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Starship Troopers Preview

Scheduled release date:

While some sci-fi fans got their first taste of Starship Troopers from Robert A. Heinlein's original novel (initially published in 1959), most of us were introduced to it with the release of director Paul Verhoeven's 1997 film adaptation. The film took a few liberties with the book's characters and content, but the overriding look at the pros and cons of fascism still came through, despite 129 minutes of beautiful special effects and bloody battle scenes.

Empire Interactive recently signed a five-year agreement with Sony Pictures to develop and publish games based upon Starship Troopers . Right away, Empire put its Strangelite development team to work on a Starship Troopers game, a first-person shooter that will come out first for the PC (early 2005) and then later on for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

Empire demoed an early build of the PC version of Starship Troopers at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), and we were lucky enough to watch, play, and be allowed to ask questions about the forthcoming game.

The game's story takes place roughly 50 years after the events that occurred in the movie, and players will find themselves taking the Roughnecks into lopsided battles against the bugs on their home turf–planets like Klendathu and Planet P.

Players can carry twelve different kinds of weapons (four at once), including shotguns, plasma rifles, grenade launchers, and short-range nukes. Ammunition appears to be unlimited. We saw three different bugs in the demo, but the full roster of insectoid enemies is slated to number around fifteen or so. The game looks like it borrows a few ideas from Bungie's now-classic Halo , the most obvious of which is the squad that follows the player-controlled character around. Like Halo , the main character has squad-mates that back him up during battle. You can't boss these teammates around (like you might in a game such as Rainbow Six ), but they will fire at the enemy on their own and take cover behind objects in the background whenever the opportunity presents itself. And, if the player makes a retreat, the CPU-controlled squadmates will provide cover fire and then make their own hasty exit.

In one scene in the demo, the player and a few CPU-controlled teammates are walking out of a ravine and into a clearing when one of them calls out the spotting of a Hopper bug (a sort-of armored fly) and a suspicious dust storm on the horizon. The Hopper bug swoops down and decapitates a marine with its wings, and very shortly the dust storm is revealed to be an army of more than 100 Warrior bugs (the stab-happy bug seen in the film's major battles). The marines put up a good fight, with bright bursts of their plasma guns shooting away the limbs and heads of the bugs at a fantastic pace, but to no avail. Soon, the greenish-yellow hail of enemy blood and guts turned red, and the marines were violently ripped apart. Lovers of video game violence are going to love Starship Troopers , because it doesn't mind showing the juicy, guts-hanging-out results of fatal wounds and involuntary amputations.

Strangelite Studio has done a great job with the game's graphics. The demo is early and has a few "clipping" and lag problems, but you can really see the game's potential coming together. Thanks to a high polygon count and a few graphical tricks, the devs were able to cram hundreds of bugs on screen without too much in the way of slowdown. The terrain doesn't look all that complex right now, but it also doesn't look like the developers intended to put much horsepower into the environment anyway. Between the flickering gun nozzles, the spent shell casings, and the bloody chunks coming from both sides of the battle, not to mention the real-time shadows cast by the bugs and marines, it's fairly obvious that most of the hardware's power has been earmarked for the actors on the battlefield and not the environment around them.

In another scene, a squad of marines comes upon a small group of Warrior bugs and ends up nose to nose with a pair of Tanker bugs (the napalm spewing enemies from the film). A trio of marines are literally melted to goo by the fiery spew of the Tankers, but one heroic marine manages to even the odds by depositing a grenade on the back of one of the bugs.

That scene sound familiar? It should. We asked Simon Prytherch, Senior Executive Producer, about that, and about a few other things.

"The story takes place after the first film," said Prytherch, "but much of the first level is based on the Whiskey Outpost scene from the movie. There are other levels in the game based upon scenes from the film, scenes that had memorable moments we wanted to recreate." When asked if the game was just going to be an allegorical retelling of the films and animated series, Prytherch was quick to give an emphatic no . "We've maintained continuity within the series, but there's an original story as well."

Starship Troopers will feature a story mode that's divided into three seperate campaigns. Mission objectives will involve the usual frag-fest and run-and-gun setups, as well as escort, escape, and stealth missions. A typical mission goes something like this: (1) Players land in a dropship and then defend the dropship from enemy attack, (2) The marines fight their way through a horde of Warrior bugs to an objective, such as a Plasma bug or a group of Tanker bugs, (3) Players sneak up to get the best angle on the objective and then take it out, (4) and then head back to the dropship with Warriors and Tanker bugs giving chase.

The PC and Xbox versions will also feature LAN and Internet-based competitive multiplayer modes. How about the PS2? "Yes," says Prytherch, who was unable to elaborate further since the PS2 and Xbox versions are so early in development.

Judging from what we saw of the early PC build, the PS2 version may need to sacrifice some polygon detail, primarily in arachnid character models, so that the game's framerate can keep up. Otherwise, there wasn't much going on in the PC version that the PS2 can't do.

The PC version of Starship Troopers is due out sometime this upcoming winter (between December '04 and March '05). The PS2 and Xbox versions are slated to follow in mid to late 2005.

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