Publisher: Empire Interactive
Developer: Strangelite Studios
Release Date: November 15, 2005
Buy 'STARSHIP TROOPERS': PC
In 1997, TriStar and Touchstone Pictures released director Paul Verhoeven's interpretation of the popular, yet controversial, science-fiction novel by Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers. For those unfamiliar with the storyline, Starship Troopers is set 300 years in the future, where Earth is governed by the Terran Federation, a form of representative democracy that places heavy emphasis on citizenship. One way to become a full citizen, someone who has the right to vote and hold public office, is to enlist in the Federal Service. The hero of the book and movie, Rico, joins the Mobile Infantry to earn his full citizenship just as the Arachnids, a race of giant bugs hell-bent on destroying humans, attack Earth. The movie, with its cutting-edge special effects, memorable one-liners and unlimited supply of bugs, blood and ammunition, was a hit at the box office.
Having acquired the exclusive rights from Sony Pictures Entertainment to develop and publish Starship Troopers over a five-year period in 2003, publisher Empire Interactive and its in-house developer, Strangelite Studios, have produced the first in what is likely to be a series of games based on the movie.
Starship Troopers is a first-person shooter that seeks to recreate the alien worlds and intense human-against-bug action portrayed in the movies. The game is set about five years after the second straight-to-video movie, with the player assuming the role of Marauder Zero Six, an elite trooper in a new unit formed to help combat the ever-growing Arachnid menace. This is a marked departure from the book and movies, where the protagonists were humble Mobile Infantry troopers who relied on their wits, good looks, and teamwork to get the job done. The Marauders, on the other hand, are better equipped and act with a greater degree of independence, reflecting their "special forces" nature.
Starship Troopers can be played either in single-player mode or multiplayer, where up to eight players can fight against each other or work as a team over the Internet or LAN on a limited number of maps. The main feature of single-player mode is the campaign, a series of 12 lengthy missions that increase in difficulty as they progress. Once a level is completed, players can then replay that and any previous levels in Level Attack Mode, where a score and rank is awarded to reflect how successful the player was in eliminating the Arachnid threat.
And killing bugs is really what the game is all about. After undertaking some basic weapons training, the player is literally plunged right into the fray on bug-infested Hesperus, and the shooting only stops when it's time to reload magazines. Most of the bugs the player encounters are easily dispatched with the standard Mk4 Assault Carbine, but as levels progress, so too do the toughness and size of the bugs. Additional weapons are made available along the way, including the Tactical Assault Shotgun, Railgun, rocket launchers (yes, mini-nukes are in the game) and fixed weapons, like the twin machine gun, which is just the ticket for de-winging those pesky flying bugs. The title does a great job in modeling the various bugs – 19 different types in all – including many of the whoppers like the fire-spewing Tanker and the awesome Plasma bug that shoots blue plasma out of its … well, you know where. These big bugs usually appear towards the end of a level, much like a boss in some shooters, and are tiresomely difficult to defeat.
There are plenty of bugs to shoot at too, with the developers boasting that its SWARM engine can support more than 300 on screen at once. I have no reason to doubt it either, as many levels are literally crawling with bugs, much like that depicted in the movie's key battle scenes. Sometimes, however, there are simply too many. As a lonesome Marauder, the number of bugs that can attack at the same time can be enormous and overwhelm the player. Nonetheless, this does convey that sense of hopelessness the film's characters portrayed, as wave after wave of bugs swarmed over the hapless troopers.
There is, however, a cost for this experience, and that is an enormous hit in framerate. Even when running the game on its lowest graphic settings, I still experienced disappointingly slow framerates on some levels. There are several graphic and other adjustable settings that players can tweak to get the best performance out of the title, but only those with the fastest machines are likely to be able to play the game on higher settings.
Graphically, Starship Troopers is pleasing, but it could be better. The bugs look and perform like their big-screen counterparts, and the world on which the game takes place, Hesperus, has a similar look to the planet "P" of the film. There are valleys of varying width, claustrophobic tunnels, forts and various buildings that are infested with hungry bugs that explode through walls, burst out of the ground and buzz around like blood-thirsty mosquitoes. For players familiar with other recent shooters such as Half Life 2 or Battlefield 2, however, the graphics may not be as rich and somewhat disappointing.
The game's sound is also nicely implemented. The weapons bark appropriately, the bugs make, err, bug noises, and fellow Mobile Infantry troopers chat away or scream madly, depending on the number of bugs around. The player is assisted in achieving the mission's objective through the omnipresent voice of Rico, a role reprised by actor Casper Van Dien, who provides guidance on what should be done to get through the level. This, in combination with the pre-mission briefing and an objective waypoint that is marked on the head's up display, makes navigation and understanding the mission's goal very straightforward. The title also features an hour of original music to help assimilate players into the Starship Troopers universe.
What Starship Troopers doesn't include, however, are any other playable character types or playable vehicles. Gamers don't have the option, for example, to be a Mobile Infantry trooper, dropship pilot or to assume the role of a Gestapo-garbed psychic like Colonel Carl Jenkins, as played by Neil Patrick Harris in the movie. Vehicles, predominantly dropships and fighter-bombers, play only a minor role in the game, and although they make an appearance from time to time, the player can't control or direct them. For fans of the book or CGI animated series, "Roughnecks," there are none of the humanoid aliens known as Skinnies in the game, either.
The mission types are reasonably varied and can include several objectives such as rescuing and protecting key individuals, destroying large bugs or defending installations. Along the way, many different types of bugs will be encountered, requiring different tactics and weapons to eliminate them. The common theme for most missions, however, is shooting everything that has more than two legs. It may sound repetitive, and to some degree is, but for many gamers, shooting hundreds of warrior bugs and blowing up the odd plasma bug is what Starship Troopers is all about.
The game's artificial intelligence, while not stunning, is acceptable. Warrior bugs will seek out the player and Mobile Infantry troopers in a terrifying slice-and-dice sort of way, while humans will stoically defend the ramparts or conduct search and destroy operations as if they're little silicon lives depended on it. The more exotic bugs have their own specific attacks giving them a certain individual, albeit deadly, quality. Interacting with other characters in the game is heavily scripted, but this is to be expected and doesn't detract much from the experience.
As missions are completed, various "extras" are unlocked, which are accessible via the main menu. Somewhat disappointingly, these are only overviews of weapons, bugs and movie clips that are used to introduce the level. The information can be useful, as it gives hints on ways of taking out bugs and how best to use the available weapons, but there are no additional weapons, characters or levels to unlock.
Starship Troopers does a respectable job in recreating aspects of the movie experience, particularly the look of the bug-infested planet and the intense action that unfolds above and beneath its surface. It gives players more than enough bugs of varying type and size to exterminate while undertaking a range of challenging missions. For some, shooting waves of bugs may quickly become monotonous, but for others, this type of gameplay will capture the spirit of what it's like to be in the Mobile Infantry. Where the game starts to fall short, however, is in limiting the player to only one character type who is largely required to operate alone. Only through the limited multiplayer game can players fully experience working as part of a team. The game's most egregious flaw, however, is its technical shortcomings. When Starship Troopers was first released, forums were awash with various complaints about the game locking up and crashing, although updating drivers and installing the latest patch can resolve many of these issues. Nevertheless, it's a resource-hungry game, and to run it on anything but the minimum settings requires a very powerful machine.
Starship Troopers ships on DVD-ROM only and comes in a "limited edition" version that includes a large poster, a short concept art book, a survival guide and keyboard guide. It's nice to see a publisher put in a little extra effort with the presentation of their product, which is rare these days. Gamers should be aware that the title carries a Mature rating, and its language content may make the game unsuitable for some.
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