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Starship Troopers: Extermination Has A Key Feature Helldivers 2 Lacks

A recent update to the early-access game has it primed to take on Helldivers 2 for bug-squashing superiority.


It's probably not the best year to release a Starship Troopers game. Helldivers 2, a Starship Troopers game in most ways other than name, took over the gaming world when it launched in February, and today remains a big hit for players on PS5 and PC who want a fun co-op horde shooter pitting them against countless waves of alien bugs (among other threats). Launched into Steam Early Access last year, Starship Troopers: Extermination is soon hitting 1.0 and coming to consoles, which gives it a chance to go head-to-head against Arrowhead's juggernaut. Thankfully for the team at Offworld, Starship Troopers: Extermination (STE) has a special weapon in the war for timeshare; they call it carnage.

In some of the broadest and most foundational ways, STE and Helldivers 2 are very similar; they both drop players into massive maps, give them a range of objectives to complete in the face of monstrous aliens, and then demand players extract with their limbs intact. They also both feature an ongoing galactic war metagame for players to chase and cosmetics to unlock for their troubles. Both also brim with parody--in Helldivers' case, it's obvious the original Starship Troopers movie was even a direct inspiration, while in STE's case, it's maintaining that same vibe because it's a licensed adaptation.

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Now Playing: Starship Troopers: Extermination - Carnage on Planet X-11 Dev Diary

I asked game lead Peter Maurice about the Helldivers 2-shaped elephant in the room, and he shared how he is both pleased for the team at Arrowhead and proud of what his team is creating, too. "I think I'm just happy when any developer achieves success in our game space because it's so hard. It is so hard," he said. "We've achieved success on PC, like we've sold through quite a few units and people are coming and going because they know we're [in] early access and we're trying to finish the game, but we're just really happy with what they're doing over there. They probably played our game too because our game's been in early access."

Still, Maurice said, it's not as though the games are clones. "We kind of diverge [...] We're full 16-player, we have a different gameplay loop, we have building as a core component of our loop. When you dig deeper, you pull that one layer off, you can see that there's two really distinct games: They kill bugs. We are the bug game."

I'd agree with that sentiment, too. Go past the premise of space soldiers killing bug hordes and they have many obvious differences. For example, STE also includes per-round base-building, its co-op sessions, as Maurice mentioned, stretch to 16 players per level, and it's all played in first-person. Those are important distinctions that make each round play differently than Helldivers 2, but it's the new carnage update that ultimately made me a believer during a recent hands-on session.

The Carnage on Planet X-11 update, which hit STE earlier this month as part of its roadmap to this fall's 1.0 release, allows for the dozens and dozens of dead enemy bodies in any given level to persist. This may sound unimportant, but it fundamentally changes not just the appearance of the battlefield, but the battle itself, too. It means that as a level goes on, which can take anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours, the open-field warfare can soon look like an Arachnid mass grave. Given how the number of enemies on screen at any one time seems to be much higher than what's seen in Helldivers 2, their defeated bodies add to a level of mayhem that was already noticeably cranked up a notch.

This allows for several new tactics, such as taking cover behind these bodies, burrowing through them, blowing them to bits, or even--if you're not careful--effectively drowning in them, leaving you and perhaps your allies vulnerable to further attacks as you try to claw your way out of a horde of bodies like Woody and Buzz when they fell in the claw game at Pizza Planet.

With the Carnage on Planet X-11 update, missions in Starship Troopers: Extermination are chaotic like never before.
With the Carnage on Planet X-11 update, missions in Starship Troopers: Extermination are chaotic like never before.

But the very best use-case of the mess of corpses that now litter any round of STE is its World War Z-like effect of creating makeshift platforms for the Archies to scale. As you and your allies build your base and likely fire on the enemies from behind the safety of the walls, bodies will pile and pile, allowing waves in the back to climb up over their fallen allies and into your base like the world's most unwelcome escalator.

I never played STE before this update, but in playing the game, it's hard to imagine it without this feature. It allows for virtually constant chaos, and left me feeling like even 16 allies working together would need to give their best effort to survive. The extraction ships can and will leave without every trooper making it aboard, and unlike in Helldivers where the ship lands basically on top of you when it's time to GTFO, the final portion of a mission in STE demands you move across the battlefield to the extraction zone, creating one last moment to be a hero or die trying.

As a big Helldivers 2 fan, I left my hands-on time with Starship Troopers: Extraction expecting the game to be a hit in its own right. It already has a following on PC, but coming to consoles, especially the Helldivers-less Xbox, feels like it will usher in a rebirth for the early-access game. Alongside the newly introduced carnage update, Offworld has also unveiled a single-player mode featuring Casper Van Dien, the star of the original 1997 Starship Troopers movie, now reprising his role as Johnny Rico.

In a world in which we have a half-dozen popular zombie games at any given point over the past 25 years, I do expect we have room for two in the bug-squishing genre. Starship Troopers: Extraction maybe wasn't a project that was expected to go head-to-head with a Sony-supported titan and a GOTY favorite when it first hit early access last year. But then Helldivers 2 wasn't really expected to be as big as it is either. Thanks to some standout and differentiating features--carnage the most of all--I think Starship Troopers: Extraction can find a similarly high ceiling for itself when it arrives this fall in 1.0 on PC, as well as on consoles, on October 11.

Mark Delaney on Google+

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