Starship Troopers: Terran Command doesn’t rewrite the real-time-strategy rulebook. You’re commanding the ground grunts of the Mobile Infantry, fighting the good fight against the buggy Arachnid threat. At its worst Starship Troopers can feel slow-paced and rather grindy, but there’s a satisfying core gameplay loop underpinning it that’s held my interest throughout my time playing (about six hours – I believe I’m currently just under halfway through the game’s twenty-odd campaign missions).
In a typical Starship Troopers Terran Command mission you’re doing all the traditional RTS things – building the right units for the job, capturing and defending objectives, destroying bases – all pretty tried-and-tested stuff. You’ll be leading armies made up mainly of guys and gals with guns: snipers, flamethrowers, grenade launchers, and so on (though stompy mechs do show up later on). You’re usually only handling six-ten squads at a time, but as each unit gains XP and unlocks activatable abilities as you go, there’s plenty of complexity to handle.
As for the foes you’ll be fighting… Well it’s bugs, no surprises there. Everything you remember from the 90s film makes an appearance. There’s fire-breathing tank bugs, plasma shooting artillery bugs, swoopy flying bugs, and hordes upon hordes of nasty clawed warriors. There’s decent variety, but if you want a game where you’ll face clever tactics and a canny enemy, this isn’t it. The bugs will mostly just rush at your poor troops.
As for the combat itself, well there’s a distinct tower defence feel to it. Units can’t fire when they move, and a line of sight system makes setting up defensive positions a key consideration. Your troops can’t shoot through each other, you see. Put one squad in the way, and you’ll end up blocking everyone else’s shot and turn your units into free bug food.
That system takes some getting used to. It can feel fiddly, but it’s satisfying when you get your firing arcs just right and the bug threat melts before your overwhelming firepower. It also adds some tension, as it means if you take your eye off the ball things can quickly descend into the Battle of Klendathu – one errant move order and everything goes to pieces.
The chaos that ensues when the arachnids make it into your troops and cause havoc – your squads getting in each other’s way and being mushed by bugs while struggling to retreat – again underlines that tower defence aspect of gameplay. Oh, and the fact that building various types of turrets is often an essential tactic, whether you’re defending a point or attacking.
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Of course, Starship Troopers is both a schlocky action film and a satirical critique of the US military-industrial complex and right-wing jingoism in general (apparently this was overlooked when it came out?) Developer The Artistocrats certainly doesn’t neglect this aspect of Terran Command’s source material, and there’s enough humour throughout to raise a smile.
Most of the dark comedy is contained within cutscenes, propaganda videos narrated by a movie trailer voice that goes up at the end of each sentence, and uses the same triumphant tone to describe military success, devastating loss, or the subduing of a prison riot. It does show up in missions though too at times. One particularly memorable campaign moment has you escorting a prisoner to a base for their live TV execution. Your boss complains they’ll have to rush the convict “through hair and makeup” thanks to your tardiness.
As for the missions themselves, as you might expect in a game based on Starship Troopers, there’s a lot of fighting through desert canyons and mines, clearing out bug nests. While that can get quite samey, it never becomes a chore, as the devs have clearly made an effort to keep things as varied as possible. From winding through tight tunnels with little room to shoot; to defending bases from waves of enemies; to carving paths through an overrun map, capturing and then abandoning bases, levels largely look the same but play out quite differently. In some missions you’ll have the means to build new troops and can throw them to their doom when necessary, in others you’re stuck with a limited supply and must treat each squad like a precious resource.
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There’s enough strategic diversity to keep things fairly fresh, and missions will often change things up part way through, presenting you with new objectives, threats, and challenges once you’ve got used to the status quo. You might have to defend a fort, for instance, and then be told you also need to strike out with another team to clear out an area.
In terms of graphics, well Starship Troopers: Terran Command certainly looks the part, though that part isn’t exactly a visual treat for the eyes. You’ve got reddy brown deserts or dark mines, realistically black and tan bugs, and grey armoured infantry. Of course, for fans of Starship Troopers that’s probably just what you want. And it would feel mean to gripe about a game’s aesthetic matching its source material, if it wasn’t for the lovely retro artwork featured on the menu screen and in cutscenes, which I personally found far more appealing than the look of the actual main game.
I do have some minor gripes to highlight. The gameplay is quite slow-paced – missions are marathons not sprints – which I personally didn’t mind for the most part. However, one reason for this is that your units move at a trudging pace, which can be frustrating when crossing empty territory. I also encountered a couple of minor bugs (lol) with units twitching wildly when they pass through each other, and once a squad getting trapped in a bug hive never to be used in combat again (the latter I know for sure is on the dev’s list of things to fix before release). I also think the minimap could use some work – even when I expanded its size in the game’s options menu, I still found it pretty incomprehensible, which made managing multiple fighting teams more difficult than it should have been.
For the most part though Starship Troopers Terran Command is a solid little RTS game. It’s not chock full of genre-changing innovations, but it knows what it wants to be and it largely succeeds at that. If you’re looking for a new RTS to try out, you could do much worse. And if Starship Troopers is your favourite thing, and you’ve been lamenting the lack of good games that use the IP, Terran Command will certainly fill the void nicely.
A fairly standard but rather satisfying real-time strategy game that does its source material proud.