It would have been a fairly easy task to just make a Starship Troopers game a glorified horde mode, and have the swarms of antagonistic alien bugs zerg at you over and over while you dropped a few defences and called in a few air strikes. But Starship Troopers: Extermination goes a little further than that.
Entering into early access, Extermination is a pretty janky affair, but it captures the frenetic panic of those bug encounters from the movies and CGI series perfectly. Remember that bit in the original where the camera crew reporting on the conflict gets torn apart by just one big? It feels like that but all the time.
Because the bugs in Starship Troopers aren’t really bugs; they’re giant armoured killing machines that move incredibly fast and have very few weaknesses. Facing off against one with a full clip, you’ll probably survive if you hit that nerve cluster under its huge mandibles. Face two or three one and you’re going to struggle.
Which is, of course, why this is a primarily multiplayer game. You’ll need a team with you and you will need to communicate, calling out enemy positions and screaming at the top of your voice for a medic. I went in for my first game after the sparse tutorial with a medic and the pressure was immense. I couldn’t get to people fast enough and watched as my team was torn apart by giant bugs, or lasered in two by monstrous stag beetles with some kind of natural plasma launcher. For the first few minutes I couldn’t even work out how to turn off my flashlight; I felt like Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow when no one would tell him how anything works.
And that’s my biggest issue with Starship Troopers: Extermination at this point. It doesn’t tell you nearly enough. The tutorial only deals with the base-building aspect, not what each class does, how to work together, which button does what, or what type of enemy you’ll be facing. Maybe that’s partly deliberate, reflecting the meat grinder nature of the military as depicted in the movies and, to an extent, Robert A Heinlein’s less bombastic and more cerebral source novel. But either way, it felt frustrating to me, and almost made me give up before I’d even started.
Though I’m glad I didn’t, because despite the wobbly nature of some features, it’s a lot of fun when you get your feet on the ground. For a start, the resource mining and building is pretty simple. Well, on your own, it’s simple. Add two or three other players into the mix, all dropping walls, towers, bunkers and turrets and it can get really messy, really quickly. You have to communicate during the building phases and work together to gather resources and place items, which speeds up production massively and makes you much more efficient. Once defences are in place and you’re facing a sea of incoming bugs, communication becomes even more essential.
I play a lot of multiplayer games as though I’m still solo. Monster Hunter, Destiny 2, etc; if you know what you’re doing you can often get by intuiting what the rest of the team needs unless you’re working on the hardest endgame content. In Starship Troopers: Extermination, playing silently with a wing a prayer just isn’t going to get the job done.
Perhaps unfairly, I didn’t expect the movement and combat to feel so good. Shooting isn’t super accurate, but that’s mainly because you’re usually panic-shooting. The basic assault trooper is fitted with a jump pack (in the original novel Rico is a jump-trooper, as facing the bugs on the ground is mostly suicide), which is great for quick escapes but can leave you in serious trouble if you come back down at the wrong point.
Starship Troopers: Extermination has a long way to go yet before it can be considered “finished”, but what’s here is a solid starting point. The base-building works, the shooting works, and the team-play works – it all just needs to be a little clearer for newcomers. There’s a lot of fun to be had even at this stage if you’re playing with friends, and this first look has given me high hopes for the future.
Starship Troopers: Extermination is out now in early access for PC via Steam.