Fans of Telltale Games’ style of story-focused games may have been disappointed when the studio closed back in 2018. The studio was later revived with multiple in-development projects, including The Wolf Among Us 2 and a game based on The Expanse. But Telltale’s style lives on beyond Telltale itself, thanks to Dramatic Labs’ Star Trek: Resurgence.
After playing a version of Star Trek: Resurgence, where I sampled three separate scenes, I got the impression of a game that sticks closely to the Telltale formula, but differentiates itself, the developer says, with more action and less complacency from players.
In a post-Telltale world, the former Telltale designers at Dramatic Labs have switched to Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4. They credit Epic’s engine with letting them build bigger environments and set pieces with more direct action that don’t consist entirely of quick-time events. In addition, they’ve updated their philosophies around familiar Telltale game tentpoles like dialogue, removing the “stay silent” option in order to force players to actively engage with the game.
“When we looked at what you get from a Star Trek experience, we wanted to deliver on every angle of that,” said Dan Martin, Star Trek: Resurgence’s narrative lead. “So while a huge piece of the franchise is people sitting around talking, debating heavy issues, there’s also plenty of action and other types of scenes: mystery, investigation, […] everything you think of as Star Trek, you’re going to get a piece of that with this game.”
In Star Trek: Resurgence, which is set after the events of Star Trek: The Next Generation, players assume the roles of two Starfleet members: first officer Jara Rydek and engineering ensign Carter Diaz. Together, they will, according to Dramatic Labs, “unravel a sinister mystery involving two civilizations on the brink of war.”
Three scenes from Star Trek: Resurgence that we played at Summer Games Fest last month differed significantly from one another, but they also shared the similarities that you’d expect from a Telltale game. In the first scene, Rydek and Diaz gossiped about their crewmates before reporting to their captain on the bridge. When faced with the choice to be respectful or mouth off to their superior officer, I chose to mouth off, testing the limits of how un-Star Trek I could make the scene.
Next, I arrived on an alien planet to help oversee negotiations between two alien races, the Hotari and Alidians, over a Dilithium mining operation. (While Dilithium is an established bit of Trek lore, the two races were invented for the game.) This scene showcased Spock, who’s being skillfully voiced by Piotr Michael in Resurgence. Martin said it was a pleasure to write for an iconic character during a previously unexplored time period.
The negotiation went sour, possibly thanks in part to my attempts to choose the most obnoxious dialogue option at every point, ensuring both sides would walk away offended. Granted, these games have often presented the illusion of player influence when in fact things are largely on rails. However, I definitely managed to earn Spock’s disapproval, which admittedly did not feel good.
In the final scene of the demo, I piloted a slow-moving shuttle while two characters discussed a superior officer. The game presented me with waypoints and the shuttle drifted lazily toward them. It was not exciting, but, it sounds like the action will increase in intensity as the game progresses.
“It’s not going to redefine the genre, but we have a lot of third-person, over-the-shoulder exploration [and puzzle-solving],” Kent Mudle, the game’s cinematics lead, told me. Resurgence will feature phaser shootouts utilizing an arcade-style cover-shooting system, as well as shuttle-piloting scenes that are more hazardous than the “tranquil” (as Mudle put it) experience that I played.
“There’s some actual parts of the game that are not just dialogue choices and clicking on things in a sort of free-walk section,” Mudle said. “There’s action of a type that isn’t just quick-time events. We have some of those too, but we also have some more, like, a little light twitch reflex kind of stuff.”
Like many who work at Dramatic Labs, Mudle and Martin both previously worked at Telltale. They said that they’ve always wanted to expand their games in these directions, but didn’t always have the time, resources, or tools.
“Unreal Engine definitely helps,” Mudle said. “I think it’s also just a desire to do that kind of stuff from the jump. We’ve made a lot of games of this type and we’ve wanted to make them more ‘gamey’ for quite some time to provide more varieties in interaction, different ways to sort of sell being immersed in the story. And we were kind of, just through time and previous engines, not necessarily able to do that without devoting a lot of resources to it.”
As for the removal of the “stay silent” dialogue option found in previous Telltale games, “You’d be surprised how many people didn’t use it,” Martin said. “There was occasionally the rare silent option where something really interesting happens, but most of the time, somehow the other characters in the room just continue to talk around you and the story keeps going.”
“We’re trying to ask a little more out of the player, to actually be involved and participate,” he added. “Non-participation is not as much of an option as it [used to] be. We’re trying to make you get in there and have to pick a rail, because that results in a more interesting playthrough.”
Based on what I played of Star Trek: Resurgence, fans of Telltale games are going to feel right at home. But it’s the improvements and refinements that the developers spoke of that have me excited to beam into Dramatic Labs’ take on the final frontier.
Star Trek: Resurgence is scheduled to launch this year on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
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