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Monday, May 20, 2024

Starship Troopers: Extermination Early Access Review

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If you are a hardcore Starship Troopers fan, chances are I’ve already served with you on the front lines of Valaka in the early days of Starship Troopers: Extermination’s early access launch. For those of us who know who Casper Van Dien is, the long grind, very limited objectives and mission types, and old-school shooting were never going to deter us from doing our part, because working together as a team to blast enormous waves of bugs while building a base and then high-tailing it to safety has a powerful draw. But for those who don’t, there may not be much reason to drop in just yet.

Decades after the events of Paul Veerhoven’s cult sci-fi classic Starship Troopers, the arachnid threat still looms large and threatens the safety of humankind every minute of every day. Want to know more? Well, Extermination doesn’t have much more story to tell than that, but it can at least answer the question of “What would it be like if you and 15 of your peers were dropped directly into the chaos?” Though the answer is at best inconclusive, but the base-building mechanics do add an interesting tower defense-style angle to its fun but otherwise straightforward running and gunning.

Starship Troopers: Extermination – Early Access Screenshots

I think maybe the biggest letdown out of the gate for Extermination is that even though it very much looks like the 1997 movie, it lacks any of the satirical substance. There are plenty of references to the movie, from the soldiers’ kits to the news bulletins that blare in front of every new round to the soundtrack, but all resemblance is mostly skin deep. One could argue that the old-school shooter feel (it lacks the auto health regeneration and dash happy movement of modern shooters) and mandatory friendly fire could be seen as an attempt at satire, but that seems like a stretch.

Without any story to speak of you literally are just showing up to shoot bugs over and over again, with no attempt to subvert the “head empty” grind inherent in these sorts of team shooters in the way the movie did for war films. This is likely fine for superfans of the Starship Trooper series, but for a brand so associated with holding genre cliches up as a mirror for critique, it feels like a glaring missed opportunity.

My team would frequently stand around one refinery twiddling our thumbs.


There are two mission types available at the early access launch. The first is Attack and Secure (AAS), which gives your squad a faster, more mobile set of objectives where you must take and hold various points at different parts of the map. I found these to be lighter, quicker battles but also prone to bizarre bugs (apart from the kind trying to kill you). For instance, a common objective is to activate and guard ore refineries that produce a tank you then have to escort back to base every 30 seconds. Any one processor can do this a handful of times before needing to cool down for a few minutes. That’s not a problem if you have multiple processors active at once, but frequently I would find the entire team standing around one refinery twiddling our thumbs because it's the only one that spawned. The saying is “do you want to live forever?” not “do you want to wait forever?”

The second mission type, ARC, keeps the primary objective in one place while you refine resources from around the map to keep it powered. It requires much more coordination, and you engage with both the combat and building mechanics far more frequently. That said, it's locked behind an account level that took me around an hour and a half of game time to grind to unlock, which seems like way too much for what amounts to half of the content available.

Both available mission types end with your team protecting an asset from egregiously bland waves of bug invaders by building a base around it. There are five types of bugs so far, but three of them are effectively just the same type of melee warrior as far as how you deal with them. The gunner and grenadier are relatively uncommon and shake the formula up a bit, though, as their long-distance threats are always priorities on the field.

Besides the same menu of bugs, both mission types also share most of the same limited amount of sub-objectives, meaning you’ll be doing the same things largely the same way in either mode. I preferred AAS mode largely because of this – any added tactical element that ARC mode brings only serves to expose how shallow the list of things to do during any given moment in Extinction is.

The escape dashes always felt appropriately desperate and dangerous.


The base-building systems are very simple and constructing things like walls, bunkers, and gun turrets is as easy as dropping a template and fabricating the piece with your repair tool. That intuitiveness is good, because when bugs start tearing through your defenses there’s very little room to fumble around while repairing or rebuilding them. You will need to coordinate with your team on how to lay out your base, though, because anything you place can be altered or destroyed by anyone else.

Once the ARC finishes its business (or is destroyed before it can) there’s a frantic sprint towards an extraction point, during which self-respawning is disabled and the bugs start multiplying in greater numbers. These escape dashes always felt appropriately desperate and dangerous, and the tension is high every time even if the reward for successful extraction is just more meta progression points than if you were killed in action.

Dying while fighting the good fight is an incredibly easy thing to do in Extermination. Your weapons are adequate at killing bugs, but even teams of 16 players can find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the bug menace. This makes the Operator class the most valuable of the three available in Early Access, as healing comes at a premium and trying to get fallen soldiers back on their feet after falling without their clutch revival drone is a risk often not worth taking.

The other two classes, Hunter and Bulwark, have unique features in their jetpack and deployable mobile fortifications, respectively, but they don’t have the same obvious value as the healer. Besides which, their offensive capabilities don’t differentiate themselves from one another until you’re a ways down their tech trees, which locks away their unique weapons and passive perks behind XP gates. After roughly 15 hours of playtime I'm around tier 6 for the Hunter and Operator classes, which means I have one other primary and secondary weapon option, a perk to equip, and additional gear like thermal mines on top of your standard grenades. My Bulwark is tier 11, and is starting to come into his own as the class that can support itself by laying down gates that stun enemies, or pack a uniquely large punch with their Nuclear Det Pack. Classes max out at tier 20, so you’ll have your work cut out for you if you want to unlock everything.

With so many bugs and players on screen at once across the giant map, Extermination runs with remarkable stability. It’s not glitch-free – I’ve been stuck on my fair share of terrain – but the only major bugs I encountered on a regular basis were of the giant, explodey variety. The menus in the lobby are a bit more frustrating though: your loadouts and gameplay settings reset every time you exit and restart, so you’ll need to reequip your weapons and perks and readjust your mouse sensitivity and sound options at the beginning of each session. This is very annoying.

Verdict

Starship Troopers: Extermination’s early access version is pretty light on content, but already does a decent job of pitting a large group of marines against an overwhelming force of alien bugs, and building fortifications gives you something to coordinate on as you hold out long enough for a thrilling extraction. That said, my recommendation to those who would need to be convinced to drop their current forever game and enlist is to wait and see how early access comes along over the next year. The building mechanics are solid and add a new dimension to the co-op squad shooter genre, but you’ll exhaust most of that novelty quickly and then have to grind out your new class abilities repeating the same missions dozens of times. With some time, Extermination could become the premier bug-stomping romp for big teams, but in its current early state, mobile infantry can do the dying without you.

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