Starship Troopers Review
By Adrienne Dudek |
This game is a strange beast. Coming out eight years after the release of its namesake movie -- when Blur's "Song #2" was burning up the charts and Google was still in blueprint mode -- Starship Troopers attempts to continue the story five years after the end of the film, with hairy firefights, cheeky humor, and constant onslaughts of bugs. I say "attempts" because the fun moments are few and far between. The majority of the game is a matter of wrangling with a partly realized and highly ambitious project that feels both rushed out the door and packed to the gills with pedestrian content. I wanted to like Starship Troopers, but the more I played, the more irritated I became.
For one thing, it's difficult to overstate the sheer size of the bug army, and you'll be killing 90% of them single-handedly. The game throws some cannon fodder teammates your way sometimes, and they shoot ineffectually, throw suicidal hand grenades, and repeat the same lines of incidental dialogue ad nauseum. Then they die. They don't run or focus fire, choosing instead to stand and fire while throwing the occasional grenade that may do more damage to them than to the bugs. Your team members, like every other human model in the game, are blocky, blurry, and utterly generic. I counted two, maybe three different character models in the field: the grunt, the occasional fireteam leader, and the even more occasional tech specialist. The bugs are far better defined, but the game puts a lot of them on screen by cutting their animations down to almost nothing, unless they're right in front of you. When you see a rush of them coming down a hill at you (and I saw nothing near the claim on the retail box of 300 bugs at once), they animate with disappointing jerkiness. And there's so damn many of them all the time that it starts to feel like work getting them out of your grill. It ain't Whack-A-Mole, friends. It's more like Whack-A-Million.
To allow the player to survive these sometimes ridiculously massive encounters, some adjustments were made to our hero's arsenal. For one, he gets a Master Chief-style super suit with a regenerating shield (complete with a nearly identical sound template). And he gets a carbine with unlimited ammo. Well, it is the future, so such technological advancements make sense... but since I'm pretty much the only guy in the game with this setup, it feels like a concession to gameplay instead of an understanding of the genre.
The other weapons consist of the same assault rifle with multiple attachments (shotgun spray, grenade launching, sniper scope), a maddeningly underpowered rocket launcher with an unintuitive tracking system, a proper shotgun that, being the most effective, gets the lowest ammo distribution, and a few other odds and ends. Most of the weapons have an alt-fire, and the shotgun's multi-shell blast is by far the most effective, and it's satisfying to watch a row of bugs get blown apart. So, like a few other recent games, Starship Troopers understands the appeal of a good shotgun. Unfortunately, the shotgun and the carbine will be pretty much all you use. That is, when the shotty is available. The game likes to start you off on new missions by taking away what you gathered earlier, granting a pointlessness to conserving the ammo for your beefiest weapons.
So the game is often a numbing exercise of holding down the trigger finger while waves of poorly animated and poorly differentiated bugs come flying blindly at you. Sometimes, you'll have to escort someone through this mess, and as typical with escort missions, your charges are (1) unarmed and (2) virtually incapable of self-preservation. Sometimes they'll stop at a scripted location until you've cleared that spot of enemies. But most of the time they wade directly into the enemy to get to their destination, instead of letting you clear a bit of a path first. Since you're escorting them, and they're unarmed, you'd think that getting eviscerated and dismembered by a hulking killer alien on some miserable planet billions of miles away from home would be low on their shopping list.
And thanks perhaps to the large amount of shaders and bump mapping, this is the oddest-looking game I can remember. There's no way to tweak gamma or brightness in-game, so I couldn't tell if the washed-out, Vaseline-smeared look was intentional or just a matter of poor default parameters. Suffice to say that there's a lot of very dark areas that your flashlight does a poor job of brightening. The day missions look fine, in this respect, but things are strangely opaque overall. It looks like a quick Xbox port with poorly calibrated lighting.
The atmosphere, on the other hand, fares better, but that's not saying a whole lot. In the beginning, at least, you get a sense of the scale and level of detail the developer was apparently hoping to carry through the game, but it looks like the technological hurdles of getting all those bugs on screen and scripting an admittedly long single-player campaign took its toll on the vision they'd had at the outset. On the Fleet carrier orbiting Hesperus, the air buzzes with conversations, PA chatter, portentous music, an officer in your ear giving you directions, and lots of people wandering around. There are some neat effects with embossed glass, but the shiny visual effects are typically relegated to the sidelines. By the time I finally slogged my way through the first night mission, the sights and sounds of the carrier felt like distant memories of another game. The scope narrows to throwing jaw-dropping amounts of targets at you, with the occasional really big character model. It's a good thing these weapons never jam or misfire, or else the Earth of Starship Troopers would have been wiped out over a weekend. That's the number of enemies you're dealing with. And while it may be intriguing from a technical perspective, it's just aggravating when you're also attempting to "escort" another unarmed moron through a rolling thunder of chitinous death.