As a longtime gamer and observer of the industry, I know it can be tough to get excited about new announcements and releases. We’re bombarded with tweets, press releases, and announcements daily, and seldom does anything new really catch our eye. However, when I saw the announcement that story-game specialists Dramatic Labs were releasing a game based on the Star Trek IP, I was all in. For the first time in years, I was marking a date on my calendar: Star Trek Resurgence release day. It’s not an MMO, of course, but that’s what makes it perfect for the MMO Burnout column.
To level set my Trek cred, I would classify myself as a longtime Trek fan. That’s not to say I’m a hardcore fan; I don’t memorize ship schematics, nor do I speak any alien languages. But I do remember watching reruns of the original series with my father in the early ’80s as well as traveling to the theater to see several of the original and TNG films. I know a Romulan from a Vulcan, but I’ve never held a bat’leth in my hands. My opinion of this title comes from the slightly-more-than-casual side of the fandom, so depending on where you land on that spectrum, your mileage may vary.
Just because Resurgence is Dramatic Labs‘ first title, don’t make the mistake of assuming a low level of quality. Dramatic Labs is made up of over 20 veterans from Telltale Games, masters of story-driven narrative, and the inspiration is apparent. The strength of Resurgence comes not from the flashy graphics or the third-person combat mechanics but from the choose-your-own-adventure style of storytelling that always leaves the player wondering whether a better option has been bypassed. This dialogue-heavy style goes a long way toward achieving that elusive “Trek” feel that combat-centric games seem to miss.
Throughout the game, players take control of two main characters: first officer of the USS Resolute Jara Rydek and Petty Officer Carter Diaz, both competent members of Starfleet at opposite ends of the rank spectrum. Controlling both a high-ranking officer and a member of the lower decks further rounds out the player experience as we’re allowed to encounter life on a starship from both perspectives. What starts out as a routine peacekeeping mission between two alien races over dilithium mining rights slowly unwinds into a nefarious plot with much larger implications. In true cinematic form, the story bounces between the two main characters until the approaching finale pulls the player and any collected allies together in a desperate attempt to nullify the threat to the galaxy.
Let’s talk about the major pros of the game.
The story. As expected, Dramatic has crafted a very good story as the driver of this particular digital vehicle. It feels like a Trek movie, yet somehow even larger in scale as the unfolding of our galactic mystery is not confined to a two-hour timebox. I can’t say I can recall seeing a Trek story quite this elaborate, possibly because classic Trek is episodic and typically wrapped up within 40-60 minutes. Still, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and I found myself struggling to find a good stopping point between play sessions.
The feel. No doubt about it, this game feels like Star Trek. From the dialogue-heavy story to the use of technobabble to the mention of familiar ships, characters, and significant events, this game drips with the familiar feel of classic ’90s Trek. Did I say familiar characters? Yes, we even get to interact with a few of these and try to impress them with our Starfleet prowess. Luckily, their inclusion does make sense within the story and is brief enough to elicit a grin without becoming a distraction.
But there were plenty of mild cons too.
The music. For 80% of this game, the music is fine. It’s not amazing, but it’s fine. But there is that 20% of the game where the synthesized soundtrack feels a little off. In fact, there were times when I literally cringed a little bit while being yanked out of my Trek immersion. Any Trek fan will tell you that the full orchestral score is a major contributor to the aura of the world. I once listened to a podcast where director and former Voyager actor Robert Duncan McNeill explained how Seth Macfarlane had to beg Fox to include the budget for an orchestra for his Trek-homage show The Orville, so important was it to the atmosphere he was trying to mimic. In Resurgence, the synth sometimes comes across more like an early ’80s John Carpenter film than anything Roddenberry would have signed off on. I can appreciate the expense attached to something as grand as an orchestral production, but I wish the score in Resurgence better aligned with the other aspects of ’90s Trek that the game nailed.
Using the tricorder. I do love that tricorders were included as a mechanic in the game; in television Trek, they’re probably the most-used piece of technology outside of transporters, so it makes sense to include them in the gameplay. Unfortunately, tricorder usage in Resurgence isn’t very interesting. It mainly consists of pointing the device all around the screen until you see something that looks scannable and then clicking the scan button, at which point your character takes over and exposits everything you’ve just found and how it helps your current situation. There was no real puzzle aspect to the thing, other than at times trying to find the right little bit of discoloration to scan. For a device that seems to be the Swiss army knife of Star Trek, the tricorders of Resurgence feel disappointingly one-dimensional.
The combat. While some of the more recent iterations of the franchise are more action-heavy, combat has never been a central theme in Star Trek. On the contrary, most members of Starfleet prefer to use diplomacy or intelligence to solve the problems of the universe. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that the combat in Resurgence doesn’t stand out as a major strength. Combat is limited to ground fights (no ship combat), and the major elements include ducking behind cover and rolling to another cover between phaser shots. More frustrating are the times when a player is tasked with keeping an ally from taking damage, only to realize that the “wrong” baddie was targeted and the ally was killed by somebody else. None of it is incredibly difficult (I finished the game on normal difficulty with only a few mission failures), but it is a little wonky and doesn’t compare to most FPS titles on the market.
Despite my apparently long list of gripes, my feelings on Star Trek Resurgence were overall very positive. The list of weaknesses amounts to smaller quirks when compared to the overall feel and execution of the story. Dramatic Labs leans heavily into its strengths, and it works. Star Trek Resurgence should please fans of the franchise and is hopefully the start of good things to come from this studio!