I had completely forgotten that Star Trek: Resurgence was a thing until someone mentioned it on my FediTimeline a day ahead of its release. I was heartily disappointed that there was no chatter about this game anywhere I frequent considering the dearth of quality Trek we have going on these days with Discovery, Strange New Worlds, Picard, Prodigy, and Lower Decks (and hopefully Legacy; fingers crossed!).
I’m going to rush headlong into the minefield and say that as I am a big Trek fan and a lukewarm Star Wars fan at best it galls me that the whole “space wizards and laser swords” franchise not only has a seemingly larger fan-base, but also a higher profile (thanks to Daddy Disney’s wallet, of course), far more fan support, and recent and acclaimed video game efforts like Jedi Fallen Order and Jedi Survivor. I could be snarky and say that sure, dudes in robes beating each other with flashlights is much easier to digest for the average nerd than the “Treknobabble” and morality plays that makes up a good 60% of any Trek episode, but I could also not say that and opt to avoid an argument.
It’s a damn shame that we have so few Star Trek games of quality now or at all. There once was a time when we had a lot of Trek games, and they were considered pretty decent at the time. As of today, Star Trek Online is still chugging along, and its longevity will empirically dispel anyone’s attempt to dismiss it as being trash — it’s not perfect, but until Resurgence, it was basically the only modern Trek game we had (the Prodigy game notwithstanding, but also a low-flyer).
That being said, I’m thinking that maybe Resurgence should have stayed in the oven a bit longer because I think the game doesn’t do the franchise any favors outside of supplying the hardest of the hardcore Trek fans with something to fill the obvious gap in the video game department.
Seeking Out New Life…
We play as a new (to us) crew on board a new (to us) ship, the Centaur class USS Resolute (I almost wrote Reliant). Having just completed a refit after a catastrophic on-board “mechanical failure”, the ship and remaining crew are ready to set sail, but not before receiving a new XO, Commander Jara Rydek who is taking over for the Resolute’s now-deceased (and much loved) XO.
Rydek is a Kobliad, a species featured in both Enterprise and DS9. Their claim to fame is that their cellular structure requires a regular infusion of deuridium, a situation which we are introduced to early on in the plot of Resurgence, but which has yet to become the problem in my playthrough that I fully expect it to be.
We also get to play the role of Petty Officer Carter Diaz. While Rydek works on the bridge, Diaz is squarely a “lower decker”, something that’s clearly and unequivocally stated.
Diaz spends a lot of time in the shuttlebay early on, repairing and analyzing shuttles and shuttle-gathered data alongside his BFF PO Nili Edsilar. Playing as both Rydek and Diaz is a really good mechanic in part because it gives us two perspectives on board the same ship, and in part because it gives the game an excuse for two different types of gameplay: the discussion-heavy bridge officer and the more hands-on work of a starship grunt.
…and New Civilizations
With the crew of the Resolute set, we start out with a particularly nasty ion storm engulfing Starbase 128 where the Resolute was being refitted. There is, of course, drama here which introduces us to some of the early mechanics of the game.
Once this preface is complete, the ship sets out for it’s first new mission: brokering peace between two species who have recently come to blows: The Hotari and the Aldyians. Oddly enough, the ion storm encountered at Starbase 128 is prevalent in this new system as well, with an unexpected (but totally expected) presence caught in the middle of it: Ambassador Spock, arriving in a small, distressed shuttle craft to help out with the negotiations.
That’s about where I am right now in the game, but I’ve put in roughly 3 hours in a 12 hour game. Most of that time has been spend walking from place to place, making dialog decisions, watching cut-scenes, and frowning over the fact that this would have been a lot better game if it committed to being a visual novel instead of whatever hybid it’s trying to be.
The developer, Dramatic Labs, is made up of refugees from the implosion of the original Telltale Games, makers of some excellent interactive stories. If you’ve played any of those then you’ll understand what Resurgence is aiming for, but like certain soldiers in that other science fiction franchise, aiming for and hitting a target can be wildly different things.
Walking from place to place is OK, when we get to do it. Often we either don’t spend enough time walking (in JRPG fashion) or too much time without any reason for it (in JRPG fashion). Eventually, we can sprint and crouch to avoid low ceilings and to stealth around.
Dialog choices are usually maxed out at three options and seem to follow a good/neutral/bad pattern — or so it might seem. NPCs react to how we interact, and this will affect scenes with them later on. We know how we fare by a small portrait in the upper left corner at points of decision: a green border means the NPC liked our choice, while red means they are displeased. We can also have no impact on them at all, which has no border. Pressing the ENTER key brings up our relationship tracker so we can see what each NPC thinks about us currently, and we can see both Rydek and Diaz’s relationships by switching tabs.
That’s the kind-of good news. The bad news is that the “game” portions of this title are really not good.
First off, if you have a 2k or 4k system, prepare to be disappointed, as the best resolution you can get in full screen is 1920×1080 for some frustrating reason; this is why all of my screenshots have a title bar in them. I am playing in windowed mode which makes everything look…not-circa-Star Trek Voyager-premiere.
The most prevalent “game play” we encounter are the QTEs, which involve WASD, Q, E, and mouse actions. The game tries to make them as “natural” as possible, so expect to hold down the “W” key with the left mouse button to “lift things up” or “S” to “pull downward”, and other kind-of-makes-sense combinations. Most of these interactions are incredibly brief, and really exist not to make you feel like you’re manipulating the objects in question, but to give the player something — anything — to do, as if calling this a “video game” requires some basic level of “gameplay” elements to be included. I can’t help but feel that these interactions really subtract from the overall experience, which is why I think this would have been better if it were just a visual novel focused on dialog choices.
Then there’s the combat. In truth, I have yet to engage in “combat”, but early on the game has us shooting energy clots in the ion storm with hand phasers, giving us a taste of what combat will be like. Clicking the mouse to fire is sluggish, and I often clicked once and got no response, twice and got one long response, and three times and got a short response. I have no idea if I have to click, double-click, or click and hold to fire. It’s not exciting; it’s another QTE where we have to prioritize and shoot targets based on timers. When the clock runs out, we take damage, and we can only take damage three times per encounter before we die. There are apparently also circumstances where we need to eliminate threats to NPCs, because if they die, then the game is over. Life in Starfleet carries a lot of shared responsibility no matter which deck you work on, I guess, but the stress isn’t coming from saving your life or the life of your crew, but from the exasperation of the fiddly controls.
I Ran Out of Star Trek Quotes, So Here’s The Good News
Resurgence is a top-shelf Trek story that yes, we have seen before, but never with this width or breadth. In the shows and movies, things move at a pace we can call “entertaining”, focusing on dialog that moves the plot but doesn’t dive too deep into protracted conversations. Resurgence takes its time when characters are interacting. One scene where Diaz and Edsilar are analyzing Spock’s damaged shuttlecraft is the perfect example of what we’d expect two engineering eggheads on board a Federation Starship to plow through in a technical investigation, so if the nitty-gritty of the made-up science that forms the backbone of the Star Trek canon is your thing, get a towel and close the door before playing.
The plot beats aren’t all that original to Trek — two adversarial aliens butting heads, while the Federation does what the Federation does best by getting in between them, welcome or not — but seeing more than just three minutes of the whole situation play out at a time allows for more character development, more investment hooks from us and our characters, and actually ratches up the tension, as the NPCs can express more, emote more, and present more nuance than when writers need to cram all the exposition in between commercial breaks.
Finally, the dialog choices and how they affect each NPC’s opinion of your characters is agonizing — in a good way. Each dialog phase has a timer to invoke the sweat, and trying to suss out how each NPC will react, maybe with an eye towards how a typical Starfleet officer or crewman would respond, can be an eye-opener. Trying to play “the Starfleet Way” is not, I repeat, is not always the right choice, which in turn illuminates how difficult a real diplomatic situation — whether it’s between crew or between aliens — can be when we don’t need to wrap everything up in an hour or leave characters standing for next week’s episode. I found that I was sometimes angling to please one NPC despite knowing it would piss off another, only to find out later that my original assumption of the situation was completely wrong, leaving me to regret my earlier choice. These are the high-stakes interactions that Star Trek is built upon and which the shows try to simulate, but it takes an interactive experience like Resurgence to really make us understand the consequences of Starfleet’s sometimes difficult actions.
I am glad that Resurgence is only 12 hours because I feel that any shorter and it wouldn’t be worth the asking price ($40USD, though right now Epic is offering a $10 off coupon, bringing it down to the sweet spot of $30USD), but any longer and it would be dragging it out for dragging-it-out’s-sake. It’s pretty easy to get through, too, as most of the time is spent watching cut scenes and choosing dialog, which leads to analyzing each interaction for clues on what options will please which NPCs while not angering everyone else past the point of no return.
The real kicker is that Resurgence has made me really want a better Star Trek game, and also angry that we haven’t gotten one. Star Trek breaths best when we get the highbrow interaction with a lot of “Treknobabble” and problem-solving that comes with it. It doesn’t rely on blowing things up like that other franchise seems to be all about (it has “Wars” in the title, natch). That being the case, I would like a visual novel in the Trek universe, or even better, a modern turn-based isometric squad game from a reputable and skilled developer who knows that genre and has a love of all things Trek. I think the former would scratch the itch for Trek-level dialog, but the latter could offer that same immersion while also some better options like puzzle solving and the application of Science with a Capital Trek.
If you are a fan of Star Trek for the stories, then I recommend Resurgence, especially if you can snag it for the $30USD price right now. At $40USD it’s a harder sell no matter who you are. That it’s only on Epic right now is going to be a head-scratching deal-breaker for some, so that puts it further into the realm of a “Real Fans Only” recommendation. If/When it arrives on Steam and if/when it goes on sale, and you find yourself in one of those moods where you need to hide from your backlog and have the itch for a chill yet involved video game dramatization, then Star Trek Resurgence can fit that bill, but only if you don’t harp too much over the stilted QTEs and seemingly obligatory combat situations which take away from what would have been an otherwise awesome Star Trek story-slash-game.