The Lighthouse Customer: Interstellar Marines

I don't think he wants to play a nice game of chess.

Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, screaming in space can definitely be heard in Interstellar Marines.

As an interstellar marine, it goes without saying that I’m the best of the best. I’m tough as nails. I’ve seen it all and I’m ready for anything. I scream like a preschooler and fire entire clips in a messy panic. Okay, maybe the last one doesn’t fit with the image, but I can’t help it: when malfunctioning robots run at me from the darkness I scream. Then I fire a flood of panicky bullets into them far longer than strictly necessary. Then I run away and try to hide. I’m an interstellar marine. And I’m terrified.

I step inside The Neurogen Incident, the newly released co-op campaign for first-person shooter Interstellar Marines. Having never played before, I figured I’d try it single-player first to get my bearings, which is a horrible mistake. I prowl the dark corridors of the Neurogen facility, which has experienced power loss and, I have to assume, worse problems. I creep through the gloom and crawl through the ductwork, finding a few generators that restore power to the facility’s sliding doors. Eventually, I realize I can hear something.

Footsteps. Distant metal footsteps on metal floors. They’re clonking around, stopping, starting, pacing, somewhere inside the facility. There are voices, too, robot voices, speaking not words but sort of… moans. Groans. Whines. Queries? I don’t know if they’re talking to each other or themselves. It’s nerve-wracking, though, as the minutes tick by and I still haven’t seen any of them.

Standing in the dark. Back turned. I'm sure this will turn out fine.

Eventually, I come around a corner and spot my first bot. He’s standing there in the dark, his back to me, and there are few things as unsettling as finding someone or something standing alone in the dark and they’re not facing you. That’s usually because they turn around and have a monster face, but these are robots! They won’t have monster faces, will they? I slowly creep close until I’m standing right behind it. It jerks abruptly then runs away into the dark. There is something awful, I think, about something scary that runs away from you. Part of it is the surprise, but most of it the knowledge that it’ll be back.

Not pictured: the other 7,656 bullets I fired making sure it was down.

It’s back. It sounds a hideous… scream? Alarm? Warning? It’s an awful noise, the cry of a robot that has witnessed a horror of some sort, as if it had spent years in Jabba the Hutt’s ridiculous robot torture chamber and has suddenly just remembered it through robot regression therapy. Anyway, the robot shrieks and its metal footsteps are suddenly clomping my way and then its face — it has no face — is in my face and it’s one of the scariest things ever. Luckily, I’m a cool interstellar marine so I make a cool noise like “NnnngHHHHAOOOOOH!” and fire 1,536 bullets into it and into everything else in the vicinity and then I reload and whirl around and fire 4,375 more bullets at whatever else is around, which is nothing.

THIS WILL NEVER STOP SCARING ME

Okay, so, a robot startled me! It’s okay to be startled, even for an interstellar marine. As I progress through the level, I’m attacked by more robots, their hurried footsteps and awful tinny howls preceding each attack. As an interstellar marine, I adapt to the situation, and soon they’re just like any other enemy. I’m lying, of course! Somehow these robots never get any less scary. I can’t quite say why. It’s their footsteps, I think. You can hear them constantly, and you get used to their pace, and then they suddenly quicken and your gut grows cold.

I've got your back, partner! By which I mean, you go first because I'm scared.

Eventually, I decide I’m too scared to play further on my own, and also, I’ve run out of ammo (because when I shoot, I shoot 9,422 bullets at a time), and then a robot punches me to death, and there’s no save points so I have to start over. Instead, I join a co-op session of the same mission. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make things less scary for me. It’s almost worse, actually. The other players are already elsewhere in the level, and I have to find them. Now, in addition to creeping around in the dark by myself, hearing the robots pacing, then shrieking, then running, I also hear the thudding of distant, panicky gunfire. It’s like listening to a horror movie while running around trying to get into the horror movie. I don’t want to get into the horror movie! I want to play Desert Golfing. Nothing attacks me in Desert Golfing.

Welcome to a deathmatch! Uh... best of luck.

Having had enough of the horrible robots, I spend a fair amount of time in multiplayer team deathmatch instead. It’s quite a different-feeling experience than I’ve had in arena combat before. It’s even a bit scary and startling in its own way. Maps, often, are dark, sometimes even pitch black for long periods of time, meaning you’ll need to creep around with your flashlight on, which makes you feel like a big, obvious, interstellar target. Some control point maps change shape as you play, with walls and floors being raised or lowered, and domination zones move from one area to another forcing players out of their hiding spots. There’s really no way to get comfortable or feel like you’re running the show, even when you’re winning.

Gin a body meet a body, creepin' thro' the dark.

The weather changes, too, like on one map where a light rain at the start becomes a massive downpour during the match, the skies going black and the only illumination coming in flashes of lightning. There can even be a bit of bad weather indoors: on another map, fire sprinklers activate and spray the shadowy arena with water. This all means that running and gunning, for the most part, doesn’t work: someone more patient and stealthy will cut you down from a hiding place. It’s a tense, eerie, deliberate sort of match punctuated with bursts of frenzied combat.

Hm. Do I see someone there? I think I see someone there.

Crouching in a dark corner, waiting to catch a glimpse of someone in the flickering strobes or red warning lights or lightning flashes, then repositioning yourself and waiting for the next flicker to see if they’re still there. I’ve never really played a multiplayer shooter like that before. I like it! Also, it has no robots. I like that!

Ayup. Saw someone there.

Despite the long, long development cycle of this game, it still has a long way to go, but still, I was impressed. It seems to be shaping up nicely, and it’s genuinely scary, at least for this panicky marine.

I played update 13, version 0.5.1.3, dated September 26. Interstellar Marines is available on Steam for £13/$19.

24 Comments

  1. Dwarph says:

    missed this yesterday, was scared it was going to stop.
    Glad it’s here, look forward to it every week

  2. subedii says:

    For those interested in seeing something more, Co-Optimus did a runthrough of the co-op with one of the devs, where they talk about the various plans for the game.

    EDIT:
    Which apparently I’m not allowed to post for some reason so I’ll just say you can find it on youtube.

  3. bills6693 says:

    I love the idea of this game. I backed the (unsuccessful) kickstarter, and bought into EA to support development although I don’t intend to play till it is released. Still good to hear it’s coming along nicely!

    I look forward to what they envisioned for the campaign – story driven, interesting combat. I generally steer well clear of FPS games but this one looked promising just in the sense that they have interesting ideas for the narrative (or did so back in the KS days, I haven’t kept up with it much since then).

    • TimePointFive says:

      Has this game not been around since 2006? I own it, played some of the crappy DM it had maybe a year ago… I’ve always considered this the worst purchase I made.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    This is my favourite LC so far, top stuff Chris.

    I must say though based on the article about the voice guided people you videod yourself for, this would have been fun to see a video/lets play version of!

  5. Oooch says:

    There’s some really cheap copies of this on ebay also

  6. gi_ty says:

    This sounds really fun! I will definitely keep an eye on it. Also Chris I love your weekly column. The void in my life has been filled, until next Monday of course.

  7. jellydonut says:

    I have bought heavily into the early access for this but only check in very occasionally. What they have so far is quite good, it’s got great potential.

  8. Wret says:

    Needless to say I think you’ve failed the psychological portion of your exam.

    The robots will probably be less scary when they fix hit detection. Then you can play on Realistic :V

    Then we release the shark-hounds.

  9. Bodylotion says:

    The weather effects, the darkness and the raising platforms and stuff is pretty cool and works really well. I haven’t played this game in a while maybe i should check out the robot mode. I only played the game a few hours though and I wonder if it really keeps you entertained with so many FPS games around.

    Not sure if they added some new weapons in the meantime, I can see a different scope on the screenshot though.

  10. Shooop says:

    I forgot this was even still a (planned) thing.

    You make it sound really, really interesting. Though I’m still skeptical they’ll ever manage to finish it.

  11. Jools says:

    Consider me legitimately surprised that this is actually good. This game has been in development for so long that I just assumed it’d be a complete mess if it ever actually released. Gonna pick up one of those cheap ebay copies, I think.

  12. Guvornator says:

    After the failure of Colonial Marines I’ve been looking for some FPS space terror – this looks very promising. If they ever finish it…

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      At first glimpse of the name I thought this WAS Colonial Marines…

  13. tonicer says:

    This is the only game i have ever played (in my 20 years as a C64->PC -gamer) that actually manages to scares me.

    Those CPR’s are scaaary, not by the way they look but how they act. Their AI is awesome.

    I can’t wait to play with the Landsharks.

    A good horror game doesn’t need to make the player helpless/weaponless (i’m looking at you Alien Isolation) it needs good atmosphere/immersion/AI and sound.

    That’s why i love HPL so much no splatter but atmosphere and immersion.
    Sadly almost all HPL adaptions suck and are as far away from the books as they can be.
    Only one movie (that i know of) did it right.
    The black&white silent film from 2005 “The Call of Cthulhu”.

  14. Kefren says:

    “Crouching in a dark corner, waiting to catch a glimpse of someone in the flickering strobes or red warning lights or lightning flashes, then repositioning yourself and waiting for the next flicker to see if they’re still there. I’ve never really played a multiplayer shooter like that before.”

    Aliens vs Predator! link to en.wikipedia.org

  15. Scumbag says:

    Nice to know this is turning out rather positive. I’m sure I’m not alone in writing this off totally as A) Generic sounding and B) stuck in development hell, a perfect example of everything wrong regarding kickstarter / early access etc… If the stuff people have been saying about the current quality is true then I’m glad to be proven wrong.

    • Jools says:

      Interstellar Marines actually predates Kickstarter and Early Access. I think they did try to run a KS for some absurd amount, but they didn’t hit their funding goal. The project actually started in 2005, so it in fact predates the whole indie gaming craze.

  16. SAM-site says:

    I have, based on this article and comments, purchased a 4-pack in order to scare my teenage children witless. I shall of course remain stoic and steely jawed in the face of terror.

    The world needs more co-op games.

  17. hotmaildidntwork says:

    4th picture, mystery solved. A case of Explosive Robo-Flatulence gone viral! Tragic. Truly tragic.

  18. karnie says:

    So it’s Alien: Isolation… without the alien. Cool, I may have to try it out, once I get over the PTSD of Isolation.

  19. Hex says:

    Ugh every time I read these I want to sex CL’s words.