Starship Troopers: Terran Command

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Starship Troopers: Terran Command review
Jordan Helsley


Push on to Glory


It’s nearly impossible to evoke the Starship Troopers name and avoid comparison to Paul Verhoeven's cult classic film, completely ignoring the Heinlein novel that inspired it. It’s a testament to the director's ability to transform the source material in a way that made it more accessible, enjoyable, and prescient. The development team at The Artistocrats did their best Verhoeven impersonation in crafting their real-time strategy take on the film series while trying to keep the casualties to a minimum.

Those familiar with the original film, or the classic age of RTS games, will immediately be transported back to the late 90's upon booting Terran Command. The opening cinematic is an appropriate Fed Net newsreel, while the overall UI is presented similarly to the Federation news hub from the titular movie. The voice acting is reminiscent as well, and the soundtrack even features some of the original’s songs, or very close analogues, to really hammer home the point. It all comes together to form a game that feels just dated enough to be nostalgic, while also being the best representation of the movie we’ve ever seen in games.

Party like in 1999

It’s not just the set dressing, either. Everything about Terran Command feels like a game that could have been released in 1999. The campaign features a standard "win the battle, not the war" scenario that fits perfectly into the Federation's war machine. You represent a commander of the Mobile Infantry on a quest to wipe out arachnids, no matter the cost, and sometimes the cost is great. After a short tutorial the game keeps you on a bit of a leash as it continues to introduce mechanics in a natural way. This is helpful in learning how reinforcements and the minimal base interactions work, but gave me a significant feeling that the game would be too easy. I’m happy to report that the Mobile Infantry remains the underdog after just a few missions, though.

The difficulty spike felt severe, but intentional. What feels less intentional is the requirement to micromanage your units on a subatomic level. Setting aside some totally forgivable pathfinding problems, the same units we saw undergo rigorous training seem to have come away ignorant of any tactical ability. Position plays a huge rule in your combat effectiveness, but separate units lack a mind of their own. You can position and direct your units to face an oncoming wave, but without direct input or precise and quick planning you could end up losing a fight that should have been won. If a group of soldiers is positioned behind friendly units they will resist the urge to fire. Line-of-sight is a good concept, but the execution is disappointing. Where normal soldiers might be able to stack up behind their comrades just fine, this version of the Mobile Infantry has a line-limit of one. Even something as simple as crouching your frontline units could have made a huge difference. Then there’s their resistance to attacking in general. The attack-move function is so important that it should have been the main action. Without it, and constant attention to your moving units, you’re likely to march a squad directly to their death without a shot fired.

Propelling your nearly-endless citizenship seekers into a meat grinder is one thing, but this feels like an unnecessary part of the challenge. And as you come to the end of the campaign there is plenty of difficulty to be had without these handicaps. It can be frustrating and exhausting staring at tiny units for hours on end because they lack autonomy, especially when you’re managing multiple engagements across a map.

Old-school gaming

Overcoming the challenges is gratifying. By the end of the story you really feel like you've overcome terrible odds to keep both the propaganda and the war flowing nicely. This is constantly reinforced as you progress, making your mission feel worthwhile to the Federation and its supporters. And while the gameplay brings nothing new to the RTS slate, and sometimes feels surpassed by games that came out a decade ago, it has just enough to propel you through its reasonably short experience. With any luck, you'll have your fill by then, because that's all there is. Replayability is virtually non-existent. There’s no multiplayer, no skirmish mode (yet), and no reasonable reason to revisit missions. It's a self-contained experience that ultimately accomplishes most of what it sets out to do: provide a fun human mulch simulator that will almost make fans forget about three substandard sequels to a fun film by capturing the old magic. Unfortunately the emphasis there is on "old."

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fun score


Faithful to source material, Challenging missions


Dated gameplay, Lacks replayability, Micromanaging-heavy action