The tactical strategy game Starship Troopers: Terran Command, developed by The Artistocrats, was released On June 17, 2022. The previous project of the studio was highly acclaimed wargame Order of Battle: World War II, and the well-known Slitherine, well-known to all strategy fans, was the publisher.
The Starship Troopers universe, despite its obvious potential for video game development, is known for the fact that games based on it come out ambiguous, and in some cases, outright failure. Due to the long development cycle, there have been concerns that Starship Troopers: Terran Command has fallen into production hell and will suffer the same unfortunate fate as previous games in the franchise.
Were these fears justified?
World and story
The universe of Starship Troopers is based on the novel of the same name by Robert A. Heinlein, a famous American science fiction writer. The action of the novel takes place several centuries before the beginning of the third millennium according to the earth’s chronology. Mankind has mastered interstellar flights and founded a rather specific state in its structure – The Earth Federation, which can be described as a militaristic meritocracy that elevates “useful” people. The right to vote on state issues and important government positions in it are received only by those who have completed the Federal service, which implies, first of all, military service. For the Federal Service, de jure, there is no racial, gender or social prejudice. The novel takes place during a bloody war with arachnids – a race of intelligent and not particularly friendly insects.
In Russia, the Starship Troopers universe is best known for Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 film of the same name. The film, although formally based on Heinlein’s novel, has little in common with the novel. The picture makes fun of militarism, propaganda and rigid hierarchy, presenting it in the wrapper of a dashing action movie about the destruction of thousands of bad bugs by brave space marines.
Starship Troopers: Terran Command was certainly created with the movie in mind. However, in a number of plot points, it is impossible not to notice that the writer of The Artistocrats treats the book source with great respect. Although the plot of the game itself is extremely simple and can be described in just one sentence, its narrative accompaniment is made at the highest level. Protecting the next Key Critical Frontier (as it is propagated) somewhere in the outskirts of the galaxy from the invasion of arachnids is literally the first and only goal of the player throughout the entire campaign of 19 missions.
Each of the missions ends with a very stylish propaganda video, in which the cheerful voice of the announcer will inform about the next unconditional victory of the Federation, even if the mission itself was complete hell and ended in fact with a complete defeat and a hasty retreat of the surviving units. The situations that the player gets into are also quite well presented. The heroes, realizing that the purpose of their mission is literally “to buy a little time for the main forces to withdraw” and “their survival is not a necessity”, are very indignant about this.
It can be summarized that although the story itself unfolding in the game is very simple, the authors managed to tell it in an extremely interesting way, raising a number of quite serious questions. Which, perhaps, is not surprising, given the seriousness of the literary basis of the game.
Sound and graphics
As noted above, the game has no problems with the visual design, which cannot be said about the graphic component itself. Models of soldiers and beetles, for example, are unmistakably recognizable by anyone who has watched the movie at one time, but they themselves contain some kind of frivolous number of polygons and are covered with textures from open bases.
There are only three options for locations – a desert, a dungeon and a city, and the first two are absolutely standard and contain an exorbitant number of repetitive assets. City maps look much more interesting, but they only appear a few times per game.
The soundtrack of battles with bugs can be described as “normal.” For example, the sounds of regular machine gun shots are more similar to pneumatic shots, but this is compensated by the very believable clicking sounds of mortar shots. With the musical content of the game, everything is much better: the composers created very successful peppy military marches, tense ambients for dungeons, disturbing tracks that emphasize the tension of urban battles. On average, given the budget of the game and evaluating the efforts of designers and composers, you can rate its “wrapper” as good.
No matter how good the narrative of the game is, no matter how hard the designers try, boring gameplay can ruin everything – in the end, this is what games are generally played for (usually). Starship Troopers: Terran Command is a pure single-player real-time tactics game. It is within the framework of this subgenre that its gameplay should be evaluated. The first compliment that should be given to the game will go to the difficulty system: it is well balanced and does not leave any player “overboard.” In fact, the difficulty only affects the weapon damage of the player’s foot soldiers, however, completing the campaign on the first and last difficulty will give a completely different gaming experience. At the first difficulty levels, the game looks like a peppy action movie, where brave guys and girls just clean up the planet from insects, and the player enjoys stylish cutscenes and dialogues of heroes with elements of army humor. The last one changes the game dramatically. Fights with bugs become really heavy, viscous and cruel, winning them becomes not the easiest tactical task.
Starship Troopers: Terran Command is not a wargame, the number of tactics in it is limited, although it is quite enough to create a certain depth of gameplay.
The first thing that the player should immediately learn is the fact that the bugs vastly outnumber people and seriously outnumber people in mobility, so the battle in an open field will almost inevitably be lost: the soldiers will be quickly surrounded and torn apart.
Secondly, the nests of bugs produce endless reinforcements with frightening frequency, which to some extent makes the game related to tower defense. It will be necessary to move towards the lairs very methodically, bringing troops closer to the time window when one wave has already been destroyed, and the second has not yet appeared. And the closer to the nest, the fiercer the battle will be.
Thirdly, the movement of the infantrymen must be well planned. Units caught in an uncomfortable position will be destroyed very quickly, because the game works fairly with the lines of sight and firing. Squads of people cannot shoot over the backs of their comrades if they are at the same height as them. Also, the line of destruction of beetles above the foot soldiers is very limited, they can only be fired upon when they are already approaching the slope and showing their bodies, which almost always means that they got very close, which is strongly discouraged.
Fourth, the timely use of abilities can be the key to getting out of a seemingly hopeless situation. For example, switching to underbarrel shotguns will allow an infantry squad to withstand the onslaught of close-cropped bugs for some more time, during which, as every infantryman wants to believe, a wave of bugs can thin out. The cooldown of abilities in the game is quite long, so you will need to use them really wisely.
Fifth, it is not always worth relying on the fact that nominally higher level units will a priori perform better than lower level ones. For example, energy rifles are many times more powerful than conventional assault rifles, but they have a much smaller radius of fire, which can play a very cruel joke on their owners. Another example is the Marauder exosuits, multi-ton walking monsters with entire arsenals of weapons (a tribute to Heinlein’s Mobile Infantry!).
Marauders are heavily armored but slow, making them vulnerable without cover. What’s more, the Arachnid’s specialized Plasma Scorpion Plasma Throwers make them a top target, with just a few blasts of plasma to destroy this seemingly invincible war machine. The same plasma shot, hitting the infantry squad, of course, is guaranteed to incinerate several fighters … but these are acceptable losses.
And, finally, sixth, in some cases one has to remember that units on the battlefield are just a resource that serves to “buy” victory, no matter how cruel it may sound. In certain situations, the most correct decision will be to fight to the end, for example, reducing the number of beetles in the nest at the cost of the lives of their soldiers – after all, they will not be able to retreat to the base or stronghold anyway. The beetles confidently catch up and with impunity destroy the fleeing people who cannot even shoot back. The next wave of assault, made up of full-blooded, fresh detachments, will already be strong enough, and the nest of arachnids will be weakened by the daredevils who have sold their lives dearly…
So the gameplay feels quite enjoyable, it requires some planning, good positioning, good decision making, and sometimes a good sense of the timing of an action, whether it’s carefully advancing towards an arachnid nest or using an ability by a squad.
Minute of criticism
As good as the game may be in most of its aspects, it is still obvious that it is relatively low-budget and not well tested everywhere. The most obvious and frequent problem (occurring, admittedly, in very many projects) is the search for the path and actions of AI. The player’s foot soldiers and bugs are sometimes able to get lost in three stones, giving the order “attack in motion” in almost half of the cases leads to the fact that individual units simply ignore the enemy and rush forward, covering the lines of fire with their backs.
The priority of target selection is very annoying: the soldiers consider it their duty to courageously take on the acid that the beetles with ranged attack spit at them, and respond to them only in the very last turn. Also, the balance of forces on the battlefield is not always clear. In some cases, an absolutely ordinary beetle can take on the fire of several units at once and survive for a long time, although in other situations a dozen of these insects die under the fire of these same units, not even dreaming of seriously getting close to the soldiers.
Irritating is also the incredibly lengthy animations for using the abilities of the units. This sometimes becomes a serious problem, because in the process of replaying the unit stops firing. Why throwing a grenade by one soldier from the squad does not allow the rest to shoot? Mystery.
As units gain experience, they can gain a second ability by choice of the player. And the balance of these abilities is very poor: as a rule, the choice is too oblivious because one of the abilities is very good and the other is useless. In general, gaining those abilities is based on arachnid kills, so radio officers and officers, equipped with pistols, with high probability will not be able to survive that long to gain the elite level.
And the main flaw is, undoubtedly, lack of multilayer.
Starship Troopers: Terran Command is a good game in most aspects. The story is interesting and based on rich lore universe that it respects, it’s looks and sounds and sounds awesome and, most importantly, its gameplay is fun. Minor flaws that the game has don’t spoil it too much.
What I like
- well-presented plot;
- respecting for lore;
- design and style;
- original soundtrack;
- interesting gameplay, heavily modified depending on the level of difficulty and thus potentially interesting for all categories of players.
What I dislike
- lack of multilayer;
- a lot of minor flaws.
Played: 17 hours.
Game: provided for free by developer;