Page to Pixel: William Shatner’s TekWar

Posted: May 30, 2011 in Page to Pixel, PC, Retro
Tags: , , , , ,

"Hello. I'm William Shatner. I wrote TekWar. Among other things."

The Shatner Paradox

By 1989, William Shatner had conquered the world of film and television. He had shown off his skills as a master thespian as Captain Kirk in Star Trek, had starred in the genre-changing police drama T.J. Hooker, had made a film in the constructed language Esperanto, and had directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. He had also released his legendary music album, The Transformed Man. So what was next for this legendary man of the world? Why, conquering the world of literature, of course. And the start of that distinguished career in letters would be TekWar.

Now, this is exactly the kind of reality-warping that comes from Shatner – no matter how awful it is, it loops around to become completely awesome.

Now, TekWar isn’t a terrible novel (or series of novels, as it were). Sure, it’s derivative, a bit cheesy, and was dated even when it published, but it’s definitely a fast-moving, entertaining novel. It’s never going to join the ranks of Neuromancer or Foundation as essential science fiction, but I like it for what it is: cheesy, zero-pretension entertainment. Hollywood in 300 pages.

The plot of TekWar concerns ex-cop Jake Cardigan, in cryo-prison for allegedly dealing the technological “drug” (although really more of a virtual reality brainjack) called Tek. He is unfrozen four years into his fifteen year sentence under mysterious circumstances (how freezing someone is better than actually having someone serve their time is pretty questionable) and is quickly recruited by a private investigation firm to search out a scientist and his (surprise) attractive daughter who have disappeared south of the border.

The novel became a bestseller. Then a series of novels. Then a TV movie. Then a TV series. So what would be next in Shatner’s campaign of complete global saturation? To make a PC game, of course.

The game’s story is, I guess, a takeoff of the novel, although you’re an unnamed hitman who’s hired to gun down Tek dealers (or something). I would question its fidelity to its literary source but… do you really care? I know what you people really want. Here’s 8-bit Shatner holding a spatula.

The TekWar game was, as many cash-in games in 1995 were, a pseudo-3D first person shooter. Now, in spite of being an overall average example of a typical mid-’90s FPS, it does have a few features of note. First off, it’s the first game released using Ken Silverman’s Build Engine, perhaps best known for being the architecture on which Duke Nukem 3D, Redneck Rampage, and Blood were built. While Duke Nukem 3D was in development at the time, TekWar beat it to market. In addition, the game contains civilians. Who can be shot.

"You all saw it! He came at me with a knife!"

As with many other games of the time, it also included full motion video. Of William Shatner talking to you.  I guess this was supposed to be a mission briefing of some kind, but it was really just Shatner being Shatner, and you navigated the rest of the level as you would any other shooter. So in most respects, it’s a middle of the road shooter with a Cyberpunk-lite theme. And much like the book it’s based on, it’s reasonably entertaining but not interesting enough to join the standouts of its genre or to be considered an overlooked classic. It’s just a fluff game, the kind of thing you’d pick up off the $5 rack between ‘real’ games.

The Ferrari Testarossa, now in Cube form! Or rectangular prism, I guess.

It’s not a bad game, but there are plenty of much better ones out there. As for the novel? Well, it’s not a bad way to kill a few hours.

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