Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Interstellar Marines: An indie tactical space marine shooter with land sharks...

This article was originally written for Crude Pixel, an indie gaming site that I have started to contribute to. Check out the original site here.

Will you believe in the dream of an unfinished space marine shooter? It has landsharks!

All my life I have been running from something. A monstrous creature that haunts the inner recesses of my mind, revealing himself only in my worst nightmares...  I refer of course to the land shark, an unholy fusion of the body of a rabid wolf and the mouth of a great white shark with all the pent up murderous rage that exists because of the destruction of each animal’s respected ecosystem. Until recently, people thought me mad when I talked about my lifelong psychological affliction. I had to stop playing Spore, because rather than letting my imagination run riot creating all manner of cutesy characters, my game world soon became populated by the malevolent force of the land shark. First they were ambling around eating everything in sight, then they evolved to tribe level and burned all the villages down, then they became ‘civilized’ nuking every other city on the planet before taking to the stars to fulfill their horrific reign of terror upon an intergalactic stage. That was a couple of years ago now, but it appears that the land shark has now manifested itself once more within a new independently developed sci-fi shooter – Interstellar Marines by Zero Point Software.
Interstellar Marines has been in development since 2005, a very long time. The very title may be enough to make some gamers groan at the prospect of another space marine shooter but then this isn’t your usual board meeting commissioned shooter. After the success of Minecraft, last year, the developers are looking to create a trilogy of games without the backing of a mainstream publisher house. Instead Zero Point Software want to build a solid fan base community in order to support the game through its development stage. Judging by the latest trailer that was promoted through Gametrailers last week, the game certainly looks like a triple-A title and the ambition of the creators already has me sold, even if the premise does feel a little like Mass Effect meets Star Wars: Republic Commando. The game is set in the future where humanity has become a space faring civilization, and the game picks up when first contact is made with an alien race. Things perhaps do not go as well as planned with the presence of the Interstellar Marines and the fact that the game is an FPS. Did I mention there were also land sharks?    

Oh God! Oh Jesus Christ!
By going to the game’s website, you will learn much more about the game and how to get involved within the development process. By registering, you will gain access to the first three playable chapters that have been released, which can be played in browser. The first playable chapter, The Vault, acts as a kind of museum, showcasing the various characters that appear in the game. Namely the interstellar marines themselves, a Robocop styled sentry-bot and of course a pack of ravenous land sharks or Carcaradon Polemos as the game affectionately calls them. The second chapter, Bullseye, is a target range which allows the player to get a feel for the combat. Target ranges are a mainstay of traditional FPS training levels but even through this demo, Interstellar Marines, feels very good. The shooting is as tight as any major release, allowing you to fire from the hip or switching to ironsights/red dot sight to make that all important head shot. The target range gives you access to many challenges, where you compete to gain a star rating, which in turn levels up your combat proficiency as well as your weapon attachments. I found it very addictive and the ‘ping’ sound you make every time you land a headshot is satisfying.

Bullseye, a thoroughly enjoyable target range level. Check it out!
The latest chapter ‘Running Man’ is another training exercise, which gives you more freedom as you face off waves of robotic enemies. The robotic enemies are a little basic, little more than walking crash dummies for you to discharge hot lead into. As the difficulty ramps up and the robots are coming from all directions you do begin to feel as if you are under siege. On the other hand, for a game that supposedly places emphasis on the elements of a realistic tactical shooter, it perhaps feels a little mindless offering the usual run and gun protocol. It is however just a demo, designed to give the player a feel for the controls and movement of the shooter. Interstellar Marines does run very smoothly in browser, though you may need an above average rig to enjoy the graphics at their best. You can also tone down the graphics for the more modest systems out there. The look of the game perhaps suffers from an overuse of grey and could benefit from a broader colour palette. On the whole however it echoes the sterile space age environments of Mass Effect. The sound is also great, the ambience is very effective at defining the cold environments and the music is once again very reminiscent of the piano tinkerings as heard in Mass Effect or Assassin’s Creed.

A fourth playable chapter,’Deadlock’, will be available in due course and will allow players to get a feel for the multiplayer, which is supposed to employ a tactical edge to the usual frag fests that define modern FPSs. The full release ‘first contact’ has not yet been determined and is probably reliant on the growth of an interested and donating community. The website already invites players to ‘enlist’ in the interstellar marines by making a choice between three payable packages. For a modest $4.96, you will help development and gain a couple of privileges such as beta access. The developers really want you to either pay for the silver ‘Frontline’ membership at $23.44 where you will reserve a copy of the first game, or the more expensive $36.56 for the gold ‘Spearhead’ membership, which will reserve you a copy of the entire trilogy.  It should be noted that the actual release of this game is not yet set in stone since it lacks the traditional support of a mainstream publisher.  It may be seen as peculiar to pay so much for a game that may not even have a release, that has incidentally been in development for such a long time. However, the question you have to ask yourself is whether or not you are willing to endorse the concept the game? You are putting yourself in the position of publisher, which is a very exciting prospect when the game looks and plays this good. Once you have tried out the demos you can discuss your play experiences on the forums and the community are generally very welcoming to any constructive criticism or questions you might have. Perhaps you haven’t had the right qualifications or knowledge to make computer games, at least Interstellar Marines gives you the chance to have your say in the game’s development and gain some valuable insight into how you go about introducing a new IP into an overcrowded market.                       

They'll keep fighting and they'll win! Remember service guarantees citizenship!

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