Interstellar Marines: Is the Shooter That Won’t Die Worth It?
For the love of the game. It’s not just the title of a mediocre Kevin Costner baseball flick, it’s the apt slogan for Zero Point Software, the Copenhagen-based indie studio behind Interstellar Marines. The ambitious sci-fi shooter has been in the works since 2004, but due to a tortured development history hounded by funding issues, it’s nowhere near complete. So yeah, it’s safe to say these guys aren’t in it for the money. Now, the devs want our help to keep their dream alive. But is this a project that’s better off dead? I plunked down $15 on Steam for the Interstellar Marines early access package to find out.
If this is the first you’ve heard of the shooter, allow me break down its long and winding development road:
- 2004: With private funding, developers Kim Haar Jorgensen and Mikael Garde Nielsen form Zero Point Software to begin work on Interstellar Marines
- 2005: After creating a mock trailer, Zero Point secures additional funding, hires a 20-person staff, and begins work on Interstellar Marines using Epic’s Unreal Engine
- 2007: Zero Point completes an Interstellar Marines demo and trailer, and begins using them to pitch the project to publishers
- March 2008: At GDC, Zero Point meets with four major publishers who express serious interest in Interstellar Marines
- September 2008: the global financial crisis is in full swing, and publishers back away from supporting the big-budget debut from the start-up studio
- 2009: Zero Point attempts crowd funding Interstellar Marines, an early crowd funding effort that fails to gain much support
- 2009: Zero Point files for bankruptcy and lays off its entire staff
- 2010: Jorgensen and Nielsen continue work on Interstellar Marines. Unable to afford the $1 million Unreal Engine licensing fee, they begin using the open source Unity Engine
- October 2012: Zero Point pitches Interstellar Marines: Prologue on Kickstarter. The four-player co-op shooter is meant to serve as the springboard to launch the studio’s planned three-game trilogy
- November 2012: Kickstarter funding is unsuccessful as Interstellar Marines: Prologue earns just $157,906 of its $600,000 goal
- July 2013: the $15 Interstellar Marines Early Access prototype launches on Steam. Zero Point’s goal now is to continue funding IM development through early access sales ($5 pledges and a $40 early access package are also for sale through the official Interstellar Marines site)
Clearly, this is the Rasputin of games. Poisoned, stabbed, and drowned, Interstellar Marines keeps getting back up. With moribund curiosity, I half-expected to see a shambling corpse of a game when I first logged on. It’s actually a good-looking, if fairly barebones, multiplayer shooter, with a few nice touches.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. What exactly is Interstellar Marines? Zero Point pitches it as a shooter that will push the FPS genre forward with realism, tactical gameplay, RPG elements, and a compelling, original sci-fi storyline. The devs say they are influenced by no less than Half-Life, System Shock, and Rainbow Six. Oh, and there are also four-legged, man-eating land sharks and mechs highlighted in the various demo trailers. Interest: piqued.
Unfortunately, aside from the shooting, none of that interest-piquing stuff (the RPG, the realism, the compelling sci-fi storyline) is actually in the early access build. In its current state, Interstellar Marines is an 8v8, team-based competitive shooter on six maps with a single mode: death match. According to IM lore, the maps are set in an underground government base beneath Groom Lake, a facility used to train the soldiers who will eventually accompany and protect mankind as we make our first foray into deep space.
But Zero Point isn’t ready to make the jump to light speed just yet, not by a long shot. Aside from a spaceship I could walk around in a hangar in one of the maps, there wasn’t much sci-fi to speak of. In particular, the disappointing weapons, er, weapon, consist of a single machine gun with a red-dot scope and optional laser scope. And those land sharks and mechs are evidently hidden somewhere deeper in an inaccessible level in the underground base. Sigh.