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Starship Troopers: Terran Ascendancy

From the Database of Home of the Underdogs

GAME DESIGNER:NicK Hagger

GAME DEVELOPER:Blue Tongue

GAME PUBLISHER:MicroProse

Copyright 2000, Blue Tongue

Squad-based real-time strategy games are, for the most part, a rare lot. Only this, Commandos and Ground Control really spring to mind. Well, Gunlok, too, but I only thought of that because I can see it from where I’m sitting. It’s under a pile of games I actually like… But back to Starship Troopers.

Based graphically and operationally on the film, Starship Troopers takes several cues from Heinlein’s book by adding (or returning, if you want to look at it that way) powered armour, long-range jump capability and the infamous micro-nukes from the book. The missions that result are a surprisingly comfortable hybrid of the film’s pitched battles and the book’s guerrilla/terrorist military actions. Missions featuring the film’s gun-emplacement-laden forts, holding off literally hundreds of bugs while you wait for a dropship to cart you out of the danger zone go hand-in-hand with a truly innovative propaganda mission that sees you safeguarding an unscrupulous TV presenter as he films the recently evacuated inhabitants of a faming community being “safely” returned to their homes.

The defining feature of squad-based RTS games is that there’s no way to reinforce your team once you enter the combat zone. Okay, there’s the odd mission where you get an extra squad member to babysit or a rescue mission with some healable walking wounded, but the fundamental dynamic of this game is that you have to keep your troops alive from the beginning of a mission to the end. Wounded troopers can be med-evac-ed mid-mission if you’ve chosen a medic as one of your support troopers (support troopers feature psychics, snipers, medics and the minelayer/armour-healer engineers), but should you run out of med-evac resources (four per medic per mission), you’re pretty much obliged to return to wherever your troopers died and retrieve his dog-tags.

This sort of brings me to my first of a couple of issues with the game, that being that, if one of your troopers has wandered off on his own he pretty much deserves to die for being an idiot. The bugs of Starship Troopers are quite incredibly tough customers, pretty much capable of taking out any one of your troopers, no matter how well-armed and -armoured he may be, and in most cases, well able to take out packs of three, maybe four troopers single-handedly. This pretty much means that the “squad-based” part of the game degrades into “terrified, huddled clump of damp-trousered soldiers-based” because you simply don’t dare move anyone away from the main body of your squad.

There are exceptions, of course. Your missile troopers, grenadiers and the marvellous micro-nukers must be given specific fire orders, so as not to fire a ball of instant, firey disintegration into the middle of a crowded combat zone and this occaisionally leads them to wander off in odd directions when the fire order is given in order to find a direct line of sight to their target. Sadly, nobody follows them to provide cover and if you’re not careful they tend to die before firing their ordnance. Also, this “wandering off to find a good shot” business can get slightly annoying when you’re ordering them to fire at a Tanker bug (see the film) and they wander off to find a good shot at the ground the Tanker is standing on, rather than just pointing upward at the 20-foot-tall monstrosity that’s just heaved itself up out of the ground. RPG-style experience levels, awarding points for missions completed, bugs killed and the like, is something I’ve had issues with since the first X-Com game when I didn’t dare take my high-ranked officers out into the field because of the killer morale penalty should they be killed. In Starship Troopers, only the high-ranked troopers can wear the big, stompy suits, but fielding a mass of stompy-suited rankers the whole game leaves you extraordinarily vulnerable should one of them die and leave you with nothing but a raw recruit who not only can’t wear a suit but can’t carry the heavier weapons to replace him. Similarly, bringing low-ranked, unarmoured troops into the field not only leaves you lacking firepower due to their inexperience, they don’t kill anything anyway and they pretty much mess up your squad dynamic by forcing you to use one of your minigunners to switch to the missile weapons the raw recruits aren’t allowed to carry.

It’s a minor set of gripes on an otherwise pretty fantastic game, but it all smacks of poor planning and a marketing-driven need to keep to the unarmoured death-seekers of the film who, let’s face it, were just asking to be bug-meat rather than Henlein’s walking tanks.

All in all, though, there’s nothing so bad about Starship Troopers that you don’t just mutter darkly for a moment when you spot it, then carry on with this sequel-in-software. Starship Troopers is a lovely game for fans of the film, made by fans of the book who bring enough of the book back into the gameplay that it’s a good game for fans of the book as well. As for the people who couldn’t care less about the film or the book, it’s a nice squad-based RTS that has a very individual style that hasn’t really been replicated anywhere else and a pretty decent level of tension and exhilaration to keep you playing through to the end.



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