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Here’s my latest round-up of recommended sci-fi games sitting in my library I’ve been able to give some time to in the last few months.

Starship Troopers: Terran Command

After 10 hours’ worth of play, I can happily recommend this Starcraft-style top-down RTS that adheres faithfully to Verhoeven’s visualisation of Heinlein’s timeless sci-fi world. 

There’s nothing groundbreaking about it in terms of mechanics, other than a fairly smart system of terrain usage where troops can fire over the top of units at lower elevation and occlude the fire of anybody standing behind them. But the game takes the resulting level of tactical micromanagement and runs with it wholeheartedly.

This makes it slower-paced than other blob-orientated, actions-per-second-heavy games such as Company Of Heroes or the Starcraft series. It’s much more about nailing the individual positioning of your limited, fragile squads of Mobile Infantry as they carve up the endless hordes of Klendathu bugs. It splits the player’s time roughly equally between swarm-defence gameplay and a fire-and-manoeuvre simulator when your guys do break out to destroy the evil bug nests.

It also nails the old Starship Troopers movie’s central conceit – that the player’s Federation masters don’t much care about the lives of their troops or civilians. In fact, they’re much more concerned with exploiting every event for the relentless Verhoeven-style propaganda films the game is replete with between stages.

Would you like to know more? Check it out on Steam.

Warhammer 40k: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters

This XCOM alike from British firm Frontier Developments is another game which nails its worldbuilding both in terms of atmosphere and the way it interacts with the actual game structure. It’s also one of the few games that the company has managed to put out that doesn’t suffer too badly from obvious underdevelopment at launch – I’m looking at Elite Dangerous historically and their recent F1 Manager game when I say that.

Chaos Gate is a turn-based tactical strategy game with a high degree of difficulty that puts the player in command of a roving squad of Grey Knights-chapter psychic Space Marines, who also happen to represent one of the more interesting angles the mega-franchise has come up with for its hyper-macho science-fictional angels of death.

Having read a few of their books lately too, I can say the game really communicates the idea that the Grey Knights are effectively tasked with an ongoing suicide mission against the ever-encroaching forces of Chaos. The player is under time pressure more or less from the opening sequence, commanding a small and previously battle-damaged force trying to stop the spread of a demonic plague and its attendant swarms of Gothic pain cultists.

Mechanically, that means making constant triage decisions for the player – in the strategic layer, for example – do I take the time to complete the harder, more time-consuming mission that may injure more of my precious marines (potentially degrading their abilities for good), or the two easier missions that may not hold back the spread of the plague enough to buy my team the time to research the next set of upgrades they need to survive its next inevitable evolution?

The above is the classic XCOM formula of course, but Chaos Gate really builds the same tough decisions into the tactical battle layer, too. The player’s squad is always horrendously outnumbered and under threat of the arrival of even more enemy reinforcements, which very effectively forces you to take risks and milk the absolute best out of your troop’s skills and abilities in the battle map as well.

This is a breath of fresh air in a genre that normally rewards extreme risk aversion and, with its high degree of attention to the grim-dark aesthetic a Warhammer game needs, it easily earns a recommendation from me.

Infection Free Zone Demo

– Releasing Q3/4 2023

I mentioned this zombie-apocalypse survival game in a previous post as one to watch because of its unique technology that allows the player to play in the real geography of their hometown.

For Steam’s recent Next Fest, the developer released a playable demo which I’ve sunk a few hours into – and the game is shaping up nicely. The locations in the demo are currently limited, but it shows enough of the underlying systems to say it’ll be worth some time when release date comes around.

It’s ultimately a horde-defence RTS game following something like the pattern of Conan Unconquered, with a build your base and scavenge phase in daylight and inexorably expanding vampire-zomboid assaults at night. 

As I’d hoped, it’s all curiously brought that little bit more to life by the fact that the shops and houses I’m sending my survivors to scavenge in are places I’ve actually visited in real life, in the demo’s case, in the city centre of Cambridge, UK.

The game is not finished and still needs some work of course, but so far I’ve enjoyed leading its hordes of vampire people and dogs into withering fire zones, and found that same State Of Decay sense of serendipity on the discovery of badly needed canned goods in a coffee shop on the banks of the Cam, where I might once have enjoyed a cappuccino.

Wishlist it now and give the demo a go.

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