Whether you are a fan of Paul Verhoven’s absolutely magnificent camp-filled film, or Robert Heinlein’s original book which has little to do with the film beyond the name on the cover, one thing is certain – the only good bug is a dead bug. Casting you as a member of the Deep Space Vanguard, an elite Special Forces group within Mobile Infantry, you’ll start your fight on the planet Valaka as you try to push back the insect horde. It’s time to lock and load – c’mon you apes, you want to live forever?!
Starship Troopers: Extermination comes to us from Offworld Industries, a team that has spent every moment since their founding in 2014 making excellent cooperative fighters. Their game Squad sold over 3 million copies, and both Post Scriptum and Beyond the Wire focused on massive 50v50 battles. To say they understand large-scale combat is an understatement. Now they are flipping the script, putting up to a dozen players in a squad-based cooperative battle against thousands of bugs.
To check out Starship Troopers: Extermination I gathered a crew. Henry, Laura, and Cassie joined me to form Knightshade’s Roughnecks and we set off to basic training. When you are teamed up, you can have a squadron of up to 16 players, and these are further broken down into squads of four. From there, you’ll pick between three playable classes – Hunter, Bastion, and Operator. Let’s break those down:
With a nod to squad-based games, all three classes start with a primary weapon, a sidearm, a grenade, and a class-specific tool of some sort. Earning XP lets you level up, unlocking new weapons and items. There are slots available for future-developed items, letting us know up front that this is still very much in flux, but also that the team has a plan for what that content will eventually be.
The Hunter class is your assault class, as the name suggests – your front line gunners. They start with a basic Morita MK1 Assault Rifle with iron sights, a sidearm, a frag grenade, and hopefully enough luck that they’ll live long enough to unlock anything else. At level 3, they’ll unlock their first utility item – the thermo charge explosive. Going up from there you’ll get an ammo fabricator, a bug mine, some beacons that can buff your damage or heal your team, and even a nuclear bomb to stuff down a bug hole to shut it. Flipping over to the pair of perk slots, you’ll see these start to unlock at level 4. These remind me of perks from games like Call of Duty as they offer up things like a movement boost when you take a hit, an additional mag for your weapons, grenade cooldowns, and a boost after a melee strike, just to name a few. If there’s an area that could use a whole lot more variety, it’s this category as the list is far too small right now. I’d love to see some specialization here as I think that’ll be a huge differentiator for this game – time will tell. When you get to the field you’ll find one last goodie waiting for you that you don’t have to unlock – jump jets. The Assault class can run faster than the other two, and they can take the high ground easily with a quick boost from their jump jets. This is great to get to the top of a tower emplacement so you can rain down hell on your foes.
The Bastion class is your heavy assault crew. They deploy with the heaviest armor (sorry, no Power Armor…yet) and are capable of entering Siege Mode to gain a bit of weapon stability and improved defense. While they also start with a Morita at level 1, almost immediately they are moving up to heavy weapons like the Morita MK3 SAW – a heavy machinegun with a massive fire rate, the highest stagger capability, and a shedload of ammo. It brings the pain and is a must-have when the infestation gets overwhelming, but you’ll need to aim it to keep it from walking all over the place. Currently their utility items are the same as the Hunter, but in a slightly different order. Heading into Perks we see an entirely new set of boosts exclusive to this class. Additional armor, improved building speeds, better grenade cooldown and additional magazines are the watchword of this class. The biggest differentiator, however, is a metal plate armored circle that they can put around themselves, allowing them to shelter in place and rip apart bugs with relative safety.
Operators are your last class, at least at the start of Early Access. These are the Engineers of your group While we see this trooper start with the Morita MK1 like everyone else, their next unlock is the first rifle with a scope – the TW-202i Morita Hawkeye that we saw Rasczak take from Sugar to take out the comms trooper in the movie. They are also the only class that starts with a healing stim, able to heal and instantly revive a downed trooper. The perks are very similar to that of the Bastion and Hunter, but again in a slightly different order with a greater emphasis on build speed. This is again an area where I hope the team spends the time to build out this class. It’d be great to see class-specific perks that would differentiate them from the other two a bit more. Once you are in the field you’ll find that you have two class-specific goodies right out of the gate – a Resource Backpack and a Medical UAV. The Resource Slot lets you carry an additional Resource Canister, instead of only being able to carry one. This is a huge boost to build speeds, and they can sprint while carrying a resource canister, making this class extraordinarily useful to setting up and maintaining your defensive structures. The Medical UAV is a massive boost to your crew’s survivability as it will heal and revive everyone on the field instantly. The cooldown time is long, but it can be the difference between people making it back to the boat in their boots or in a bodybag.
On the other side of the conflict, the bugs are happy to chomp you in half like a dim-witted Federal Network reporter on Klendathu. At present there are five classes of bugs – Drones, Warriors, Gunners, Plasma Grenadier, and Tiger Elite, each with their own capabilities and advantages. I suspect this list will grow as the year marches on, and I’m excited to see it. A world of clicky, bitey angry bugs awaits.
From the training sequence, everything looks pretty easy. As your DR-4 Viking dropship descends through orbit you’ll be given a briefing from Fleet on the mission ahead. When you make landfill and that door opens and you stream out of the boat alongside 17 other players, you’ll quickly find that chaos can cause you to lose track of the mission. The bugs are EVERYWHERE! Cutting them down, you’ll see a marker on your HUD indicating a spot that Fleet has designated for Mobile Infantry to take and hold. Rushing towards that objective you’ll find something you’ll need to accomplish, like activating a panel, and occasionally an ammo drop to help you restock while you hold off the advancing swarm. Inching across the battlefield you’ll slowly secure five zones until you are tasked with the primary objective. It’s here that you’ll dig in, construct a defensive perimeter, and try to complete that final tasking. This is often recovering some data, retake a base, secure a refinery, nuke a bug hole, and more, meaning you will often need to hold a position for several minutes. The worlds are concentrated right now, but we did some walking around and found some bug nests and caves that could be used to expand the overall gameplay loop.
At any time up to this point, if you get cut down, your Operators can help you back up with their drones or a stimpack. Other players can slowly revive or heal you. Once recovery operations have begun and you rush to get back to the extraction point, respawns are no longer allowed. If you die, your corpse is staying planetside as chow for the Arachnids.
If you remember your training you will survive…probably.
Back at the boat you’ll tally up your experience. How many troopers safely extracted, how many of each type of bug you’ve squashed, if you revived any allies, and any completed objectives come together to give you your XP total for the round. It’ll also tally up and immediately unlock any new toys available at your newest level. You’ll also see how each of the squads that participated in the landing performed, as well as how you did amidst your team.
The team at Offworld Industries says that they expect the game to be in Early Access for about a year. At launch there are two modes available – AAS and ARC. The gameplay loop for AAS (as it currently stands) is that you’ll drop into a hotzone with a handful of objectives to accomplish. Completing those objectives will give your team valuable resources that you’ll be able to use to build and defend your base. Ultimately, there’s no holding back the bug horde, so at some point you’ll need to displace back to an extraction point to escape. As training often does, it sounds simple enough – but that’s before you are face to face with an 8 foot tall monster dead set on rending you into tiny chunks.
ARC tweaks the formula a little bit, requiring a gas that you’ll have to mine and carry back to a dropoff node. This means having to guard the carriers as they ferry the goods from one area to another. You’ll need to hit level 5 to unlock this mode. It’s a bit of a slog right now, and not all that different than the AAS mode, but like that mode, it has the bones of something good in there. It’ll be good to see it evolve over the next year.
In both cases, once the deluge of bugs begins, you’ll be frantically building and rebuilding your structure once you reach the “establish a base” section. There’s a brief respite where you’ll be able to set up your structures using a simple build system that has you placing walls, gates, electrified fences, turret emplacements, and towers for overwatch. The bugs will crash against the walls, Grenadier bugs will lob plasma at them, and Tiger Elite bugs are large enough to crawl over the top of these walls, and the only way you’ll be able to hold them back is by repairing them and bolstering them with things like landmines. This system is a little clunky, but it does show promise.
Behind the scenes, the team is already working furiously on improvements. The game used to have a cap of 12 on the Squad size – that’s already been expanded to 16 troopers. There are also two tabs that are grayed out currently that point to some larger systems waiting to be fleshed out – Quartermaster and War Map tabs are grayed out. Coming soon is a Horde mode to join the other two modes. While Offworld Industries hasn’t released their roadmap yet, you can see a bit of it already.
One thing is certain. Once the ground shakes and the bugs emerge, there is a frantic desperation that comes with them. Their numbers are overwhelming, and as you run from the ever-growing flood, you’ll feel a constant pressure. For every bug you kill, three crawl over its corpse, and once you reach the highest Arachnid threat levels, there’s no stopping them. While there are plenty of areas that will see some attention over the next year, the team has absolutely nailed the sense of desperation you feel as you flee the scene.
I can’t believe it’s taken 26 years for us to get our hands on a Starship Troopers FPS, but what Offworld Industries has built is absolutely worth the wait. Remember, service guarantees citizenship! Now, enough talk – let’s mount up. C’mon you apes, you wanna live forever?!
Starship Troopers: Extermination is now in Early Access on Steam, with a 2024 expected final release date.