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Starship Troopers

Suffice to say, John didn't lose his heart to this.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

There is proof of an interventionist God. The most remarkable crash to date, locking up all sound from my PC into a sampled loop, freezing all controls, forcing a hard-reboot, has spectacularly rendered Starship Troopers unbootable. I am free, free to write the review.

It didn't start well, either. But before we get to that, it's time for a quick check that everyone's in line when it comes to the film this FPS is based upon. Verhoeven's film is, and this cannot be stressed enough for the hard of thinking, a SATIRE. The problem is, satire requires thought from your audience. Do your satire well enough, and those who aren't willing to engage their brain will confuse themselves, and start pronouncing the film as pro-war, all-American, or as has often been the case, fascist. To give Verhoeven his credit, he wasn't exactly subtle about it. The superb spoof propaganda adverts provide belly laughs, and really ought to make the point ever-so-slightly clear. But it's never better than when people attempt to speak the truth of the situation, and are drowned out by the gung-ho nonsense from the main cast. And it has Doogie Howser in it.

Sadly, included in the numbers of those who didn't really 'get' Starship Troopers are Strangelite, Which is only made more strange by the inclusion of clips from the film between missions, painfully containing all the information anyone might need to know that the Bugs are completely innocent in the interplanetary war, and that the forces of Earth are the bad guys. Low quality clips of the film, despite the game coming on DVD.

The bad beginnings. A hellishly long install ends in, "Do you want to check for updates?" Well, yes. But of course, no. Because the patch put out on the day of release achieved the impressive result of causing the game to refuse to acknowledge a disc in the drive. Uninstall. Another painfully long install. Boot.

A secret about reviewing PC games: you've got to be really careful when criticising poor graphics. With the complexity of PC innards, and the agony of driver conflicts, there's a reasonable likelihood that a game looking like the back end of a dog might be your own machine's fault. Solutions include keeping your computer full of very mainstream and up-to-date hardware, spending a couple of hours updating all your drivers just in case, then seeing how it runs on another machine. After that you buy a copy of the game from the shops in case it's a problem with the code sent by the developers. Another uninstall and install. Boot. And it's then, and only then, that you can say with any acuity: Starship Troopers looks like the back end of a dog.

This is what the game looks like for the majority of time. Most of it taken up with the ridiculous red blur, and an alien's legs. 2005 everybody!

Which makes a mystery of exactly what it's doing with the minimum spec of a 2GHz CPU and 128Mb 3D card. Surely it can't be the boast of having dozens of enemies on screen at once? A year ago, sure - there's a boast. But today? And then the incredibly long development time of Troopers comes into stark relief. This is a three-year-old game, hastily updated for a more modern world.

As the back of the box explains, again demonstrating the game's complete lack of comprehension when it comes to the license, "Hesperus, a planet perilously close to Earth, has fallen to the bug menace." In other words, rather than recreate the film's story, it's the, "Er, it's five years later and something similar is happening," manoeuvre. Twelve missions throw you into the hordes of Bugs, with thinly veiled excuses for you to run from checkpoint to checkpoint armed only with infinite ammo and the slowest quick-load in the west.

What's clearly meant to happen is that you're overwhelmed by the incredible numbers of enemies on screen at once. What actually happens is you stand still with your finger on the mouse button, shooting at a hundred of the same enemy until either of you are dead, and then after 57 reloads, maybe trudge over to the next site of the same. Your survival is entirely at the discretion of the direction the Bugs run in, based on their complete lack of discernable AI. If you're lucky, they'll all charge a local rock, wedging their limbs miraculously through it, while you casually walk around them. If you're unlucky, they'll attack you from 360 degrees (the game forces you to stand out in the open frequently), those behind you killing you before you can take out the ones killing you from the front. Throw in the enormously original idea of having to defend another character, and then there's the joy of dying every time they decide to offer themselves as a sacrifice to any enemies they can run toward.

Yes, it looks a bit like that bit in Half-Life. Yes, it looks like it too was made in 1998.

This might be more bearable if you could stab the quick-load, and oh, for the kick of it, quickly load. Instead, death forces you to wait while it loads a pointless screen playing a videoclip, with a voiceover swearing at you. Select load, select the savegame, and then wait for a good minute before it lets you die in a different direction. Manage to catch the quick-load before you die, and you can cut that time down to a mere 45 seconds. Sweeeet. To give the game its dues, there are dozens and dozens of hours of gameplay here. Unfortunately, it's just the same hours dozens and dozens of times. In my notes, I have, "Horrendous load times," scribbled down. Then there's a hyphen and, "Quickload!" added. Then later, beneath that a big star. And then six exclamation marks in a row. (This is all just above the capital lettered scrawling of "ENTIRELY MISSES THE POINT.")

Looking down the list, appearing twice due to both short-term memory loss and repeated frustration, "Jump useless." Tiny ridges on the ground prevent movement, and the jump just seems to facilitate standing on tiptoes. There's "voices crashing," referring to the ridiculous mess of in-game storytelling. Reaching a checkpoint triggers instructions from a fellow soldier, which are then spoken over almost every time by the shouting narrator. As a result, neither can be heard or understood. And finally there's, "Clipping on hills," which is a reminder to go on about slopes for a while.

Here's a useful tip in case you should ever be fighting against fifty arachnid bugs on a desolate planet, probably at night-time to hide how bloody awful it all looks (oh yeah - no gamma slider in the options - nice touch): Stand on a metal slope. Too intricate an object for the Bugs to manoeuvre, the mere act of being raised two inches from the ground can keep you safe from an army of armoured beasts, and able to pick them off one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one by are these things respawning by one by one by one by no they seem to be thinning out by one by one by one by one by one by are there more coming from over the hill by one by one by one by one by one by thank God for that.

Yeah, the whole dozens of enemies thing would look more impressive if they looked like more than black zigzags once they're twenty feet away.

Of course, it works against you as well. Running up slopes is a fraught exercise, with the game's impressive volume of clipping seeing you stuck on the ground with great regularity. Or on a wall. Or building. Or doorway.

There are simply no new ideas in Starship Troopers that make it worth your while. Never mind that it's horribly bugged (oh, ha ha ha), that the patch renders it immobile, or that it might even commit suicide completely. It's far too late in the day to be producing shooters this unimaginative. The FPS is already in trouble, worthwhile releases down to only two or three a year. Generating shoot-by-numbers generic crap with dated graphics and - oh, forgot this one - lag for movement both with the keyboard and the mouse, is a vast waste of time and money.

It is an exercise in immense frustration and painful tedium. When it works, and this feels a stupid sentence at this point, it does manifest the correct semiotic indicators of first-person shooting. You are mowing down literally hundreds of baddies with big metal guns. But that's it. And it isn't all that much. Oh, and did I mention that the jump is useless?

4 / 10

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