Interstellar Marines Preview - Unique, Competitive FPS Mechanics in Space

By Published October 01, 2014 at 4:29 pm

From Danish developer Zero Point Software, Interstellar Marines is an in-development single player / competitive multiplayer / co-op FPS featuring space marines (obviously) in the near-ish 21st century future. The game is based in that middle-era of sci-fi where mankind has ventured into space to find new life forms, but hasn't quite worked out how to not be promptly murdered by them (think Alien).

We’ve been asked to take a look at Interstellar Marines for preview and review purposes -- here are some of our thoughts.

Interstellar Marines is hardly a new game; in fact, it's been available to purchase through Steam's Early Access system since July 2013. I first looked at the title in July of this year, but it was clear that development was still too early to make any meaningful judgments. Interstellar Marines intends to feature a lot of cooperative gameplay, and none of that had been implemented yet -- there were only a couple sandbox levels to showcase lighting/physics and a single multiplayer mode. Recently, though, Zero Point released the first co-op campaign, “The NeuroGen Incident,” and I had the chance to play it with one of the developers.

First, though, let's discuss the competitive multiplayer.

Interstellar Marines Gameplay

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As I mentioned, there had only been one mode implemented when I first played (“Deadlock”), but a gametype called Domination has since been added, and there are plans to add at least Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes as well. Deadlock gives your team the choice of trying to capture all control points or eliminate all enemies, but the latter can be risky: once a player becomes the last man standing on his or her team, they gain an enormous advantage, as any kills they get will both respawn teammates and capture control points. Domination, though, seems to be a King of the Hill style contest, with teams competing to control a single Domination zone.

There are a few mechanics that set Interstellar Marines’ combat apart. The player must rely on a HUD for information on their ammunition and other stats, but damage disables that overlay. The player’s helmet is removable at the cost of increased vulnerability, the idea being that it can be popped off if the visor or life support is damaged, or else just to make shouting at teammates easier (these hazards have yet to be added). On a more mundane note, there are two separate sliders in the game options for sensitivity and sensitivity while zoomed, a feature that makes using your scope much more useful. There are no target reticles, but there are iron sights and a laser sight that can be toggled (with the risk of giving away your position).

Despite limited implementation of these mechanics in the game's pre-release state, the potential for complex mechanical interactions makes for an exciting future in the game's competitive gameplay.

I had issues with some aspects of the multiplayer, but it’s hard to criticize a game that’s still in the middle of development with so many fixes and additional features planned. The Deadlock matches that I played trended heavily towards being won by elimination, making them into simple deathmatches where the victor was usually whoever managed to shoot first. There will eventually be a system for reviving teammates, though, as well as a number of optional objectives to give your team an advantage, which should make the gameplay much more interesting. I did also spot at least one hacker (invulnerable to damage) -- to keep that sort of thing under control, Zero Point is currently the only server host, but players will eventually be able to host their own. Hopefully a good anti-cheat system will be worked out by then.

To me, though, the most promising aspect of the game is the co-op, which will support up to four players and is being released in four acts. The first of these acts is Prologue, the overall premise of which is that you and your partners are in Marine training, meaning that your weapons are nonlethal tasers and enemies are robotic simulations. The NeuroGen Incident is the first of these simulation campaigns to be released -- and despite being training, it manages to be pretty spooky. The name refers to a real disaster (in-game “real”) that happened in the past, and is now recreated for military training. Beyond that, though, I’ll leave the storytelling up to Zero Point.

Early Conclusions

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I had a lot of fun with Interstellar Marines. The AI reacts to light and sound, and while it’s still very buggy, the robot enemies move with a bizarre unpredictability that’s unnerving (if anyone’s interested in developing AI, I hear Zero Point is looking for help). Teamwork is vital, and splitting up or forgetting to check rooms is punished harshly. With death. A lot of death. You can instantly revive teammates within 15 seconds—this is another feature that’s being worked on—but it’s easy to get overwhelmed by a swarm of angry crash-test dummies.

Interstellar Marines uses Unity 4 and is an impressively lightweight game in terms of size and load times; at least, it had been until the most recent update—the load time on the NeuroGen incident is more what you’d expect from a detailed FPS, but it too becomes impressive when you realize that the entire (fairly long) campaign takes place on a single map. A level that large is definitely a strain on resources, but if Zero Point can work out the kinks before release, the campaign maps will be spectacular. Really, everything is spectacular given the size of the dev team.

To conclude: Interstellar Marines is definitely a game to keep an eye on, and if you want to help out the team and get a nice discount, $15 is more than fair given the planned content. Keep in mind, though, that you aren’t buying a finished game by any means—you’re buying an in-development game with a whole lot of potential.

But they've still got to deliver.

Learn more here: http://www.interstellarmarines.com/

- Patrick Lathan.

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