Interstellar Marines is one of those games I’ve kept an eye on since I first heard about it last year. Like a lot of indie games, the devs seem to have the right idea, but I always wonder how the final product will be. We’ve all seen something promising, among indie and mainstream alike, that looked good at first but then resembled lipstick on a pig when you had it in front of you.
Zero Point Software has done a tremendous job of living up to expectations, and exceeding them; I have rarely seen a game that brought together so many good elements and turned out a high quality product such as this, that was not already under the thumb of one of the high end publishers.
Interstellar Marines first came on the scene as an early access project just over a year ago; now available on Steam for 18.99 USD it features versions playable on Linux, PC and Mac. I dove into Interstellar Marines just over a month ago, and was thoroughly shocked at how much I enjoyed it.
The story of Interstellar Marines is still vague, and may change as development continues. Being in the Early Access stage still, it is not so much a work in progress as a work in realization.
The core story revolves around mankind’s reach for the stars, and inevitable first contact. In first co-op map, titled The NeuroGen Incident, up to four players are on an investigation aboard a space station orbiting Earth. Along the way, rogue robots attack the players, and unless you have some backup you will be overwhelmed. The story behind the mission lays the foundation for the eventual single player and co-op campaigns. Other multiplayer maps pit teams of players against one another in classic multiplayer matches set against the backdrop of an underground military training facility in Area 51.
I wouldn’t say that Interstellar Marines is on the bleeding edge of graphics, but it certainly looks better than most of the indie titles out there. The developers took their time with a lot of the details, and though it could be tightened up just a bit, you won’t be disappointed. Looking at the environment, I am reminded of the very first Crysis, and FEAR , where the game world had several points that seem ultra realistic. I think the tipping point to make this title among the best, graphically, would be to add just a touch more environment interaction and some effects. As an early access game, I would almost think it were the finished product, so I can’t really complain.
Now this is a hard one. I have been so engrossed in gameplay that I have not paid any attention to background music at all. All of the matches and co-op games I have played are extremely tactical in nature, so mostly the players creep about. The actual sound of weapons fire is not on par with most modern shooters, but you really aren’t talking modern weapons, so who knows how they are supposed to sound?
Perhaps the best feature of the sounds is player footsteps. Wearing combat gear and running around on metal decks, you are bound to make some noise. During the tactical matches, you will hear nearby players and AI enemies as they move around in your area, and what may have been a successful ambush will quickly turn sour if you move too quickly
The controls and game modes are much like any other FPS, with a focus on tactical gameplay. Your weapons for the moment consist of a rapid fire SMG and a slightly more powerful carbine with a scope. All are fully automatic, so it is up to you to exercise trigger discipline. You may select from using the laser sight which is visible to everyone near you, or the flashlight if you wish to navigate in those multiple areas of complete darkness, or even both if you are feeling truly adventurous.
Reload speeds are about what I would expect, perhaps just a bit slower, but do interfere with your ability to defend yourself while doing so (as it should, so use cover, dummy).
The movement feels very much like the Half Life Titles, which the game draws as part of its inspiration, or maybe Quake 4. There are places on the map I would love to get into and use to my advantage, but so far there seems to be no creative way of doing so. Regardless of that, there are many areas where one can set an ambush, use as a defensible position or transition from cover to cover as needed. Along the same, however, there are many chokepoints, and open zones you have to be careful when crossing. On top of that, some maps feature shifting terrain.
I imagine as time and development progresses, we will begin to see things such as variable attachments, different types of ammo, grenades or other accessories that add a little more flavor for the loadouts. But the impression I get is that we will not see the elaborate setups we see in higher priced games, but rather a return to an older and more simple style of game play where you don’t spend all day trying to figure out what color your rifle should be.
One advantage to an Early Access game is that the nature of it is constantly evolving. You could quite literally come back after 24 hours and find a host of changes, tweaks and improvements. The first time I played, I was greeted with a selection of multiplayer games, yet when NeuroGen was released, I was thrust right into a co-op experience. There is no manual, no map that I can find, and only a HUD that provides basic information, such as the general location of an objective.
I like the change of pace, and the flux of content as it is constantly updated. Zero Point Software has undertaken a hell of a project, and I am looking forward to more.
Normally I reserve my highest ratings for free games; after all you can’t beat something that is GIVEN to you for free, but Interstellar Marines is perhaps the first paid title I have awarded with the perfect score in value. As I stated earlier, the cost of Interstellar Marines is a basic 18.99 USD. For that, you get access to the game now, and all future updates, according to Steam. Various other offerings include extra keys for friends, your name in the credits and so forth. I’ve experienced the frustration of pre-ordering a game based on hype, only to be disappointed on release day. Generally, those titles cost 60 USD or more; for less than a third of that you get to see what you would very well consider a finished game, and then enjoy updated content as it is released, rather than spend another 50 bucks to join some L337 ( “leet” or elite, for those of you that don’t speak keyboard commando) membership, that you have to renew with every new release.
It seems to me that Zero Point Software was founded by devs that game, and want a game that doesn’t make you have an aneurysm every time you load it up. Is it perfect? No, but it is a step in the right direction. I would put Interstellar Marines toe to toe with current big ticket titles today, and it would not only stand up in comparison, but shine in delivery. Interstellar Marines is like a cold beer on a hot day; it’s bound to be superior, it has Marines as part of the title.
Interstellar Air Force or some shit would just be silly.