What might be more surprising than the critical success of Star Trek as a brand is the relative obscurity of Star Trek video game adaptations. Unfortunately for Star Trek, eye-catching games have been few and far between. The franchise might have a long list of games under its name, but barring a few exceptions, most have been underwhelming. It's in this context that Star Trek: Resurgence enters the scene in 2022. Appearances can be deceiving, but first impressions of the latest Star Trek video game title have fueled the expectation that Resurgence might truly live up to its namesake for the franchise.
Astonishingly, long before the first Pac-Man or the first Donkey Kong, Star Trek games were being made. In 1971, programmer Mike Mayfield wrote a text-based strategy Star Trek video game in BASIC programming language, on a Sigma 7 mainframe.
Little did he know, the simple game depicting battles between Federation starships and Klingon warbirds would pioneer early rogue-like RPGs, and randomly generated environments for computer games. The 1971 game laid the foundations for exploration, resource management, and turn-based tactical gameplay mechanics. Yet, the most revolutionary aspect of Mayfield's game was that it was a public domain software that could be installed on any mainframe.
In an era when arcades dominated the video game scene, the concept of downloading and installing a game on a machine was virtually unheard of. From there on, Star Trek would be receiving almost yearly releases with various programmers trying their hand at video game adaptations on the PDP-10, SCERBI, Atari 800, Apple 1, TRS-80, and every other primitive machine imaginable.
Star Trek even had several adaptations on the much beloved Commodore 64, starting with SpaceTrek 2 in 1982. In fact, video game giant Sega would take interest in Star Trek in 1983, and port Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator originally for arcade on several consoles includes the Commodore 64, and Atari 8-bit.
Unfortunately, 1983 would also be the year when a massive recession hit the video game industry, which would see 95% of the market virtually wiped out overnight. Western markets would only fully recover almost a decade later thanks to Nintendo, Sega, and later Sony offering fourth and fifth generation consoles on North American and European shelves.
In the meantime, Star Trek would chain mediocre games on the DOS like Star Trek: First Contact, and Begin 2, that are entirely forgettable for the most part. It would only be when MicroProse, in collaboration with Hasbro, released Star Trek: The Next Generation: Birth of the Federation, that the franchise would see itself pushing the envelope once more.
A niche game will always find trouble on its way to critical success. Cryptic's Star Trek: Online figured out the winning formula for the series. As the Star Trek: Online developers stated, "Quality over quantity, gameplay is number one, canon is a close second." By balancing gameplay with the story, Star Trek: Online manages to craft meaningful narratives, all the while offering solid gameplay.
Star Trek: Online also coordinates with the ongoing Star Trek TV shows, which adds to its importance in the overarching universe. For instance, several Star Trek: Online ships were made canon in Picard. If Star Trek: Online has essentially dominated the Trekkie video game scene since its release, it is still a game that is over a decade old, and starting to show some signs of fatigue. Nevertheless, it's still quite impressive that the MMORPG is still worth playing to this day, and managed to survive through the ever-changing landscape of the video game industry.
Resurgence is taking the franchise in a new direction, or rather, back to its roots. While some may enjoy the darker turn of recent Star Trek shows like Discovery, many have yearned for a return to a time when the show didn't take itself as seriously; back to a time when Captain Kirk would meet various alien species, or when Captain Picard would debate philosophy with Q. Dramatic Labs, an indie studio staffed by Telltale veterans, seems like the perfect developer for a more Mass Effect-like, story-centric Star Trek adventure game.
The preview and the demo for Star Trek: Resurgence capture the tone of the earlier series. If the game gives off a nostalgic atmosphere, it might be because it's set only a few years after Nemesis, the last Star Trek: The Next Generation movie. So far, the dialogue, and the story show a lot of promise. If Dramatic Labs can successfully mix Star Trek source material with solid gameplay mechanics, it would usher in a new era of Star Trek games, and revitalize the franchise.
Star Trek: Resurgence releases in Spring 2022 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.