Star War Jedi: Fallen Order released on Friday, bringing a new Star Wars adventure to video game players everywhere. The game is part of Star Wars canon, taking place between Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. AAA game studio Respawn Entertainment developed the game and it shows, with Fallen Order receiving praise from critics and fans alike. This is great news for Star Wars fans. But when is it Star Trek’s turn? There was a time when video games based on film or television properties were infamous for their poor quality, but that time is long gone. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is the latest example of a quality licensed game. There were others before, such as Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Alien: Isolation, with those titles confirming that games are capable of translating Hollywood material into blockbuster game experiences. The Star Trek franchise is resurgent and heading towards its biggest year ever, which is why now is the time to give Star Trek fans a video game experience on par with these others.
Star Trek does have a video game presence, and those offerings are solid. Star Trek Timelines follows typical mobile game economic practices, with its focus on narrative gameplay making it more engaging than most of its peers. In a similar vein, Star Trek Fleet Command doesn’t reinvent the mobile strategy game, but it’s a stellar take on the genre. Star Trek: Bridge Command is an immersive VR experience and Star Trek Online comes closest to providing the kind of experience that Fallen Order offers. We’ve recommended players immerse themselves in its version of Star Trek’s future before and still do, but Star Trek Online is a decade old. No game that old can offer the kind of AAA game experiences releasing in 2019. These are solid titles that are worthy of the Star Trek name that fans would do well to enjoy. But none of them offer the same kind of cinematic experience that Fallen Order does.
The last time Star Trek attempted a game at that level was in 2013. Titled "Star Trek," the game took place in the Kelvin Timeline between the events of 2009's Star Trek and its sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness. It featured the film franchise’s stars, Chris Pine as Captain Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Mr. Spock. It released around the same time that Into Darkness opened in theaters and it received a poor enough reception that the film's director, J.J. Abrams, said he thought the game’s release “didn't help the movie and arguably hurt it.” It's considered one of the biggest flops in video game history. A lot of money goes into a AAA game and, after suffering that kind of setback, it's understandable that Star Trek's stewards may be hesitant to try again.
There’s an opportunity here. In 2013, the Kelvin Timeline films were the only source of new canon Star Trek. Now, the television franchise is expanding again, with Star Trek: Discovery bringing in a new generation of fans, Star Trek: Picard standing to bring back the 1990s stalwarts, and Star Trek: Lower Decks depicts a new side of Star Trek. Most important of all, the animated Star Trek series on Nickelodeon will bring in a younger demographic of fans than ever before. They’ll be hungry for content, and they’ve grown up with video games as much as with film and television. The franchise should meet them where they live.
We know it’s possible to make a great Star Trek game because BioWare already did. You could swap out the proper nouns from the Mass Effect franchise with those of the Star Trek franchise and hardly notice the difference. Mass Effect: Andromeda didn’t execute on its promise as well as it could have, and it wasn't the success BioWare hoped it would be, yet its core idea involves sending a ship of explorers to an uncharted star system and making first contact with new alien races is about as Star Trek as it gets.
And, as with Star Wars, there are many different eras that a Star Trek game can be set in. Players could take control of one of the Federation’s earliest exploratory vessels some years after the end of Star Trek: Enterprise or the game could be set during the Klingon-Federation war of Star Trek: Discovery’s first season, playing as the crew of a battle-damaged starship that discovers a larger threat to the galaxy or players could be the captain of a ship during the era after the destruction of Romulus. They'd navigate the changing balance of power in the galaxy after the fall of the Romulan Star Empire, a narrative that could foreshadow the big changes to Starfleet that Patrick Stewart has been teasing in the leadup to Picard.
The amount of potential here is staggering. With every Jedi: Fallen Order and every Shadow of Mordor, fans should wonder, “When is it Star Trek’s turn?” Star Trek’s previous attempt at big-budget gaming didn't go as planned, but it's a new era, both for games and for Star Trek. Star Trek should be making plans for a bold return to the gaming frontier.
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