Written by: The J Man
Date posted: March 29, 2011
1997’s film version of Starship Troopers involved lots of gore, guns, and “ooh-rah” heroics, so it’s a natural fit for the world of video games. And while Microprose did release a Starship Troopers RTS in 2000, the inevitable first-person-shooter wouldn’t show up until 2005. Eight years is a bit long to wait. Naturally, the game was quickly overlooked and drop-shipped to the bargain bin. However, if you’re a die-hard Mobile Infantry ape who does not, in fact, want to live forever, you’ll find a decent FPS here with all the sights, sounds, and splattery guts of the film.
Starship Troopers takes place five years after the events of the first movie. The Terran Federation is making great strides in its war against the Arachnids, and only the invasion of planet Hesperus is slowing their progress. Hesperus is the major supply of fuel for Fleet, so the military turns its full attention to recapturing it. You’ll be on the front lines across 11 missions taking place in various zones across the planet.
The movie’s military treated its foot soldiers so much like expendable insect fodder, that it seemed like Earth was trying to feed the bugs through two-legged humanitarian aid instead of exterminate them. Naturally, this won’t do for the controllable hero of your standard FPS, so you play as an elite “Marauder” unit. Marauders are equipped with the latest in infinite-ammo sidearms and Halo-issue recharging shields, placing you in the familiar gaming role of “one man army.” AI-controlled soldiers will fill out the ranks across most missions, but their job is almost entirely to cow in awe of your presence, and then promptly get skewered by bugs.
Those bugs take their designs from the films, and are impressively rendered and animated. Fans will not be disappointed, and even newcomers can appreciate the alien fluidity of their movements, behaviors, and attacks. All the critters seen in the original movie – from the standard soldier to the mighty Tanker – all get face-time, alongside some new units created for the game. These new units fill specialized roles in the Arachnid army (snipers, infiltrators, etc), and their designs aren’t too wildly dissimilar to feel out of place.
There’s also plenty of them. Strangelite has implemented an impressive, fairly seamless level-of-detail system to pack massive numbers of functioning bugs in close spaces. Warriors charging down a canyon, or over some ramparts, give the terrifying sense of an endless, charging wave. Wide-open areas feature choppy animation and fewer bugs than you might hope for, but these are rare and still passable. Standard bugs also fall pretty quickly to gunfire, even at the hardest difficulty – they rely on their numbers more than individual toughness. The game isn’t afraid to give you swarms of gnashing foes that are easily cut down.
Weapons are also a mix of feature film and new creations. Your primary boomstick is a rapid-fire submachine gun with recharging ammo – you’ll have to take breaks in firing to let it vent, or risk overheating. This levels standard warriors with ease, but anything armored needs a bigger punch. For these threats, the arsenal includes four variants of the infantry rifle in the film, rocket launchers, shotguns, railguns, and cheerful talking hand grenades (oh, yes!). All have secondary fire modes, and all fill useful roles. Your loadout automatically changes at the start of each mission, giving some additional variety to the weapons used. Bugs also have weak points that reward skillful shots; shooting an armored warrior in the nerve stem is equivalent to a headshot, for example. Exploiting such weak points is required to take down the toughest units.
The film took a heavily satirical tone toward the semi-fascist, militaristic themes of the novel, and the game follows suit. AI troopers spout lines dripping with dark humor, and Federal command makes little attempt at hiding their low opinion of the value of a soldier’s life (“Some of my best men *almost* made it! Just follow the trail of their corpses!”). Clips from the first two movies are also re-edited and re-narrated as media breaks between levels. These aren’t quite as effective, but do put an amusingly cheerful spin on the “joys” of Federal Service – naturally quite at odds with the chaos you just experienced.
Graphically, there’s little to complain about. Starship Troopers is a budget title, without question, but a fairly pretty one at times. As said before, bugs look great, both in textures and animations. The desert environments of Hesperus look the part, as do the various facilities you’ll travel to. There are even some impressive lighting effects, dynamic shadows, and bump mapping along the way. Lack of visual variety is probably what will give its non-AAA status away the most, but as long as you don’t pay too much attention to the blocky, flat-faced soldiers, you’ll be fine.
The game’s biggest issue is its lack of balance. It goes right for the fan service jugular with the first two missions – starting with a Half-Life inspired peaceful tutorial and ending with recreations of the night landing and outpost defense scenes in the first film. It’s a strong opening that promises good things to come. From there, however, the game pursues its own story and design. The story itself does end up being more than a retelling of the events from the film, but it’s not terribly interesting – inventing a new super-bug and following Command’s attempts to use it. The mission design wavers between tedious and absolutely brutal.
11 missions don’t sound like a lot, but each will demand hours of your time with growing task checklists and shocking difficulty spikes. As an example of the tedious – one mission has you working your way up a mountain killing plasma bugs. These take an absurd amount of bullets before falling, and by the fifth bug, you wonder if the level’s ever going to end. As an example of the brutal – a late-game mission has you holding a valley while bugs overrun it from both sides. The game is aware you might be inspired to exploit the bugs’ AI by hiding behind something, so you’re left to stand out in the open while an invisible timer (lasting about 15 minutes) counts down to the level end. Once the bugs have carved up all the AI soldiers, they will all turn and swarm you. Survival at that point is unlikely, as there’s no room to maneuver and no amount of fancy dancing that can protect you. And let’s not even talk about those damn “blaster” bugs that can kill you in one combined hit.
As the frustrations mount, the game starts to lose its shine. Sluggish quickloads don’t help, and frequent repetition within the levels (again, another budget title hallmark) doesn’t inspire you to chin up and push on. I’d felt the game had worn out its welcome by the last third, but if you are really excited about stomping Arachnids, you’ll certainly get a campaign here for your money.
I’m aware that “it’s like Halo meets a movie from 14 years ago” sounds a bit silly, and “it’s enjoyable if you don’t expect too much from it” doesn’t exactly sound like a glowing recommendation, but both are true. Tuned up with the latest patches, Starship Troopers generally comes off as a solid shooter that can eat up a few weekends. It definitely does justice to the films, and is probably worth playing if that’s your main interest. For everyone else: it’s certainly different than the whack-a-mole gameplay of the modern cover-based FPS, and rather interesting on that merit alone. Just remember your quicksave key, there’s no shame in the “easy” difficulty, and get it way cheap so you can quit with a clear conscience.