Early Access Preview: Interstellar Marines

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Multiplayer shooters are a dime a dozen these days, so breaking into that market is always going to be tough. With Interstellar Marines, Zero Point Software is looking to bring something fresh to the game.

Does it succeed? Not yet, but it has potential.

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Being in Early Access on Steam, having very little exposure means that there just aren’t enough people playing right now. However, when you do jump into a game it’s fast and frantic, exactly as a game of this nature should be.

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Billed as a co-op game, Interstellar Marines offers up to 8v8 team matches, with the option of either killing everyone on the other team, or capturing the control points on the map. If neither objective is met, it goes down to the age old mechanic of who scored the most points once time runs out.

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Accumulating points earns you higher ranks, whether those points come from capturing points, neutralising enemy-controlled points or just plain neutralising enemies. However, rank seems to be nothing more than a number at this point, offering no noticeable rewards. This is actually a refreshing approach, with rank only really signalling the skill level of the player – not how overpowered he is from perks and the like.

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Also, unlike most online FPS, you won’t just respawn after a short wait upon death. You’ll have to wait a lengthy time (too lengthy, being over two minutes sometimes) unless a team member scores a kill or capture during your stay in purgatory. This results in an instant respawn, which is an interesting mechanic that encourages a more tactical approach. It doesn’t always work, but it’s a nice try nonetheless.

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More tactics are required when navigating each map, too. Set in specially designed arenas, each map can go dark at set points or the weather can become more intense. This means that you may have to use your torch to see, at the expense of stealth; or remove your visor to negate the raindrops that obscure your vision, but this will sacrifice your HUD and leave you blind to capture points, ammo count and even player arrows – literally leaving you with no idea who your friends are.

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The changing conditions also show how nice this game looks at times. The lighting effects cast shadows across every surface, sometimes giving away player positions, and the weather effects look gorgeous when caught in a downpour. It’s a game that shows what the Unity engine can really do. That being said, the game could benefit from a few less grey textures.

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It also needs optimising. The framerate can jump all over the place even on a reasonable system, especially when maps become heavily populated by both FX and players. And when aiming requires extreme accuracy (hitboxes feel far too small) this chugging can result in a fair few untimely deaths.

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The matchmaking suffers problems. There appears to be no rigid structure, only stuffing new players on to whichever team needs a player – and if players quit, the game won’t reshuffle the teams between rounds. Only at the beginning of each new map can you swap teams to even out the playing field. I ended up on my own against two or three opponents on more than one occasion, in a fight I could never win.

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Lag can be a problem too. During a few games a number of players experienced heavy lag, which left them with no option but to leave the game. It’s an especial shame when one of those players had previously commented on how good the game was before that point.

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This leads me nicely on to the community. Despite the small number of current players, or perhaps because of that fact, there is a lot of friendliness in the game so far. Players will offer advice and help to those asking about the game’s mechanics, some will praise the skills of others or just note how much they’re enjoying themselves. This is a welcome change of pace when compared to the horror stories of other online shooters today.

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It isn’t always going to be online-only, if the new update is any indication. Bots have been added, albeit as a small taster and to test out their AI – which is brutal as of the time of writing.

They’re extremely accurate, often killing you with a single shot (or single burst, if their first bullet misses) if they get the drop on you.

And get the drop on you, they shall. If you do manage to take down a bot, the others will react with ruthless intelligence, moving in the direction of gunfire and flanking your position.

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With tweaks to bring the bot AI down from SAS levels of killing efficiency, this new addition could add a great new dimension to Interstellar Marines’ core gameplay. And with the promise of Titan robots and shark creatures (I’m being deadly serious) appearing in future updates, the current £14 price point could well be worth the investment.

And with the game being in Early Access, many of the problems listed here are fixable with regular updates.

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If nothing else, with proper campaign content, AI bots and many other features to look forward to as development progresses, Interstellar Marines is a game to watch.

Gary Bailey

I'm a writer who has been gaming since I was 4, playing Dizzy and Jet Set Willy on Spectrum. Big fan of action RPGs, racing games and survival horror, but I'll generally give most games a chance.

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