Unlike its esteemed counterpart from Lucasfilm, Star Trek’s history with video games isn’t exactly stellar.
There are licensed Star Trek video games going back 50 years, but there’s never been a truly great Star Trek game, one whose appeal outstretches the limits of its existing fan base. Moreover, even the most celebrated Star Trek games, such as 2000’s Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force, 2002’s Star Trek: Bridge Commander, and the long-running MMORPG Star Trek Online, place an overwhelming emphasis on combat, which is only ever a last resort in Star Trek stories. Gene Roddenberry’s cosmic polemic often contains action, but it’s never about action; Star Trek is about compassion, curiosity, and camaraderie. To truly capture the essence of the spacefaring adventure series, a video game should be as much about talking as it is about flying and shooting, allowing players to explore new worlds, build relationships, and confront complicated moral dilemmas.
This seems to be the aim of Star Trek Resurgence, the debut release from Telltale offshoot Dramatic Labs, and the first Star Trek game in ages to be as character- and dialogue-focused as the television series. Set aboard a new ship and starring an almost entirely new cast, Resurgence is a branching narrative whose balance between interstellar intrigue, interpersonal conflict, and explosive space action hews closer to that of its source material than any Star Trek game in decades — maybe ever. As a game and as a piece of software, it leaves a lot to be desired. But as a Star Trek story, it definitely earns its pips.
Resurgence alternates between the perspectives of two player-controlled characters aboard the science vessel Resolute, incoming first officer Commander Jara Rydek (Krizia Bajos) and enlisted engineer Petty Officer Carter Diaz (Josh Keaton). The Resolute is recovering from a recent disaster that cost the lives of several of its crew and the reputation of its captain, Zachary Solano. Solano fears that he’s lost the confidence of his staff, and is counting on Academy protege Rydek to help restore his honor as the Resolute embarks on an important diplomatic mission. Over the course of the story, Rydek takes point on unraveling a mystery with galactic implications, earning the trust of the crew while also evaluating whether or not Solano is worthy of her own. Meanwhile, engineer Diaz deals with more of the nuts-and-bolts problems aboard the ship, as well as navigating a romance with a fellow officer.
As in a good peak-era Star Trek episode, the “problem of the week” is tackled from more than one angle, with some of the crew handling a social or interpersonal conflict while others investigate some related scientific or technological puzzle. Teamwork is an essential ingredient to Star Trek, and Resurgence highlights that it takes a variety of skill sets and perspectives to solve complex problems. There is a two-way relationship between the bridge crew handling the big picture and the specialists below troubleshooting the finer points. Alternating between these A- and B-plots also breaks up the story and the gameplay nicely, and introduces the player to a variety of likable, memorable characters with whom you interact differently depending on your protagonist.
The narrative moves along at a steady clip, with the stakes escalating organically from that of a typical Next Generation episode to something closer to a modern season-long arc of Discovery. Crucially, for a video game and for a Star Trek story, the player faces consequential, difficult, and timely choices.
In contrast to the (still far superior) Mass Effect games, which present players with clear-cut Paragon or Renegade paths to pursue, Resurgence’s dialogue trees don’t always offer an obvious ethical binary. Will you risk a dozen lives to save one? Will you disobey a direct order to follow the advice of an impassioned subordinate? Which member of your crew do you trust more in a crisis, and will they trust you in a pinch? These decisions are all made on a short timer, forcing the player to think quickly and trust their instincts. This instantly makes Resurgence feel closer to the “real” Starfleet experience even than the expansive open world of Star Trek Online, which dictates most of your objectives for you; nearly every path ends with “fire all phasers.”
More than anything, it’s your relationships with the supporting cast that shape the variations in the narrative. It’s not simply a matter of passing each one’s individual loyalty check, allowing you to achieve some 100% “perfect” ending. You cannot please everyone and you cannot save everyone. (Or at least I haven’t yet in my two playthroughs.) Not only does this place the full weight of duty and command on the player and offer an incentive to replay the 12-to-15-hour game multiple times, but it also underlines one of the essential tenets of Star Trek: It is possible for two parties, in good faith and good conscience, to disagree. Sometimes a compromise can be reached, sometimes conflict can’t be avoided, but no one needs to stay enemies forever.
On the other hand, commitment to the Star Trek ethos does have its drawbacks. Starfleet’s strict code of conduct means that the players are somewhat railroaded. For instance, when enlisted engineer Diaz’s love interest is caught accessing files she’s not supposed to, you, as Diaz, can’t lie to cover for her. In a move typical of the franchise whose reputation for political radicalism is somewhat overblown, its core political conflict between a colonizing empire and their long-suffering protectorate sniffs of some unfortunate bothsidesism. Some of the sci-fi twists that complicate the plot do so at the price of nuance, introducing an overarching threat that forces all parties to work together without ever actually addressing what drove them apart in the first place. It’s a flaw found in a lot of past and present Star Trek, demonstrating the liberal-moderate belief that we can all just get along without committing to any meaningful change in the status quo.
It’s in the non-dialogue-driven gameplay elements that Resurgence truly stumbles. While the stealth and cover shooting portions are smooth and fun, a lot of the other mechanics are sluggish, tedious, or both. This particularly applies to PO Diaz’s engineering tasks, which feel less like puzzles or minigames and more like busywork. (Pull R2 to open this conduit, now LS+R2 to remove this isolinear chip, and then the next one, etc.) Fail conditions of certain minigames or stages can be disabled via a Story Mode option, but there is no way to avoid the game’s more mindless chores.
Star Trek Resurgence also suffers numerous technical glitches at the time of release, at least on PlayStation 4. It’s not uncommon for lines of dialogue to start late or cut off early, costing the scene important exposition or flavor. Keeping subtitles enabled can sometimes compensate for this issue, except on random occasions when the subtitles disappear altogether for a line or two at a time. Busier cutscenes, such as the game’s space battle finale, load sluggishly on PS4, creating seconds-long gaps between shots, killing the momentum of what should be a thrilling climax. These issues may be resolved in future updates, but at launch, they’re an undeniable drag.
Despite these glaring flaws, Star Trek Resurgence offers a space-worthy experience for Star Trek fans. Where other titles have offered a more complete picture of the Star Trek universe — letting players explore the breadth of the galaxy, walk the decks of their favorite starships, or build their own — only a rare few have looked beyond lore toward story. Fans don’t love Star Trek merely for the cool ships or deep mythology, we love it for the friendship between Kirk and Spock, and Picard’s growth from stiff loner to proud patriarch; for Sisko’s impossible moral dilemmas and Burnham’s quest for redemption.
Not even Resurgence’s nearest spiritual ancestors, classic ’90s point-and-click adventures Star Trek 25th Anniversary or Star Trek: The Next Generation – A Final Unity, have captured that essential human element that makes for a great Star Trek story. Resurgence ties a worthwhile cast of characters to an interstellar adventure. Does Resurgence qualify as “great Star Trek”? Probably not, but it’s hard to argue that any video game has come closer.
Star Trek Resurgence was released on May 23 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on PS4 using a pre-release download code provided by Double Fine Productions. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.