For those unaware of the Starship Troopers franchise, it’s set in the future. The Earth and human colonies are fun by the Federation. They’re, ugh, space fascists. Humanity is currently in a fight against Arachnids, a race made up of a wide variety of bugs. In the grand fashion of fascists through ages, the Federation is losing far too many people in a war against a faction that doesn’t really believe in ranged fire. In Starship Troopers: Terran Command, the mining colony of Kwalasha is key in rebuilding Federation’s forces after the failed invasion of the bug homeworld.
The bugs have also come here, and it’s up to the Mobile Infantry to kick them out.
Are you ready to do your part?
Starship Troopers: Terran Command is based on the movies rather than the books. Your Mobile Infantry are just grunts with rifles, bringing Napoleonic line infantry tactics to the space age. As such, this real-time strategy game is a bit different when compared to the classics. You still order units around and even fire off an ability or two. But base building is almost absent, and you don’t extract resources. Instead, you have minimal base configuration options and get rewarded higher unit caps for completing mission objectives.
The big innovation is that your line infantry units cannot fire through friendlies. This means you can’t easily lure bugs into chokepoints where they’ll munch on the bodies of one squad while three others fire through their buddies as if they’re not there. As such, terrain and unit positioning plays a much more important role here than you’d expect in a game without cover mechanics or vehicle armor facings.
So a lot of fighting in Starship Troopers: Terran Command is about keeping your line infantry between the bugs and your squishy specialists. Neither are really cannon fodder, as all units can unlock special abilities after reaching third rank. However, the bugs are functionally endless. And while your riflemen can mow wave after wave of onrushing Warriors, they lack the firepower to deal with larger critters like Tankers. In those situations, they have the bodies to soak up the fire until the support units do their thing.
And if a unit is wiped out, well, that’s regrettable, but they free up your supply (population) cap, and replacements can be called in at the base almost instantly.
The hard life of a tunnel rat
Bugs operate on an even simpler economy. Whenever they’re not just rolling in from the side of the map in endless, scripted waves, they spawn from hives and connected caves. To shut these down, you have to exhaust the reserves in the caves and hives, and then send the troops in. Ideally, you’ve killed all the bugs present and your troopers will have a walk in the park. But you can also brute-force it by throwing more bodies into the cave than the bugs can kill before they shut down the hive.
Some of you may be wising up to the fact that this doesn’t sound like a system that would work very well in skirmish play and multiplayer. That’s why the Starship Troopers: Terran Command doesn’t have any! It’s wall-to-wall campaign missions. And while some of them are those sexy RTS missions where you have limited forces and no base for reinforcements, the largest part of objectives in the game are about shutting down hives.
And that gets tiresome. You plan your approach vector, stand around slaughtering the waves from the caves, inch towards the hive, exhaust that, and then you close it. And you do it three or four times in a mission. It really becomes annoying, especially when the game introduces ranged armored bugs that you can’t take down without losing some of your dudes — sometimes in multiples.
But hey, as the Starship Troopers: Terran Command campaign progresses, you get to experiment with unit combos. And it’s nice to see that regular riflemen never become obsolete. They always have better range, offering more suppression and bringing in more bodies than their shootier counterparts. Add some engineers to construct field defenses (limited by their own cap that’s also shared with some top-tier units), a radioman to put temporary LZs in the field (that’s how you reinforce and transport units), recruit some some rocket launchers for the anti-armor punch, etc.
There’s also a good variety of environments. Kwalasha might be a desert rock, but each map is crafted for the specific mission. There’s always some kind of eye candy: deserts, cities, abandoned bases, mine shafts. It’s all cool and good, and doesn’t get tiresome (unlike hive cleaning).
Fairly cool renderings of war
Starship Troopers: Terran Command looks pleasing as well. Sure, you can’t zoom in close enough to get a good glimpse of the likely-not-that-AAA trooper models, but the spectacle is fun, especially when you get more varied weapons. And even without synch kills, bugs chowing on troopers looks grim, while bugs dying to Morita fire is always satisfactory. The cutscenes — precedent as Fed Net propaganda — are all comic vignettes. They’re merely fine.
There’s also a good amount of voice acting in the game. You don’t have too many characters, but their voices are competent. And sure, your troops aren’t as chatty as you’d see (well, hear) in StarCraft or Dawn of War, they’re not mute, either. More importantly, they’re not annoying. All in all, the audio in this game is satisfying.
Starship Troopers: Terran Command has a lot more going for it than I expected. The systems work and the game controls well, and it even offers some fun twists on the genre. But it will lack staying power for some — without multiplayer, there’s just the campaign I beat in 15 hours. Yet the real issue is in the repetitive hive cleaning. It may not give you PTSD, but it will drag you into a certain war of attrition. Will you do your part?
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