Starship Troopers: Terran Command – Bugs!

Starship Troopers: Terran Command is a real time strategy game by The Artistocrats, published by Slitherine. People with bug-phobia stay away, this game is absolutely riddled with them. No, not technical bugs, but bugs to shoot, maim and burn. Just likes the movies! And as you might have guessed, this game is based on the movie IP, and not the book. Which is fine with me. I do enjoy Heinlein’s book, but I find the movie setting better. It has that brutal WW1 feeling to it, and the bugs you are massacring are actually evil. It also has one of the hottest military chicks in any movie ever. R.I.P. Dizzy!

In Terran Command, you play as the Mobile Infantry, and you have been called to the desert mining planet Kwalasha. The local population is having a serious bug problem, and you are here to help. If all goes well, you will eradicate the bug infestation, and once again restore mining operations. The story starts rather small with a set of skirmishes, but it escalates quickly, having you facing off hundreds of bugs attacking your fortifications. I would say it’s not the most interesting campaign, since it’s very by the books with big throwbacks to the movies. The plot also feels very similar, but maybe you can only do a bug story in so many ways?

Scattered marines desperately holding the drive-through to the local space McDonald’s

Still, it’s enjoyable, and it takes you all over the desert planet. From arid desert landscapes, to war-torn cityscapes and hostile underground hives. There are some characters to keep tabs on, but unfortunately, they don’t make much noise, so you never get to know them. They are mostly there to propel the story forward, and make the narrative come together. The devs also went all out on the television propaganda part of the movies, which means every mission is presented in that style. It’s amusing, but it does make the tone feel a bit cartoonish at times. There are no real missions briefings except what command tells you in all haste in the beginning of each mission. I think it would have been nice with a real mission briefing from time to time to segment the seriousness of it all – considering the amount of human casualties sustained. Yet, it works, but don’t expect any deep philosophizing about war, not that the movie did that either, other than they tried to make it satirical, but unintentionally made the world seem cool instead with interesting values.

The first mission for the mech division was to save the bar

Gameplay-wise, it plays like your classical RTS, with a focus on “micromanagement”. All units gain skills when they level up, but most of these skills require your input. I’m absolutely worthless when it comes to micro. I’m more of the build-big-army kind of guy and then A click on enemy base. What I’m saying is, most of the cool micro stuff was lost on me. These old bones just don’t have it in them anymore, but I did manage to throw a grenade or two. I would assume these things are crucial on the higher difficulties. Myself, I played on normal mode, and at times the bugs actually handed my ass back to me, so I can only imagine what suffering will be displayed on higher difficulties if you can’t master the micro.

While unit control is fairly standard, the other parts that usually come with RTS titles are unfortunately missing. I’m talking about base building, and economy. It does not exist at all, except that your engineers can build different kind of turrets, but I wouldn’t call that base building. There is some form of resource that limit what you can call in in the form of reinforcements, but these resources are mission scripted, as in you only have what the designer intended you to have. You can find extra resources on the map, usually you find these resources in places you would travel anyway, so often it’s not something you have to go out of your way for.

I do find this disappointing, because throughout the game, you get the feeling that the building blocks are there for a real RTS experience. You constantly come across cool looking bases, and the outposts you can take over have small build segments, as in having you to chose what kind of specialization you want to go for. While I think the game is fun, I can’t help to think what it could have been if it actually had base building. I think it could have been a sleeper RTS hit, maybe not a major one, but at least a noticeable one. Now, Terran Command feels more like a one-off game, something you play once and never again.

Light AA they said!

There isn’t too much difference between the missions beside the look and feel, since your actual choices of what to bring to the fight is rather limited. A more sandbox:y experience would have been preferable, but alas, it was not to be. But like I said, the game is entertaining still, the firefights against the bugs are awesome, and the feeling of being overwhelmed is always close at hand. The Marine units are cool, and come in many flavors. You have the standard marines with Morita Assault Rifles, but later on you get dudes that come equipped with E-pulse 44 Rifles for short range bug slaughtering. There are also mechs with all kind of weaponry, specialized commanders that can call in airstrikes, radiomen for reinforcements in the field & more.

The same goes for the enemy side. Not to spoil anything you will go up against, but I think most of the stuff can be found in the movies, so if you have seen those, you know what you are up against. I just have to say – I really hate the scorpions. I’m fine with them being tough to kill, and I’m even fine with them having a really deadly weapon at their disposal. But man, please tone down the spawn rate for these giant arachnids! I don’t even want to imagine what it’s like on higher difficulties.

Hey, it’s one of those smart bugs!

Visually, the game looks fantastic with lots of detail in environments, and the best part in my opinion – the sense of scale. It just looks right, from bases to underground caverns. The abandon cities look amazing as well. And going by animations, they are fine too, but I would like to have seen a bit more blood and kill animations when it comes to the human side. It feels way too sanitized compared to the movies, but the bugs do die in nice ways, though.

Sound is great. It’s everything what you expect, the weapons sound like they should and both marines and bugs scream for dear life when they get attacked… and it just feels good, without sounding too much like a psycho. The voice acting (even if the characters themselves don’t leave much of an impression) are excellent, too. I especially liked the officer from the Ministry of Paranormal Warfare. And not to forget the music, which is very fitting – military like with a slight futuristic theme. Much like the movies.

Do I recommend it? Yes, I had a lot of fun with it, and at the end I was hoping for more. Just remember if you decide to jump in, the game is missing base building, and the missions at times can feel a bit too heavy on scripting, not leaving you much choice to decide what to do. Yet, it’s still good, and has me yearning for more, and it makes me wish the RTS genre wasn’t dead. Terran Command had the potential to revive it, but it never reached higher than a budget title, which is a real shame.

Thanks for reading.

/Thomas


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