Interstellar Marines is an early access title available on the Steam platform. It’s being produced by a small team called Zero Point Software, based in Copenhagen. It’s an indie title that refuses to be classified as such, they’re clearly aiming to emulate an AAA product. For a title that’s been in development since late 2004 I can’t help but feel like the gameplay is a bare-bones, even for an early access title. Sure, all the elements are there, but they really only exist at their most basic forms. You’ve got your co-op – which is a recently added feature, multiplayer, and even a single player campaign, but when it comes down to it the gameplay feels bland and there are countless other FPS titles that do it better. The textures are on par with the first F.E.A.R game (remember that?), and the outdoor effects remind me a lot of Nether: the graphics are pretty from a distance, but are still plain and they need a lot of work to bring more life to them. While the tactical multiplayer combat can be fun when you’re playing with a competent team, the gameplay still needs a lot of tweaking before it will ever reach the heights of more proficient tactical shooters like Rainbow Six or Insurgency.
"I engaged with it for about 45 minutes before I finally decided to free myself of the boredom."
When I initially booted up Interstellar Marines I took it upon myself to jump right into the single player campaign. I engaged with it for about 45 minutes before I finally decided to free myself of the boredom. I’m not trying to be overly critical here, and I understand that this is being developed by a small amateur team, but there is absolutely nothing exceptional about the single-player experience. The minor problems that plague the title’s overall gameplay are amplified by the distinct lack of level direction, the extremely boring level design and the mediocre enemies. There was nothing appealing about the enemy types, and the game’s simplistic objectives resulted in me feeling more like an errand boy than a futuristic bad-ass. I can tell they’re trying to emulate System Shock, but there’s just not enough tension to keep me enthralled.
Co-op is essentially marred by the same issues. At times it was a bit entertaining when played with friends, but I ran into significant lag spikes, menu crashes, and compatibility errors during my time with it. The bland android enemies are a far cry from the landsharks and mechs that have been promised and teased by the developers in previously released trailers.
"At times it was a bit entertaining when played with friends, but I ran into significant lag spikes, menu crashes, and compatibility errors during my time with it."
The online multiplayer is where the game beings to shine. This mode is essentially a diamond in the rough, buried deep within the boundaries of an immense amount of disappointing content. If you can get past the extremely limited player base (I could only find one server in EU with more than 3 people in it), there’s a lot of fun to be had here. The game offers up what is essentially a small scale form of Conquest (if you’re familiar with the Battlefield series). It pits two teams against one another on a map full of control points. Capture these points or kill the enemy team.
Simple concept, right? There is one catch: two-minute long respawn timers. Once you die, you’re out until your team captures a new point or kills an enemy. This gameplay choice was pretty unnerving at first, but it actually ended up giving some level of punishment to death. Death actually has a meaning, it’s the ultimate form of punishment in this title and I applaud the developers for their design choice. Aside from Counter-Strike, there’s no title that’s more punishing for multiplayer shooters. Be tactical, or be dead. Work with your team, or don’t have fun. The game forces you to do this in a way that doesn’t feel frustrating, it feels rewarding. Wiping out the enemy team and surviving long enough to see the round end is an incredibly rewarding experience.
"I’m not saying that people should move at Quake speeds across the maps, it’s a tactical shooter, it should be slower, but it takes way too long to traverse some of the bigger map types in multiplayer."
Interstellar Marines’ gameplay is an extremely mixed bag and could easily benefit from some tweaks. Walking feels too slow, and sprinting feels just as awful. I’m not saying that people should move at Quake speeds across the maps, it’s a tactical shooter, it should be slower, but it takes way too long to traverse some of the bigger map types in multiplayer. The HUD doesn’t offer appealing information, isn’t easy to read or identifiable – if anything the most important information is buried amongst other text; and I detest the design choice to incorporate the player’s helmet into the sides of the screen. Hit-box detection is definitely off, there’s an extreme delay in bullet travel (that doesn’t seem to be a result of ping) and I’m personally not a fan of the game’s health system. Aside from some subtle audio cues there seems to be no way to tell just how much damage you’ve taken in a fight.
So, what makes the game fun then? Well, the immense sense of satisfaction that comes with a job well done, the incredibly supportive and helpful community, and, when you have a good team backing your every move, the game sometimes does feel like it could become an interesting competitive tactical shooter.
"Though progress really does seem to be ramping up, I can’t help but suggest that people spend their money on something else, at least for the time being."
Honestly, Interstellar Marines needs a lot of work. There are a number of elements that have been promised that are not at all featured in the game (seriously, guys… where are the landsharks?). Zero Point Software claims to have found inspiration in games like System Shock, Rainbow Six, and Half-Life, but all the elements of tension, character design, level design, and gameplay are absent. As of right now ZP has a long way to go to deliver on those promises. Though progress really does seem to be ramping up (the developers seem to finally be releasing regular updates), I can’t help but suggest that people spend their money on something else, at least for the time being. In a market as saturated as the FPS genre, you’re bound to find a more satisfying purchase somewhere else.
Preview by: Palmer Sturman | Previewed on: PC