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by Hasbro/Microprose

I’ll admit it; I hate creepy crawly things.  My family used to take me to the zoo back in my snot-nosed days and I would dread the inevitable journey.  You see, there was this big artificial tunnel structure where they would keep various crawlies and my parents, sadistically, would  make me go through the tunnel.  I don’t know why I was afraid of bugs despite my enormous 45-pound physique at the time, but something about them gave me nightmares. So, when I received Starship Troopers for review, a wave of apprehension hit me.  I shied away from the major motion picture that it’s based on, primarily because of my bug phobia.  However, I swallowed my fear, loaded the game on my PC, and wrapped myself with my favorite blankie for support.

To me, there’s something appealing about seeing green bug guts spread out over an alien landscape by a MK79 Tactical Nuke Launcher. Starship Troopers packs some serious fun into its package, with large, challenging missions and lots of customization; it’s a direct hit.  Unfortunately, buggy controls and repetitive level design keeps the game from rising to the higher ranks of the RTS-dom.  Based on the classic sci-fi novel by Robert Heinlein and the “internationally successful” 1997 movie (or so it says in the cover letter that accompanied the game), Starship Troopers (ST) follows the plot of the film then diverges into its own story line in later levels.   To understand the whole ST universe, you really have to read the book but in a nutshell, here’s the gist:  the Terran Federation, which is also made up of several planets colonized by the Terrans, now runs Earth.   Citizenship is limited to people who have served in the military, which means only veterans are allowed to vote for representatives to the Terran Federation.  Anyway, the Terrans accidentally stumble on to a race called the “Arachnids.”  Lovingly called “Bugs”, Arachnids start attacking settlements of the Terrans. This eventually leads to an all-out raid on the Arachnids’ home world--which is where the game begins.
ST  is a hybrid of sorts.  While it’s most like your run-of-the-mill real-time strategy game, it also has elements from other genres.  For instance, instead of the usual resource collecting and soldier-spawning that’s so popular in RTS games, you are asked to handpick at the most twelve men and women of the Mobile Infantry.  You can then assign various items to these warriors of the future, from mecha-armor to over a dozen types of weapons.  A nice RPG element is that the certain attributes given to each soldier, like strength and speed, increase with each successful mission.  Unfortunately, most attributes aren’t very noticeable or useful in actual gameplay ( no matter how fast your guys are, a bug can still outrun you).  However, your soldiers do receive experience points which ultimately means you can upgrade a soldier’s armor and/or weaponry.

Speaking of which, you go through several levels of armor.   Basic protection consists of a helmet and a vest, but eventually you get into power suits, which add at least twice the usual health.  There are three classes of power suits along with three specific types of suits per class ranging from fastest/weakest to slowest/strongest.  The higher-class suits offer more protection, bigger weapons, and extra goodies.  For example, some suits come with force fields that can protect any soldiers within its radius and others come equipped with special cameras that allow you to scout around the landscape with out exposing your group to danger.

As far as weapons go, your choices range from rifles to nuclear missile launchers.  With fourteen weapons, you have a lot of choices.  Selecting weapons isn’t a matter of assigning only the most powerful but about balance.  Some weapons are more effective on certain bugs than other weapons, so a well-rounded variety is an asset to winning.

With all the weapons and experience points, ST can seem like a cross between Rouge Spear and Diablo, but once you’re thrown into battle, it’s surprisingly familiar territory.  You are given certain objectives that must be completed before you can advance in levels.  The objectives are varied and you’ll do things from escort duty to putting out oil fires on Mars, but you’ll spend must of your time just attacking bugs.  This isn’t a bad thing at all because it never gets repetitive due to the unpredictable AI of the bugs. Unfortunately,  other than knowing which type of weapons to fire, there isn’t much strategy in vaporizing bugs. You can assign your soldiers into three squads, but it’s almost suicide to separate your people.  One bug can easily decimate a small group.  So, you’ll want to explore in one big conglomerate group, which turns ST  into more of an action game than real-time strategy.

The levels are absolutely huge, true to RTS style, and require lots of patience to explore.  Unfortunately, most of the levels seem like rehashes of previous levels but with different color schemes.  You’ll be on an arid rocky planet then next mission you’ll be on a snowy ice planet but it all looks and plays the same!  Even though there are lots of little details added to help distinguish between levels--like seeing your trooper’s breath in cold levels and watching dust kick up as they move on desert level--on the whole, the levels are unimaginative and fail to impress after a couple of missions. 

The graphics, however, are great.  Mountains are majestic from a distance and rocky up close, just like it should be.  Each of your troopers is lovingly rendered with facial characteristics and even differences in height. The bug design is taken right from the motion picture and produces very good results.  The Arachnids are colorful (so it’s easier to distinguish between different types) and react in different ways to their enemies: Warrior bugs rear their legs right before they blindly charge your people and Hopper (flying) bugs circle your troopers until they see a weakness and swoop down for a quick strike.

The sound effects, unfortunately, are hit and miss.   Effects for weapons sound crisp and clear, if not a little clichéd (why do all laser weapons make a “pssshhuu” sound?), and the various screeches of the bugs add a sense of realism to your little hunt.  But, the voice acting absolutely sucks and it shows when you have to listen to a monotone female voice report to you every five minutes.  No text is given for in-game speech, so if you miss what is said, you’re out of luck.  The random catch phrases your troopers utter get tiring and very repetitive. 

The musical score is quite good, however.  While it’s MIDI quality sound, the orchestrations are well written and add to the overall mood of the game.  Remember the last Tom Clancy movie you saw?  The music is similar to that style. Unfortunately, sound effects all but drown out the musical score in the gameplay.  Also, one other nit-pick:  if the musical selection could change to reflect the action on the screen, such as in other real-time strategies like Homeworld, that would have heightened the adrenaline in the battles, but, hey, that’s a style choice.

Control was as simple as they could make it with lackluster results.  Moving around is as easy as pointing and clicking at a spot.  In fact, you can pull up a map and click on any location and your troops will find the best route there by themselves.  Other than controlling where they go and what weapons they use, your troopers run themselves.  You could command them to attack, but they’ll do that anyway once an enemy is within range.  The main problem spawns from pathing, as soldiers will occasionally get stuck behind a building or a crate.  An annoyance, yes, but it can really drag the game down to backtrack across half a level just to find one of your troops.

Unlike every other game coming out over the last few years, ST has no online capabilities.  I honestly can’t imagine how a multiplayer version would work considering most of your time is spent killing bugs.  Some reviewers have commented on the lack of multiplayer as a major sore point, but I believe ST more than makes up for it on engaging single-player experience. 

Honestly, I’ll have to  say that the tutorial doesn’t do squat for shortening the learning curve in this game.  Sure, you’ll learn how to make formations, but it won’t show you the advantages of them or when’s the best situation to use a specific formation.  The tutorials don’t show how to properly operate the in-game camera (Did you know that pressing the SPACE bar focuses on your troops?  Did you know that the middle button controls the zoom on your camera?  You wouldn’t by the tutorial.)  The manual is piss-poor as well and doesn’t so much as list the hot keys used in the game.

Starship Troopers
is a confused game.  It calls itself a real-time strategy, presents itself like a role-playing game, and plays like an action game.  And, as an action game, I give Starship Troopers a good grade, but as a real-time strategy, it deserves a mediocre one.

Van Davis


Ups: Great graphics, lots of action, big, challenging missions

Downs: Awkward controls, repetitive, lousy manual

System Reqs: PII 233, 32 MB RAM, 3D Video card


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