The Starship Troopers license has always been a potentially rich resource for videogames and yet it’s only recently that developers seem to have noticed. I mean, a bunch of gung-ho marines battling endless hordes of giant bugs is ready-made for a horde-style multiplayer shooter. Starship Troopers: Extermination aims to fill that gap. It’s currently in Early Access and comes with all the expected foibles like a lack of content, but what’s important in Early Access is to look at the foundation, at what the vision is for the future, and on both of those counts Starship Troopers: Extermination is very promising.
While Starship Troopers: Terran Command had you commanding troops from a Godlike view, Extermination drops you right into the action. Describing the game is probably best done by just walking you through one of my early matches. There are 2 modes available right now, both quite similar. As fresh meat, though, I only have access to Quick Play.
The first objective is simple: all 18 of us pile out of the dropship and begin to clear out the surrounding area for a temporary base to be dropped in. Here I get the first glimpse at the classic Starship Trooper bugs in all of their digital glory. And yeah, the developers have done a damn good job of replicating them, their size and their sheer fucking numbers. It’s what you would describe as a target-rich environment. Aim in a direction, pull the trigger and you’ll probably shoot a bug. The guns are lovingly recreated from the movie with a few custom variants, and each one packs a satisfying punch. The little bugs go down in a single bullet, while the bigger bastards take a lot more firepower to drop. That’s saying nothing of the big artillery bugs or elite tiger bugs that show up, each taking concentrated fire from several players to put down.
From there the game throws out a few randomised objectives that need to be completed like repairing a couple of generators or capturing a new point for another temporary base to be dropped in from the sky like Amazon Prime delivery has started working on other planets. Time to get moving then, but first I’m playing as the support class so I start doing the rounds with my Stim to make sure everyone is healed up after the initial skirmish and ready to do their part in the upcoming assault. This turns out to be a problem because to use the Stim I have to be quite close to people and they’re all sprinting about like they’ve had sugar directly injected into their veins. Still, I get a few of them healed up, restock on ammo from the base and head out to the next objective.
This is the bit of the game that I think could ultimately make or break the experience going forward. The randomised objectives are fine but the match structure gets repetitive very quickly. It’s just shifting from point to point while gunning down hordes of bugs, and while it’s certainly cathartic to murder so many enemies I do worry that people will grow bored quickly. The developers are going to need to focus on expanding objective variety and finding ways to keep things interesting, perhaps by having us go down into bug tunnels or deliberately splitting up the group to tackle multiple objectives at once.
In fact, I’d like a smaller mode that maybe supports 4-8 players instead of the full 16. A tight co-op experience where you and a few people have to really work together could be excellent. But that’s all stuff for the future.
Back in the present, I’m getting a first-hand look at the special abilities of each of the three types of trooper. As the support class, I have a handy little drone that scours the battlefield and automatically picks up downed allies. And after earning a bit of XP I could opt to take a portable ammo generator in place of the stim. The Hunter class gets a fancy jetpack to let them get around quickly, but in reality, all I could see was them jetting up to high points where the bugs couldn’t get them. Turns out bugs don’t understand climbing up boulders, so the only threat to the Hunters are special sniper-bugs that shoot…um, something? Probably best not to question it. The final trooper with boots on the ground is the Bastion and his or hero whole deal is dropping a waist-high wall around himself and unloading with enough ammo to make America feel inadequate. The Bastion class is best defined by the second gun you can unlock for it which has a massive ammo capacity but is pretty much useless until you activate the ability, aim down the sites and start laying down covering fire.
I had some time to think about all this class stuff and levelling up in one of the game’s little lulls. A lot of the enemy spawns are randomised, so there are times when everything quietens down and you can admire 18 troopers trying to amuse themselves for 30 seconds. Sometimes that peace is shattered when dust starts to kick up, indicating that a bunch of bugs are about to spawn in nice and close. And inevitably there’s always one player who ambles off into the distance only to return 10 seconds later followed by a bunch of hungry bugs.
The closing moments of the match came closest to replicating the 1997 movie, for me. Using the resources gathered previously, we began hastily constructing defences around the ARC, which is basically a McGuffin that is supposed to scan and map the bug tunnels. This is all done using a simple tool with repair and construction options, and the limited resources are meant to encourage people to build smartly and discuss where electric fences should be put or whether to spend a lot of resources on an automated turret. It’s cool, although I do worry that tossing down defences could become predictable after a while. Really, you’re just building a box to hide in, and the only thing that varies is the exact location of the ARC. Sometimes you’ll get a position with lots of natural chokepoints, other time it’s all wide and open which makes defending it much harder.
Then the bugs came. Hundreds of them, possibly thousands, from almost every direction. They assaulted the walls, seeking to bust through to the ARC. All around me, troopers were raining down bullets, grenades and rockets from the walls and towers, trying to hold back the tide of bugs. I was busy running back and forth across the temporary base, patching up failing walls and erecting new ones where old ones had fallen. Jogging back up to the walls I got ready to drop an ammo dispenser and start sending some lead down range, and was greeted by a scene that looked like it was straight out of the movie: dead bugs piling up while more continued to advance, and a handful of troops tried to stem the tide. Out in the distance, an artillery bug was about to become a serious problem. The ARC was at 75% complete but I could see walls collapsing, letting the bugs charge into the middle of the base. A fallen comrade across from me was a chance to prove my medical skills, so I charged across a wide open area and only just made it up onto a bunker before a dozen bugs could grab me. I revived the soldier and we shared the brief glow that can only come from complete strangers working together for just a second. As I looked back around I could see my best mate jetpacking over the top of a swarm of bugs, raining down rockets as he went. It was a cool moment. It was a shame he missed the roof and fell into the bugs, really, but what are you going to do? I sure as hell wasn’t going to save him. I already saved some other dude. I did my part.
We held out. Barely. The bugs had broken through the electric barrier just as the ARC finished its job, several walls were now ex-walls the never-ending horde had somehow become even more never-ending. Then the evac orders came. A few hundred meters away a ship was coming down, offering salvation to anyone who could make it, and a nice chunk of bonus XP for getting out alive. The catch, of course, was another few thousand bugs between the base and safety. Cue a bunch of people running like crazy, trying to clear a path. The smart ones work together, backpedalling up the hill and covering each other while they reload. A Hunter bounces from highpoint to highpoint having clearly decided everyone else dying is not something he is concerned about. We make it to the shuttle and now have to hold the line for a few minutes before takeoff. Waves of bugs are stampeding up the hill towards us, again looking like a scene from Starship Troopers. Off in the distance, I can see one of our team bleeding out. Another trooper tries to make a desperate run to save them and somehow manages to make it most of the way before the overwhelming bug stampede turns him into mulch. That brave, heroic, stupid bastard.
In the end, 10 of us make it out safely, ready to do our part in the next battle against the bugs. In the Starship Trooper’s universe, people must serve in the military in order to become citizens and earn the right to vote. Well, I’ve been through my tour and earned my citizenship. Looking back at the desecrated corpses of my friends, though, I’m just not sure it was all worth it. But on the plus side, I did come home with some hilarious stories, like that time a Hunter accidentally jetpacked off a cliff or when someone started screaming lines from the movie at us before getting squashed by a bug. Maybe war isn’t so bad.
Being an Early Access title there are some expected shortcomings, such as the lack of content. Two modes, a few maps and three classes don’t offer a lot of variety right now. There’s already a Horde mode in the menu that’s greyed out, but I’m not convinced the game needs that because the regular modes already feel like Horde mode. And there are plenty of other issues, ranging from hilarious (like bugs being catapulted into the sky) to more serious. That’s to be expected, though.
Like I said earlier, what matters in Early Access is whether the core idea is good, and I think it is. Gunning down hundreds of bugs feels great already, the amount of players is nicely judged and there’s just a really good foundation to build on. My only reservation is whether the developers can find ways to keep the action engaging and rewarding match after match after match. Their vision for Extermination right now is fairly straightforward, but if other games like Warhammer: Vermintide 2 can do it, so can Extermination.
So, should you buy it? I think so. Of course, that recommendation comes with the assumption that you know what you’re getting into with Early Access and that you’re actually going to partake in the process by providing feedback and trying to help make an even better game. Even in its current barebone state, Starship Troopers: Extermination is a lot of fun, especially if you can get a few friends to serve alongside you on the frontlines.
And remember, the only good bug is a dead bug.
(Note: I don’t score Early Access games.)