels more fleshed out and thoughtful than the previous film at times, though occasionally the music doesn't fit the scene. A perfect example of this is during the run-up to a meeting with Admiral Daniels, where a composing misstep or a bug in the game give you music written more for an action cue rather than a tense meeting with a superior officer. If this is just a taste of what fans can expect from the upcoming film's music, they will be pleasantly surprised.
3. The Tricorder
Call me a Trek nerd, but I really loved how much the tricorder came into play in the game. Obviously borrowed, nay, stolen from the Arkham series Detective Mode, the concept fits well with the game. Experience is gained by scanning objects and elements, not given to you as a reward to popping caps in unsuspecting future handbags. This forces you to take some time to smell the roses and explore, and gives the game more of a Star Trek feel rather than a Mass Effect feel.
In fact, the more time you spend looking around and investigating, the more it pays off. Complete your research in a particular subject and you receive a generous experience point bonus. Many games are doing this these days, but it's with the Federation's love of science and exploration that it truly feels at home.
4. The Gorn
When Kirk first fought the Gorn in "Arena", the lizard creature terrified the children of the 1960s. Then they grew up and laughed at the fact the Gorn frightened them. With so many bad guy races in the Star Trek universe, one might be surprised that a cheesy creature from the original series would be selected as a bad guy. Of course, they aren't your father's (or grandfather's) Gorn.
There are fifteen different types or classes of Gorn that you will encounter in the game. While they all have different abilities and most seem to be your typical shooter cannon fodder, the redesign makes some of them pretty damn terrifying, particularly when one of the large tank-like Gorn beams almost directly in front of you. It's definitely a step up from the redesign they received for their appearance in Enterprise.
5. They Are the Two Best Friends...
If there is a particular aspect of the game developer hit a home run with, it would be co-op multiplayer. Of course, if you are playing on a PC, chances are you haven't had a chance to experience the fun of it, but let's hope that is rectified quickly.
It helps that they designed the characters differently. It would have been easy to just put either a Kirk or Spock skin on a generic character, but instead developers decided to differentiate between the two by giving them specialties. Kirk is the space cowboy as we would expect, but he is rounded out by Spock, who is better equipped for puzzles and science. While you get to see this to a point while playing in single player mode, the game really begins to get fun while playing with a friend. Teamwork becomes the name of the game, and while playing with an online stranger may be fun, the best way to play this game would be with a close friend.
It becomes much easier to overlook the shortcomings of the game while playing with a friend, because it's in these moments that the game is it's most fun. That being said, the game falls into the same pitfalls we see in many - if not most - games based on licensed properties. Gameplay, control and polish were sacrificed for a movie tie-in, a pre-movie release, and copious lens flares. In fact, the immense number of problems robbed the game of its fun factor, until it was played with a friend. The big reveal at the end is just a minor bit of fan service to tie in to the next film, and is 100% forgettable. What isn't forgettable is the fun that you can have with a partner, and watching the development of the greatest bromance (and slash-fiction inspiration) of all time. Sadly though, Aliens: Colonial Marines has a new partner in meh, and franchise fans will still be left with an empty pit in the stomach where a great game should have been.