Everybody fights and no one quits in Starship Troopers: Terran Command. Would you like to know more?
The Starship Troopers franchise is a bit of an odd thing. With books that ponder the feasibility of a militaristic, duty-driven state and films that satirise it, it’s more known for blasting giant bugs, Michael Ironside being a hard-as-nails school teacher, and Casper Van Dien’s bum. Considering that, in mainstream terms, it actually only had one genuinely liked and well-received entry in the form of the 1997 film, Starship Troopers. There were even a few video games released back in the late 90s and early 00s that were met with a mixed reception. Well now, over fifteen years since the last official game release, we have Starship Troopers: Terran Command, a real-time strategy (RTS) game that feels like a spiritual sequel to 2000’s Starship Troopers: Terran Ascendancy.
This release points out that it’s set in the movie universe of this franchise, so if you’re a fan of the books you might find this doesn’t match up in the way you’re expecting. The plot is of little interest and really boils down to “kill all the bugs on the planet” and lacks anything beyond that. Considering how the movie series that this is based on actually lampoons the kind of society presented, I’d have hoped the game could have done a little more with the narrative. There’s certainly hints of it in the between mission Fednet propaganda, and in how some of the story’s characters interact during mid-mission conversation, but it really doesn’t go anywhere. Still, there aren’t many people who come to an RTS for the plot.
You have to love Slitherine. They’re one of the only publishers that still releases old fashioned RTS games. Base, resource, and troop management as you try to conquer your opponent from an isometric perspective. Giving orders, micro-managing special skills, shoring up base defences are things that will be familiar to veterans of the genre, and that’s who Starship Troopers: Terran Command is certainly aimed at. This is a strategy game that will put you through your paces and provide a stiff challenge, even on normal difficulty. If you aren’t on top of your squads and what they’re currently up to, you will fail and fail spectacularly.
Compared to a lot of classic RTS games, this is somewhat streamlined. In missions in which you have a base to manage, you can pace buildings to train troops in pre-set locations, and all new units are ordered from your central command building and delivered by dropship. You don’t really need to worry about gaining resources for the most part either, as most of this is delivered to you. War Support, for buildings, defences, and powerful units is acquired by completing secondary objectives, whilst Supply, for gaining more troops is either given to you as the mission progresses, or found on the map for your units to collect. Once you have them, they’re yours to use as long as you keep hold of your bases around the map. This keeps the management side of things as a smaller concern than managing your soldiers, which makes a lot of sense considering the franchise this game is attached to.
Ordering troops around is pretty standard RTS fare. Right slick for moving and attacking, CTRL plus a number for command group shortcuts, and activating abilities from the control panel. If you’re familiar with the genre at all you’ll probably be right at home. For those less au fait with this style of game, there’s a tutorial that retells the initial invasion of Klendathu, which is a lovely nod to the movie, to give you the basics. And I do mean the basics, because you’ll need to pick up a lot of what works and doesn’t work on the fly beyond that point. There’s a little encyclopaedia that fills in what different units are good for and what enemy fighters do, but you’ll have to figure out the best approach for yourself. This isn’t designed for newcomers, although the very easy difficulty setting does offer some mitigation by making your weapons significantly more powerful.
This did feel very enjoyable to play. Setting up a powerful force with limited supplies is very satisfying as you take the fight to bug hives that need destroying. Positioning troops carefully to clear out a horde of foes before sending in a lone squad to finish off the nest before it can resupply and carry on fighting feels like a hard fought victory each time. Generally your units will position themselves in the most effective way, with flamers and riflemen at the front, and rocket troops at the back, but in tight confines you’ll need to micromanage this more carefully. Get things wrong, and your soldiers will be unsighted, meaning they can’t fire on targets leading to units getting decimated.
I’d have liked a few options for formations, rather than relying on the game to do it for me based on what it perceived as the best choice. Being able to have giant walking tanks surrounded by flamers at their feet could be useful at times, and having to set that up myself was cumbersome and led to more losses than I’d have liked. This was compounded somewhat by the camera which inexplicably can’t be rotated. That was infuriating on some of the missions taking place in urban environments when I couldn’t see what was going on clearly due to walls and buildings.
Occasionally you’ll have missions in which you have no base and are provided with a handful of squads to complete objectives. I really enjoyed these, as the small-scale engagements meant I could focus a little more on positioning and setting up choke points to take out enemies when we were wildly outnumbered. Objectives would mostly be “kill all these” or “activate that door control”, but the gameplay itself here was really enjoyable. That’s not to say the larger scale conflicts aren’t fun, but these ones felt particularly strong.
You’ll often have a range of troops at your disposal, from basic rifle troops and flamers, through snipers and support troops, all the way up to power-armour and giant mechs. Each unit felt unique and most would have a place in battle, but some were more useful than others. Snipers were very situation specific, and the short range energy troopers were often wiped out in no time. Once you have access to mechs, most of the other units can be ignored as these big stompy folk decimated anything that got in their way, and made the tail end of the game something of a victory lap. They’re limited in how many you can acquire on a mission, but a few of them will chew through almost anything.
With that said, chewing through those bugs is immensely satisfying. Your bases will frequently face absolute swarms of enemies, and your defences will either hold them off as they try to scale the walls, or be utterly overrun. Careful placement of troops and turrets on walls can lead to some really enjoyable sights, akin to those in the movie, as you hold back wave after wave. If you fail, you won’t be pushed back too much, as there’s a generous autosave system, and each mission only lasts about half an hour at most. With 19 campaign stages, plus a couple of challenge missions, there’s a good ten-plus hours of content here. No multiplayer sadly, and I feel a survival mode with limited resources could be easily added to this for more content, but what’s there is certainly good value for money.
The visuals aren’t going to blow you away here, but they are functional. Different types of bugs look distinct, and are in keeping with the movie, which is nice. Your fighters are less defined, but they each have a symbol above them to denote their class. When everything is in action it can be a little difficult to select the unit you want, leading to some avoidable losses. I think a pause and select feature — not necessarily to give orders — would have been helpful here. The environments are pretty much what you’d expect for fighting on a human-colonised alien world. Lots of sandy wastelands, cities, and military bases. The developers have done their best to keep things looking different as you go through the campaign. The sounds and music are really solid though, with dramatic stings as your base is rushed down, and creepy soundscapes when you’re exploring underground tunnels. Units have the classic RTS thing of responding to commands with voice lines, some of which are quotes from the film. Generally the voice work is very good, and I particularly enjoyed the Fednet announcer between missions.
Starship Troopers: Terran Command is not for everyone, but it is an enjoyable RTS game despite a few flaws. Fans of this underserved genre will probably get a kick out of the chance to demolish wave after wave of bugs, whilst those looking for a challenge can really stretch themselves on the hardest settings. Whilst I doubt this is going to be the catalyst for a dramatic resurgence of strategy games, there’s a lot of fun to be had. You should absolutely enlist today and become a citizen!
Starship Troopers: Terran Command is available now on PC.