Starship Troopers

FBT is Casper Van Dien. He’d rather be Denise Richards.

I remember when this came out and really, really wanting to play it. But its specs meant my doddery old Time computer wasn’t going to cut it, and it disappeared almost as quickly as Time did. But now, armed with a better rig and all the patches the internet can offer, it’s time to squash some bugs. Come on you apes, you wanna live forever?

Heinlein’s original Starship Troopers book, while being hugely influential is also known for being a tad fascist. Verhoeven’s film took its story of young recruits fighting Arachnids on a distant planet and turned it into an awesome satire where the ‘bugs’ are innocent and humans are actually the bad guys. This game is neither. Instead, we’re a nondescript grunt fighting through level after level, connected by a debriefing that generally goes ‘There’s bugs in this place, shoot them’. There’s no actual narrative, characterisation or story, but there are images and clips taken from the movie (and the sequel) to illustrate how cheap this is to not even have its own cutscenes.

It makes little to no sense; the opening says this is set five years later, but if you bought this because you’ve seen the movie you’d be asking why do we keep seeing vaguely related clips from the movie. Am I Casper? Michael Ironside? And if you haven’t seen the movie you’d wonder why Denise Richards keeps appearing in the background. Her career’s really taken a turn if she’s now a background extra in a video game.

The devs seem to have missed the satire of the movie; we’re assured those bugs are a menace to be stamped out and while it could be argued that’s the kind of propaganda a grunt would be subjected to, we aren’t let in on the joke. You could make a great, subversive shooter out of this but instead it’s just a standard shooter. Well, sub-standard shooter.

Killing Bugs is amazing for the first level or two. They’re overwhelming, move scarily, are aggressive and there’s folks getting offed all over the place. But, early levels are re-enactments of key moments in the film and that makes it feel more exciting than it actually is – quickly, you notice the planet is designed to reflect the areas they visited in the movie, to ensure the cutscenes don’t seem out of place and we’re in the same, repetitive, linear slog, the same look again, the same ‘repel those bugs’ mission parameters …

And then you notice other shortcuts and cheats. Like the AI and coding being extraordinarily bad, perhaps the worst I’ve seen from this era. The bugs sometimes won’t react to you at all, but if you manage to clamber up onto a rock, or go up a gentle incline, the bugs are unable to reach you, and just skitter about letting you use your infinite ammo weapon take care of them. And crouching is pointless since they either see you or don’t, and jump is more like when you reach for something on a top shelf. Not that you can jump anywhere, you’re in sealed off valleys and canyons following a rail-linear route.

The bugs are a fair representation of what’s in the movie, but they’re infuriating to deal with. Baby Plasma bugs take hundreds of rounds to put down, little flashbugs blind you and somehow a solider bug will always – always – be there when your vision returns, but by far the most spirit-crushing is the sheer volume of those solider bugs. They just bee-line toward you mindlessly; sure, their main threat is numbers, but it gets tiring holding down fire all the time. No skill is required and you get no fear from seeing them approach. All you ever do is strafe. By the time a wave is over the entire level is covered in bug parts; the place looks like the back of a Rentokill van. The night setting, repetitive score, day-glo colouring on the bugs, their manic and mindless behaviour; are you sure we’ve not just interrupted an illegal rave?

And some missions are just stupid. We know there’s thousands of bugs about, but when a radio goes down, why am I the only one sent into a Bug hole to find a replacement? At one point the drop zone is completely overwhelmed and … here comes my reinforcements! Except they won’t land until I’ve cleared all the bugs. Isn’t that the point of reinforcing me? Midway through we have to escort one of those PSI-capable SS Officers. It’s not Doogie Houser though, it’s some git who keeps saying ‘I sense danger’ then just freezes. Could you be a little more specific? Yet sometimes his spidey-sense won’t kick in and I’ll turn around to see him getting battered by an Ant Lion. It’s the same missions we’ve been playing since Medal of Honor, but with bugs instead of Nazis. Never thought I’d find myself missing Nazis.

This could have taken the movie’s satire and tongue-in-cheek style and had us cutting through great swathes of Bugs while realising we’re the bad guys, or had us follow Doogie as he took the fight to the Bugs’ homeworld and learn more about them and ourselves; that ending, where they capture the Brain Bug and Doogie announces its afraid and everyone cheers is a horrible moment that should have been this game’s jumping off point. If it could jump. Or failing that, it could have at least tried to be a good shooter. When you're looking forward to cutscenes in a shooter you know something's off.

There’s twelve long, nothing-happens levels, complete with some frustrating bosses, usually because the shouty CO gives useless info on how to best it or it has insane requirements like can only be shot in the (tiny) eyes which were obscured by hundreds of other bugs dashing about. This feels like one of those old online games you can play offline with bots. There’s just no point to any of this.

Starship Troopers is a typically bad movie tie-in that’s as mindless as the bugs. I knew from the reviews that it wasn’t the subversive anti-war game I was hoping for, but I thought it’d be at least fun. This is one of those post Half Life 2 games that should have been a pre Half-Life game, lost in time. It took me forever to dig it up, and now it’s time to bury it again. Not even Denise Richards can save this one.