Starship Troopers (2000) Review
By James Archuleta |
Chances are that you had one of two very distinct reactions the first time you saw Starship Troopers. You either loved it for its great special effects, hysterically cheeseball dialogue, and obtuse political commentary. Or, you loathed it for pretty much all the same reasons. Regardless of your opinion of the film, you will hate Starship Troopers, the PC first-person shooter developed by Strangelite more than seven years after the film's release. This ugly, cumbersome, and downright inept shooter contains none of the things that made the film so charming. And even if you have no prior experience with the name, the unbelievably repetitive gameplay, awful graphics, horrendous voice acting, and myriad of technical problems will have you screaming for the hills before you make it through a full hour of this nonsense. This is a purely unnecessary game that offers no justification for its existence, and it should be avoided.
Starship Troopers takes place five years after the events of the movie, and humanity is still very much at war with the Klendathu, a race of nasty bug aliens that may or may not actually be the bad guys, depending on how much you want to read into the film's subtext. You play as a nameless grunt in an elite squad called the Marauders. Or at least it's supposed to be a squad. You really don't run into other marauders on any kind of regular basis, and mostly you're working with faceless mobile infantry soldiers. Anyway, the plot doesn't really go anywhere. You go from mission to mission, shooting bugs, occasionally performing other objectives that require lots of shooting in between, and eventually you start to wonder how woefully inept this military of the future must be, since it constantly seems to find it useful to send in small groups of soldiers (and in some cases, just you) into these incredibly overmatched battle scenarios. Are we really that much more stupid than the bugs?
However, the biggest problem with Starship Troopers is that it only seems to have the vaguest sense of what its source material is really all about. The developers seem to have completely missed even the most surface-level points of Paul Verhoeven's film, because the game is completely bereft of the things that made it enjoyable--namely the subtle-as-a-brick-to-the-face musings about American politics, and its so-bad-it's-awesome dialogue. Even worse, the game tries desperately to tie itself into the film universe by tacking on footage from the movie in between missions. This footage is presented in the same style as the Federation news reports in the movie, with a cheesy narrator spouting government propaganda, but it just comes across as completely lazy. The narrator doesn't seem like he's in on the joke, and he just kind of flatly delivers his lines without any chutzpah. And the scenes from the movie are barely edited in any way, making it seem like the developers just didn't want to bother rendering out their own cutscenes. In what could be the missed opportunity of the year, despite the fact that the news reports end with the trademark "would you like to know more?" line, at no point are you given the chance to click on the button and learn more. It's just all cutscene with no interactivity. How detached from the original source material do you have to be to not realize the folly in such an oversight?
On the gameplay front, Starship Troopers is an achingly generic FPS that revolves almost exclusively around the concept of throwing lots of enemies at you at once. Or, to be more accurate, putting you in a situation where lots of bugs are floating around, having anywhere between 5 to 30 of them come at you at once, waiting until you've killed all of them, and then tossing more at you...lather, rinse, repeat. The bulk of the bugs you'll go up against are extremely easy to kill with just about any weapon in your arsenal, but the sheer number of them can be overwhelming at times (provided, of course, that you can't find some random nook or cranny of the scenery that they can't get to you in, in which case it's basically like shooting fish in a barrel). Seriously, we know these are insects, but they're basically all begging to be killed, and quickly. They just run at you in packs, blindly waving their front legs in a threatening manner, and the only way they can actually damage you is if they're practically on top of you. Granted, they're quick enemies, but as long as you have rounds in the chamber, it shouldn't be hard to just mow them all down in one big, green-blooded mess.
Other bug types will be thrown at you on occasion, like big plasma bugs that shoot nasty blue plasma bursts out of their butts, and flasher bugs that temporarily blind you while simultaneously signaling other bugs in the area to come rushing in. But apart from these occasional wrinkles, the game seems largely content with sending wave after wave of meaningless grunt bugs at you, with the occasional big bug lumbering behind to act as a mediocre boss fight. The really irritating thing about this setup is the way in which the bugs attack you. The game claims it can have hundreds of bugs onscreen at once, but they don't come after you all at once, save for very rare and very frustratingly overwhelming situations. Even worse is that you are often tricked into thinking that you can move forward. You'll kill a wave of bugs, move a few feet forward, see another wave coming, back off, shoot them all, move another few feet forward, and so on and so forth. It's a gigantic tease, and some of these missions just drag on forever because of this insipid methodology.
It doesn't help matters that you're rarely given much assistance while going through these bug-riddled environments. The artificial intelligence-controlled Federation soldiers all have a major death wish, and they are physically incapable of running away when a horde of charging bugs are coming at them. They'll just sit there, firing their guns mostly ineffectively, clearly accepting their inevitable doom. While there was certainly plenty of soldier slaughter in the film, the soldiers were at least adept at killing bugs now and again. These suicidal morons couldn't hit the broadside of a barn. Ultimately, this leads to too many scenarios where you're lone-wolfing it past ridiculous numbers of enemies, once again making the whole process an overly lengthy and tedious bore.
Even the weapons mostly fail miserably. There are a few decent guns, like the default Marauder AK4 assault carbine, which has unlimited ammo and is especially useful for blasting through the grunts. But then there are other weapons that just feel completely useless. The rocket launcher is just about the most pathetic thing ever. It'll blow up a few bugs so long as it explodes right at their feet, but the explosions have about as much impact as a bottle rocket and look weak as all get out. Then there's the sniper rifle with a scope that does nothing to improve visibility in a dark environment (of which there are many). It's the future, and we can't even get decent night vision? And then there are the completely worthless grenades. When you pop one out, a little computerized smiley face appears on the grenade's display screen and starts to count down out loud. OK, that's kind of funny, but it also feels like it comes from a completely different game than this one. Not to mention that the actual damage a grenade does seems to range from "not much," to "broken." Seriously, we actually ran into a bug during a training mission where we were supposed to use grenades to clear debris. Every time we launched a grenade, the explosion would simply fail to register with the aforementioned debris.
That's hardly the only glitch you'll encounter while playing. The stability of Starship Troopers is highly suspect. Every now and again the game will simply crash out to Windows for no discernable reason, and some of the unlockable video clips in the extras menu will crash you out every single time you try to view them. There are issues you'll see in-game too, like the aforementioned random physics disappearances with the grenades, and occasional situations where soldiers or bugs will just get stuck in the environment and start doing incredibly wacky things. It's quite clear that more QA time was needed to get this game running properly, and that time wasn't taken.
Starship Troopers does offer a basic multiplayer mode, with deathmatch, team deathmatch, and cooperative missions available. Unfortunately, the odds of you finding someone else to play it against are somewhere in the negatives. We spent days trying to find an online opponent for some kind, any kind of multiplayer match, and found little more than a desolate wasteland of a server browser. But considering how bad the offline play is, it's hard to imagine there would be a particularly thrilling multiplayer experience based off this gameplay.
Starship Troopers also happens to be a severely ugly looking PC game. The models for Federation soldiers are laughably awful, consisting of the same two or three horrific-looking faces spread across a single squad, and a scant list of cheap-looking animations. The bugs all look the same, of course, but they don't even look particularly good or fearsome. They just look like cheap interpretations of the same bugs you saw in the movie, and the ones that are new just look dumb. Environments are a little better, at least the ones set in daylight. Everything done at night is simply too dark, and there are no gamma settings in the options menu. There are certainly games that can do dark, unpleasant places well--take the recent King Kong game, for example--but Starship Troopers doesn't, and what you're left with is a confusing, ugly place to be. While it is reasonably impressive that so many bugs can attack at once, it'd be a lot more impressive if the frame rate didn't go to hell every time a group of bugs got up in your grill. It's also not particularly impressive considering how insanely long the premission load times are, not to mention that every time you load a quicksave you have to sit through the same loading time again. Even the process of making a quicksave hangs the game for four to five seconds.
The audio is simply a cacophonous mess. The voice acting is as bad as you can fathom, and it's not that wonderful brand of cheesy dialogue from the movie, either. It's just painfully uninspired work, and the actors all ham it up really poorly. The guy who acts as your commanding officer sounds like he's really trying to do his best Michael Ironside impression, and he fails miserably at it. Even crazier, Casper Van Dien shows up to reprise his role as Johnny Rico. But he's barely used, and in the cases where he is used, he sounds like he's desperately trying to recapture the magic of the only film role in recent years that anyone could possibly recognize him from, and he ultimately screws the whole thing up. What's even worse than the acting is the editing. There are times where you'll join up with a group of soldiers, and one will start talking to you about where you need to go next. Then some stray radio dialogue from one of the ships in orbit will cut in and drown him out. Then your commanding officer will cut in and drown both of them out. The bugs apparently have one or two vocalizations total, and that just makes things even noisier and repetitive. Apart from all that, it's just generic-sounding guns and music, none of which can even hope to stand up against the awful voice work to try to improve the overall audio quality.
Your opinion of Starship Troopers doesn't really matter when it comes to deciding whether or not you should play this game. If you are a fan of the movie, you'll find yourself distressed by the utter lack of attention the developers paid to the things that made the film such a goofily enjoyable sci-fi epic. If you don't have any prior knowledge of the film, and you're just on the hunt for a good first-person shooter for your PC, this is most definitely not where you want to be looking, due to the plodding mission structures, technical gaffes, weak action, and half-baked presentation. If you hated the movie, then why are you even considering this game in the first place? Just know that no matter who you are and where your interests lie, Starship Troopers is not the game for you.