Starship Troopers is back! While I’m probably more of a fan of Robocop when it comes from the same director, Paul Verhoeven, I have to admit that Starship Troopers was brilliantly made back when it was released. Fighting aliens on other planets is one thing (Avatar anyone?), but when the enemy is a truly insect-like alien, things get scary really fast as swarms of them attack your human forts and dismember everyone in sight. In a sense, this is the ultimate merciless enemy: insects have no remorse, no feelings, and no individuality. Starship Troopers demonstrates that humans would fare very poorly against such adversaries even with superior firepower and technology.
All of this makes for an excellent RTS idea! RTS have come a long way from being a mainstream genre to a much more niche one since the 2000’s. so it’s already great to see some new blood in this generation, more than 20 years after the pioneer that Dune 2 was.
The game shares the same background as the movie, but goes on and drives you through numerous missions where you have to lead the infantry to victory. This is not your typical “build a base and expand it” kind of RTS. There’s some concept of bases and operation centers, but the upgrade paths are somewhat limited and mostly focused on giving you access to new units - no tanks to be seen here, no planes, just plain soldiers with good old guns. And when you build new structures, you don’t really choose where they can be placed, and ultimately their position does not matter, only what they bring to your squad. By now you should understand that Starship Troopers: Terran Command is mostly a tactics-based game, so instead of RTS we could call it a RTT.
During a mission, you can collect resources or gain access to new facilities - such actions will increase your overall capacity to order more troops. In the beginning you can only add pure, simple infantry, but as you progress you will be able to add combat engineers, who can repair structures and build turrets to cause massive harm to incoming insects. Later on, you get snipers, and rocket-launching soldiers to add to the lot. Snipers are essential to get rid of bugs that shoot from far away, and rockets are a great weapon against the huge bugs that come out of the ground - without rockets, those will do a rampage on your troops and burn everything to the ground in no time.
As you can imagine, most of the difficulty in the game is about adjusting the palette of troops at your disposal, since they are in limited numbers, based on what kind of enemies you face right now in a given situation.
In missions when you have a base at hand, there’s always room for trial and error, as based can bring back new reinforcements in case a group of soldiers get eradicated. You can also bring new soldiers to “heal” an existing formation and return it to full strength.
Not all missions allow for such flexibility - sometimes you venture underground and you have to do with the forces given to you at the beginning, more or less.
The first few missions are easy, and make it seem like the game will be a walk in the park, but the difficult ramps up progressively and becomes a lot less of a joke a few hours in. You will be exactly in the same kind of dire situations as seen in the movie, which makes for stressful moments as you try to push back a huge offensive coming your way. The music adapts beautifully to what’s happening on the screen, dynamically - a trend that we see in more and more games. This is akin to what was done with iMuse back in LucasArts games in the 90s, but now with much, much better technology.
So how good is this title? Well, I’d be tempted to say very good. I was expecting a budget RTS with poor production values, but almost everything is top notch. Animations are good, the landscape, buildings and overall constructions are faithful to what you see in the movie. Most importantly, it does not get tedious, which is a common trope of RTS where one mission looks just like the next one. Here, there’s a clear storyline linking every mission, and a good deal of imagination to make things fresh and lively.
One mission for example leads you to rescue a guy who was supposed to be transported to be executed (death penalty) but whose ship crashed before reaching the prison. After finding him and bringing him back to the prison, that guy ends up launching a revolt in the prison that you are called to crush, and while you are doing so the bugs launch a massive attack on the camp - you need to hold the fort until the guy gets fried on live TV. Pure Starship Trooper story right there with dark humor in every corner.
The only part that would need more love is everything outside of the gameplay. The cutscenes are all made using flash-like animation (gives everything a low budget feel) and some of the menus look like default menus out of middleware suites. It’s really too bad as the rest of the game is very well made and polished. Hopefully the devs can iron things out a little.
The experience with Linux is fantastic. Works out of the box with great framerates on Proton on a very modest configuration (HPZ400 equipped with a Nvidia GTX1660), and supports ultra widescreen by default which is something I am always grateful for.
I don’t finish most of the games I start, but this one is certainly one I’m intending to complete, as it did not dissapoint at all so far. I do hope this encourages other developers to try out and challenge the RTS/RTT genre again.