This foray into the bug extermination by Slitherine isn’t based on the original book that was published in 1959. Hell, the fact that there even was a book will probably surprise a lot of people. I’m glad that developer Artistocrats chose to focus on the movie, though, because while I do usually hold that films based on books are typically inferior to their source material, in this instance I firmly believe the movie to be vastly superior to the pen and paper version. Plus, the movie is far more commonly known, although as much of a cult following as it has, the Starship Troopers name doesn’t have huge appeal. When I was a kid, Starship Troopers was a goofy, gory action flick, but as I grew up and rewatched it I started to notice its tongue-in-cheek humour and its emphasis on war propaganda. It’s a great movie and you should absolutely go and watch it. Although you certainly don’t need to have seen the film to enjoy this tight, fun little RTS, without the context the movie provides you might be left wondering if the game is being completely serious or if it’s taking the mickey. It’s the second one, in case you didn’t figure it out.
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I have to admit I was initially a little let-down by Terran Command, purely by my own dumb expectations. Upon hearing of the game I imagined a huge RTS where I would be building bases and deploying massive armies to combat a tide of bugs, the kind that would professional exterminators’ nightmares. In my head I envisioned it being like the big battles from the movie, and the opening level does seem to indicate that will be the case as your hapless troopers are dropped into the middle of a pitched battle that seems destined to end in a human bloodbath. In reality, though, Starship Troopers: Terran Command is a much more intimate little affair where you get up-close and personal with the bugs using just a handful of units at a time. The good news is that up-close and personal time with the bugs is actually a lot of fun. The bad news is that there isn’t a co-ed shower scene complete with nudity anywhere. C’mon Artistocrats, you have to stay true to the source material.
You do get bases of a sort, referred to as Radio Stations despite not being able to pick up Radio X, except instead of harvesting resources and erecting numerous buildings, you trade in supplies and War Tiers for squads of troops or more powerful units. Just a few different buildings can be placed at a captured base enabling different unit types to be dispatched, so it’s usually a case of figuring out what Bug types you’re dealing with and calling in the right firepower to deal with it. If you have hopes of erecting massive fortresses to repel tides of bugs, this isn’t the game for you.
While an injured squad can be reinforced back at base, their death immediately grants a resource refund, so replacing them is free. The only constraint on how quickly new squads can be shipped in is how many dropships are available. Many of the bigger battles are more like wars of attrition, then, where you hurl more and more soldiers into the bug-grinder, which is in perfect keeping with the movie where most troopers were nothing more than cannon fodder for the bugs.
It is actually better to keep squads alive, though, because they can level up, making them more powerful. Once they become veterans you can choose between one of two new skills. Troopers can figure out how to unload a shotgun barrage, for example, while rocket soldiers can drop special missiles. These extra skills can be very powerful when you deploy them at the right time, but not quite powerful enough to make losing a veteran squad feel as impactful as it could have been. I like to imagine XCOM-style scenarios where I mourn the death of a squad of Engineers who have survived the bug hordes only to fall during a daring last stand.
The biggest examples of shoving numbers at a problem are the bug hives which will spew out an infinite stream of giant creepy-crawlies unless you get in there and blow them up. That means slowly advancing toward the nest until it becomes briefly depleted of bugs, providing a small opportunity to send a squad in. It’s easier said than done, though, since hives are often surrounded by bug tunnels as well that will only stop birthing new bugs once the main hive has been decimated. There isn’t a shoe big enough to squash them all, so it’s a fun and tense balancing act as you try to avoid being surrounded while pushing further and further into the den. And you have to deal with the hives, too, leaving the safety of a base to push out and close the hives. Quite a few missions give you a strong defensive point before informing you that if you don’t get your arse out that gate and close up some hives you’ll be overrun faster than a pub offering free pints to the first 100 customers.
The campaign constantly manages to find ways to make the missions feel fun and interesting. One mission has you locating and escorting a prisoner to his execution, culminating in holding off a bug army while the traitorous bastard gets fried on live television for all to see, another has you battling through narrow underground tunnels using two separate groups. On top of that, there’s a consistent trickle of unit types that get introduced, from the lowly troopers who form the frontline firepower to Liason Office who can call in an airstrike. The Bugs get a steady supply of new flesh, too, keeping you on your toes. Impressively, though, no matter how many new toys you’re given the old ones remain useful. Even the bog-standard troopers are still worth deploying in the final missions, alongside the chunky Marauder mechs. Each type of soldier has a place on the battlefield, so army composition does matter.
But how does the actual game play out? The answer is defensive lines. Lots and lots of defensive lines. The bugs are not the smartest foes, so aside from a couple of types, the majority simply charge at you, meaning the best course of action is to form up on some high ground or at a chokepoint and mow the bastards down. The key is to remember that most units can’t fire through others, so quite a bit of time is spent making sure everyone has clear sight to unload maximum death. You can hold down the right mouse button to make units for, up, but you have no control over the formation and the game has a nasty habit of doing stupid things like placing snipers at the front or just causing squads to trip over each other. The pathing really isn’t that reliable, which can cause some major headaches when you’re trying to hastily cover a flank or beat a retreat. There will be times when the gameplay can feel more like babysitting than bug squashing.
That also means there’s a slow-ish pace to the game because it makes sense to advance carefully in order to keep troopers supported, especially since they can’t fire while moving. Multitasking is too hard for these apes, after all. The rest of the time you’ll be micromanaging the action as units will target the nearest foe. You need to constantly be prioritizing what needs killing and keeping an eye out for sneaky bugs flanking your position because your army will get ripped to tiny little shreds in a fist fight. Or pincer fight? Spiky tusk thingy fight? I dunno. Whatever the fuck the bugs splatter people with.
It’s fairly basic stuff compared to other RTS games, and the micromanaging might irritate some people. But that doesn’t stop it from being a lot of fun. It’s satisfying to hold off waves of bugs as they scuttle toward you and to see a Tanker come thudding into view, causing a brief panic before you gather up all the rocket troopers and unleash a barrage on the giant bastard. There’s a pleasing push, stop, and fight tempo to the game, and the composition of your forces is vital to success. I’d actually recommend turning up the difficulty in the first half because I rarely lost a soldier to the bugs. If you ever watched the film you’ll know that troopers die a lot. Like, a lot a lot. But on the standard difficulty, the bugs feel too easy to perforate, especially as the game does have a habit of clearly telegraphing what’s going to be happening. Oh look, a convenient high-spot and a natural chokepoint. Can’t imagine what that might be for.
There is a fairly harsh difficulty spike stemming from the introduction of one specific enemy type; the Scorpions. Uglier than a rotting avocado that has been used as a sex toy, Scorpions unleash insane damage using their tail lasers. They are capable of decimating even your most powerful units in just two hits, and while sustained fire can bring them down it’s a struggle. The only truly effective tactic is to employ rocket troopers, but like the rest of the units in the game they automatically target the nearest enemies rather than the biggest threats, leading to a lot of micromanaging. I found myself spending far more time focusing the efforts of my rocket troopers than doing anything else. The Scorpions were at their worst during two specific missions toward the end of the game, the first being due to being limited in terms of units, and the second because they would spawn en masse.
I do think the game didn’t do much with the Starship Troopers license, though. You might have noticed that I haven’t talked about the story, and that’s because there isn’t much of one. Basically, you play as a commander on the planet Kwalasa, which aside from being a dry dustball and thus as visually appealing as a water buffalo’s backside is also under siege from the bugs. Basically, it’s a shit place to vacation. Most of the story is spent bouncing between samey locations, either defending areas or attempting to get the hell out of the way before finally stumbling across an important plot McGuffin. A couple of things tie to the story very loosely into the events of the first movie and Starship Troopers 3, but ultimately Terran Command doesn’t add much to the lore or tell anything resembling a compelling storyline. The only entertainment comes in the form of the propaganda cutscenes between missions, complete with enthusiastic voiceover. Tonally, these fit neatly into the movie universe. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that Terran Command could have done a lot more with the license.
The only real issues I ran into were cases of units getting themselves stuck due to poor pathing. You’d think a game with hundreds of bugs on the screen would have more bugs, but even when a massive bug army was descending on my bases it was pretty bug free. Okay, I’ll stop now.
Overall, the campaign clocks in at 19 missions, taking somewhere around 6-10 hours to complete. Then there’s the Scenario menu which sounds like it could contain a heap of extra content but it only actually has one additional scenario, while the rest are simply the campaign mission And that’s your lot. I know it sounds like a slim package in a genre that usually includes skirmish modes and competitive online play, but do keep in mind that Starship Troopers: Terran Command retails at just £23. Whether or not the developers plan on supporting the game with further content remains to be seen, but honestly, I’m happy with this being a one-and-done situation.
For that money, I think you’re getting a pretty strong little package. The campaign is well constructed, to the point where I never struggled to muster up the will to play it, which is unusual for an RTS. My own love of the movie doubtless contributes heavily to how much fun I had with Starship Troopers: Terran Command, but pushing that aside I still think this is a solid game that RTS fans and Starship Troopers fans alike can enjoy.
I’ve done my part, citizen. Are you doing your part?