Shock horror: the latest “Star Trek” game isn’t so much a game, but rather an excuse to let Star Trek fans let go of money for a freemium title that is less about a game and more about chance and randomness.
Star Trek fans haven’t had much to contend with on the mobile space (unless it’s a virtual keyboard), and unlike the assortment of Star Wars titles out there, Trekkers generally have to scrape by with either a mini-game of original series away missions or nothing at all.
Too bad if you’re a fan of Picard and his “Next Generation” crew, or even Janeway and her little ship crossing a massive span of space to get back to Earth.
In fact, up until this week, if you were a fan and wanted to play a game with these characters, you had to either get by with that bit fat nothing, or grab a PC or console and dig out one of the older games of which there are certainly a few.
Not true anymore now that Disruptor Games and Paramount have together launched “Star Trek: Timelines”, an adventure that finds a way to bring all of the Star Trek franchises together under one roof: time travel.
Yup, that old chestnut returns, and it will do so with a fan favourite, the omnipotent Q who travels around making mischief in every universe.
In the game of Timelines, Q is tasking you with the mission of repairing the timelines, making it so that the worlds don’t clash and the storylines of the TV shows play out the way they should, before what is essentially a collapse of the universe.
To do this, you’ll have to go on away missions, battle vessels, and hear sampled sounds of Star Trek characters while viewing their on-screen art, pushing them into various positions on screen merely via an icon which will in turn get them to play the game.
While the premise is sound and time travel is one of those concepts Star Trek fans tend to love, Timelines has one serious problem: it doesn’t really feel like a game.
Here’s the thing: games generally ask you to play them, getting you to match icons together, commit to actions, fight things, with the idea usually being one based around the presence of interactivity.
But Timelines isn’t about interactivity, or it hardly seems to be, anyway.
Rather, it’s about how much time you can waste pretending to be engaging the user with anything that feels like a game, before getting them addicted and spending their hard earned money on in-game purchases that get you to play something that is less game-like than so many games we’ve seen and played with in the past year.
Take the away team missions, which are essentially just mini-games based around the idea of matching crew members to specific skills, or the expectation of those skills, and then letting a game of chance and a random number determine if you’re game will work out for you.
You also have the starship battles which should in theory be the most exciting part of the game. Here you have the opportunity to take control of a giant four warp-nacelle craft and battle big and small vessels trying to take you on, and yet, you’re not playing Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter with space ships.
No, you’re just letting the spacecraft fight amongst each other and occasionally pressing one of three buttons to give the vessels a little breathing room and a special move.
The most ridiculous thing about these games is that the two gameplay styles we’ve mentioned above pretty much account for all the interactivity Timelines has to offer.
And yet, the developers are doing what modern developers do these days and keep people playing, doing so with the promise of more missions and more things to do provided you pony up for more in-game currency to buy access to more characters and things to improve what those characters do, arming them with objects and weapons that pay homage to the source material but in the end feel like they still do very little at all.
Never mind that you’re not really playing the game and there’s barely a skerrick of interactivity to be found in the title, because if you’re a fan of one of the franchises, there’s a good chance you’re going to try this game, if only to see what sort of story a Star Trek game can still pull out.
And that’s the real shame, because the story isn’t bad, feeling like it pulls together some of the novels with the TV shows in a way that could — if the developers really wanted to — make a great form of interactive fiction.
Essentially, it’s your job to play universal hero and undo the mess of colliding worlds, which sounds brilliant until you realise that the only mess you’re really struggling to fight is the mess left by the developers and the fact that there’s no game here, just a bunch of phrases, character art, mediocre graphics, and expectation that you pull out your wallet every so often for more of the same.
Seriously, the lack of actual gameplay compounded by the idea that you’ll feel like you’re forced to spend money at least an hour in makes Timeline hard to grapple with, and if this were Star Trek, we’d be surprised if the starship captains didn’t just throw it out an airlock or transport it to the vacuum of space.
Really, this one just isn’t worth the effort.
Go grab a Star Trek comic and read that instead, or watch an old episode, or read some fiction. All of these are far more enjoyable options any day of the week.
Star Trek: Timelines is available now for iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Android for free, though there are in-game purchases.