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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Star Trek: Resurgence is the first Trek anything to capture the spirit of the ’90s shows in a long, long time

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It took me maybe half of the first season of Star Trek Discovery to accept that it wasn’t my kind of Star Trek. Discovery’s grim, militant war with the Klingons felt tonally off for a series that’s always been about exploration and humanity at heart, and when Discovery did spend time on its crew, the melodrama dial seemed permanently stuck at 11. Good or bad, I knew it wasn’t my Star Trek.

I had the opposite experience last week when I played a demo of Star Trek: Resurgence, a story-focused adventure from former Telltale developers at new studio Dramatic Labs. Within five minutes, Resurgence’s captain was lamenting a catastrophic warp core malfunction and dropping technobabble like “10,000 teradynes per second” while he stared out a viewport. 20 minutes later and the senior officers were sitting across a table from Ambassador Spock, talking about their mission to negotiate a tricky peace between two alien races. Diplomacy was the obvious answer, but what type of diplomacy? A polite debate ensued.

Good or bad, this is definitely my kind of Star Trek.

Resurgence gives off big The Next Generation vibes, and not just because it’s set a couple years after Nemesis, the final (and oh-so bad) TNG film. A Telltale-style adventure seems like a perfect mold for Star Trek now that I’ve seen it. The best episodes of the TV shows are about characters solving problems together, grappling with their own weaknesses, or solving some quirky sci-fi mystery. Character drama, lots of dialogue, puzzle solving—yep, that’s an adventure game.

I only got to play about half an hour of Resurgence, which included introductions to the main cast and not much more. I swapped between the perspectives of incoming first officer Jara and young engineer Carter Diaz, with subtle dialogue options that let you nudge their personalities rather than going full Paragon or Renegade Commander Shepard. If you, like me, appreciated the range of emotions Jean-Luc Picard could express with a frown, you’ll also vibe with how much Resurgence seems to be focused on capturing the nuances of Star Trek chatter. Dialogue choices don’t have to alter the course of the entire story to carry meaning: I got a kick out of my captain’s flicker of annoyance when I diplomatically disagreed with him in front of Spock.

The developers told me that the full game will have some actiony bits to break up the conversations, but in the demo I didn’t do much more than walk a few feet and click on bits of the environment to get a little color commentary. I hope there’s more opportunity to explore the ship in the full game, which sounds like it’ll be bigger than I expected: Resurgence will roughly be the length of a full Telltale game season, which the devs equated to a Trek miniseries in length. I’m curious to see whether the entire thing is focused around the diplomatic mission the demo introduced, or if it’ll combine multiple storylines.

Though Resurgence’s tone is exactly what I want out of Star Trek, I’m worried the developers aren’t going to have quite the time or budget they deserve here. Dramatic Labs is using Unreal Engine and opted for a realistic art style that stumbles into the uncanny valley. The facial animations aren’t bad, but have a robotic quality you don’t see in today’s luxuriously motion captured games—they remind me of the first couple Mass Effects, now well over a decade old. 

Likewise, the walking animations have an awkwardness to them that feels mismatched with the fidelity Resurgence is shooting for. These flaws stand out more in a realistic game than in the comic book style Telltale used for so many years.

Resurgence isn’t finished, of course, and there’s time left to smooth out the most noticeable flaws. But the developers said the animation is close to where they want it to be, so I’m not expecting a dramatic transformation between now and release later this year. I can look past some goofy moments if the rest of Resurgence is as promising as it seems, though—even The Next Generation open palm slammed the silliness button every few episodes. TV Star Trek may no longer feel like the ’90s Trek I loved, but Resurgence is doing its best to warp headfirst into that void.

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