This game is crap, complete, unadulterated Ceee-RAP (aww, don’t sugarcoat it, tell us how you really feel), and I’d like Stranglite Developers to develop a machine that will give me back the weekend that I wasted playing it, a weekend that could have otherwise been spent working my way up the black list in NFS:MW or digging into the new Prince of Persia game, or even spent playing Freecell. But no, I had to review Starship Troopers. Is it the worst game I ever played? – no, that pantheon will forever be inhabited by the likes of Dukes of Hazard: Racing for Home – but it’s plenty awful. For those of you who want a simple summary, that’s it, it’s crap. For those of you who want a more thorough accounting of how it’s crap, read on, though I must confess that it has so many crappy facets that I’m hard-pressed to think of which thing to discuss first. Should I write about the piss-poor AI? The general monotony of the missions, perhaps? Ooh, ooh, I know! I’ll, start with the horrible voice work. No, wait, the terrible graphics really should be first. How about a quick paragraph about how they lost any of the satire of the original Starship Troopers concept? Oh, and I gotta write about the pointless peppering of the game with meaningless, out-of-context clips from the movie. But this is an FPS – shouldn’t I lead off with the sucky weapons? Now you see my problem.
Inspired by the movie of the same title that came out 8 years ago (which itself was inspired by a book from 1959), Starship Troopers the game attempts to recreate massive battles between thousands of marines and hundreds of giant bugs – the box says the game supports “up to 300 intelligent bugs” on the screen at one time. Technically, that’s not a lie – there can be hundreds of insects on the screen at any given time, standing around intelligently doing nothing. And the first time you clear a summit with a squad of soldiers and look down into a valley literally wall-to-wall with bugs, I’ve got to give them credit, there’s a small clench factor there. Then maybe 3 bugs break off from the pack and attack. Once you mow those down, another 5 come at you, then a few more. The sea of bugs is out there swaying around, but they’re intelligent bugs and they’re willing to wait their turn to die. Fortunately for the bugs my fellow soldiers are equally useless, standing around waiting until the insects are actually on top of them before firing off a few ineffective rounds and then dying. So, despite the fact that you’re supposedly part of a larger army, it’s frequently you against hundreds of bugs, which would be a real problem if they didn’t considerately attack you just a few at a time, and if even those few didn’t get stuck (often) on rocks or other features of the terrain and allow you to pick them off at your leisure. I just can’t express how un-epic, un-exciting, un-tense these battles feel. It’s more like a chore threshing through the teeming masses, and that’s bad news for the game, because Starship Troopers is really just a chain of endless (or at least they seem that way, but there are in fact 10) missions involving killing trainloads of bugs. There are also a few escort missions that involve killing trainloads of bugs while trying to keep alive a fragile, unarmed charge without the brains for self-preservation that god gave a ham sandwich. That sounds like fun!
Oy, and the weapons you’ve got to do it with. You start off with a plasma rifle which has infinite ammo but frequently overheats and does almost no damage. From there you get the MK4, which appears to be the marine assault weapon from the movie. That’s the weapon you’ll use most (if you’re unfortunate enough to get this lump of coal in your stocking this year), not because it’s so powerful – it’s not much more powerful than the plasma rifle – but it doesn’t overheat and there’s plenty of ammo for it lying around. That’s how the game limits you – the weak weapons, those that take a couple of dozen shots to kill a bug, you get plenty of ammo for. The actual respectable weapons, like the shotgun which can clean a lot of clocks at close range, there’s a definite shortage of shells. The game also features what has to be the wussiest rocket launcher ever. Seriously, don’t even bother shooting it – it just makes the bugs angry, not that they do anything different when they’re angry, but it just seems sad to tease them that way. At the end of each mission the game strips you of all you weapons before dumping you into the next one, so there’s no point in trying to conserve the ammo for the better weapons. I suppose, if anyone is still reading at this point, I should throw in something about the fact that you’re part of some experimental troop called the Marauders. You’re wearing advanced armor that gives you a HUD, radio communications, and a rechargeable shield a la Halo. It’s not in the least bit interesting, but I just thought I’d mention it.
I’ve got to throw in a few comments about the voice work here, not because it makes any sense in the scheme of things, but because it’s been ticking me off so badly that I can’t at this moment think of anything else. Beyond the fact that’s it awful, and they frequently say their lines with all the energy of a McNeil-Lehrer correspondent discussing fluctuations in currency exchange rates, and they only have like 5 comments that they make in combat over and over again, and the bugs themselves only have like 3 sound effects that you’re going to hear a million times each, the entire game soundtrack has been so poorly put together that it’s almost laughable. It starts with little stuff, like dialog and the motion of a character’s mouth being entirely unrelated, and the fact that for long stretches there is no music – is there any music in this game at all, now that I think about it? – but very quickly you begin to realize that no one is minding the store. In a scripted event I’m in a crowd of soldiers being given the usual rah-rah speech by my drill sergeant, and he gets cut off – and I don’t mean talked over I mean cut off, mid-word – by a guy next to me who has to whisper something. What does he whisper? I can’t tell you, because he’s then cut off by a radio message from some ship in orbit talking about a bombing run, which is in turn cut off by a guy in the crowd who yells, helpfully, “We’re going to get those bugs. And the euro is off by three-hundredths of a dollar against the yen.” Even their scripted events are a freaking mess, and this example is hardly the exception. It’s rare that you get any complete message that isn’t cut off by some other dialog.
In the graphics department, much like the rest of this game, I’m utterly unimpressed. In crowds the insects look OK sort of herding around, but individually their motion is very jerky, which probably comes from having only a dozen or so different animated poses. And of the hundreds of other soldiers you run across, most of whom either die quickly or seem to be too busy doing something else to join you, there are only a handful of models so we look something like a giant clone army. The weapon effects are understated, though the bug plasma bursts look pretty good. Scenery is bland. Spacecraft look worse than Homeworld – blocky texture-less vehicles with clipping and poor dynamic lighting and shadows.
Starship Troopers supports innovative multiplayer modes including cooperative play, deathmatch, team deathmatch, and, um, actually that’s it. It took a really long time to find someone else online playing the game at all. That’s not a fault of the matchmaking software, that’s just an indication that no one is playing it online having gotten their fill of stellar gaming in the single player mode. Ironically, the guy I finally did find online to play with was also reviewing it for another online gaming site (I promised I wouldn’t say which one). We played cooperative for awhile, and then deathmatch in which I beat him 10 to 6, and then he had to go do his homework and I had to go have sex with my wife which I razzed him about for awhile, we exchanged email addresses and promised to send each other e-Christmas cards, and that was the end of that.
Starship Troopers (the book, by Robert Heinlein) was a pointed satire about fascist authoritarian states and citizens, the role of the military, and politics in general. The movie by Paul Verhoeven captured much of that flavor and satire, had some rocking action, and pretty good nude scenes. This videogame is a soulless, shambling zombie wreck. It is rife with bad graphics, AI, gameplay, voicework, plot (if it can even be said to have a plot), and weapons. On the plus side it, er, comes in a nice box, and the Nvidia logo at the beginning is funny. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to attempt a home lobotomy with a knitting needle and a car battery so I can remove this entire, unpleasant affair completely from my brain.