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Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles - The Complete Campaigns

Columbia/Tri-Star // PG // July 5, 2005
List Price: $49.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Weinberg | posted July 3, 2005 | E-mail the Author
The Series

Inspired by Paul Verhoeven's 1997 film Starship Troopers (which itself was based on the novel by Robert Heinlein), Roughnecks is a half-hour CGI animated action series that played on syndicated networks -- and built up a rather loyal collection of viewers in the process.

The premise could not be much simpler: Our heroic Troopers land on a distant planet and blow the holy snot out of every giant "bug" they see. Each episode consists of easily 75% pure action mayhem, which is good if you're a 14-year-old boy with attention span issues -- but doesn't work so well if you're a sci-fi junkie who's looking for some narrative bones beneath the action-centric meat.

The animation isn't bad, although most of the episodes look, sound, and feel like the "cut scenes" that are employed to bridge one level from the next in games like Halo. Plot and characterization take a back-seat to non-stop action, and Roughnecks offers a fairly clear indication as to why "non-stop action" is not always a good thing; without a strong foundation of plot, character, and subtext -- the long and frequent explosions of action start to blur together and become more than a little redundant.

And yet I'd never be "grouchily grown-up" enough to deny that there's still some good, geeky fun to be found within the whole of the Roughnecks saga. (It's just that the show seems to go down best when ingested in small doses.) While the animation quality ranges from quite good to somewhat pedestrian, the episodes are directed with style and energy, two things that help to keep an action-centric cartoon consistently lively and frequently exciting. The voice acting is fairly generic, which prevents the viewer from "getting to know" the characters all that well, but the voices are appropriately gruff and gung ho, so on the whole, it's not a big stumbling block.

While doing my pre-review research on Roughnecks, I learned that each "campaign" was actually constructed from a collection of different episodes. This approach helps to make each feature-length campaign its own semi-cohesive movie ... plus it saves you from a lot of extra remote-clickage. Below you'll find the complete disc inventories; campaign synposes are taken from the DVD cases, and the extra information comes courtesy of several fan-run Roughnecks sites. Gotta love the geeks when it comes to getting your research done.

The Discs

Disc 1

The Pluto Campaign - "Combat-hungry Rico, the telepathic Jenkins, and sexy, fearless female soldier Flores are part of a troop whose mission is to obliterate a small infestation of deadly bugs on the planet Pluto. But when they land on the distant planet, they're faced with a full-blown invasion of the ruthless Arachnid forces -- huge, human-hating spiders threatening to take over the galaxy! Determined to capture a baby plasma for research, the courageous Troopers prepare to fight the battle of their lives."

The Pluto Campaign consists of the following episodes:

Plasma Bugs of Navarone
Handle With Care
Basic Training
Deep Trouble

The Hydora Campaign - "Lieutenant Rezak's fearless Troopers land on the aquatic Hypora planet hoping to find and extinguish the enemy bugs' home base. But soon they're trapped inside a cave-like insect and attacked by swarms of gigantic, vicious mosquitoes. And when they find the terrifying Mother insect who controls the bug universe, they realize its only intention is to kill off the entire human race. Now, the Troopers have found the source of the problem, but can they even hope to control it?"

The Hydora Campaign consists of the following episodes:

Water, Water Everywhere
Search & Destroy
Missing in Action
Sole Survivor

Disc 2

The Tophet Campaign - "Young journalist Higgins, fearless war hero Rico, and courageous female Trooper Flores land with their fellow soldiers on a desert planet. They meet a group of humanoid Skinnies who make them feel strangely at home. Lieutenant Rezak accepts help from a newly designed Trooper robot who saves the team from an intense ambush of massive crawlers. But the Skinnies have more than one surprise in store for the Troopers, proving again that the universe-wide bug war is far from over."

The Tophet Campaign consists of the following episodes:

Of Flesh and Steel
The Face of Truth

The Tesca Campaign - "Johnny Rico and his crew are furious when they find out they've been partnered up with the suspicious T'Phai to combat an infestation of alien bugs on Zegema Beach. But after Rico suffers a near-fatal attack by a Giant Spider Bug and T'Phai takes on a team of vicious Control Bugs and Tanker Worms, the two men and the Troopers realize if they want to survive, they're going to have to work together."

The Tesca Campaign consists of the following episodes:

No Substitute
...And Then There Were Two
Liquid Dreams

Disc 3

The Zephyr Campaign - "The fearless Troopers are back for a terrifying mission on a mysterious frozen asteroid deep in space. When beautiful pilot Carmen is forced to crash land their powerful spaceship on icy, unpredictable terrain, heroic Rico, Flores, T'Phai and Co. set out to complete their work: finding a powerful toxin they can use against the deadly insects taking over the universe. What they encounter instead are fire-breathing bugs and asteroid-shaking earthquakes which plunge the Troopers and their ship further into the center of the planet. Now their only mission is survival, and when the Troopers realize the true nature of the asteroid, even survival seems out of reach."

The Zephyr Campaign consists of the following episodes:

Mixed Signals
Hot Ice
The Inside Story
The Ice Man Goeth

The Klendathu Campaign - "Rico and his fellow Troopers are confronted with a disturbing turn of events when their leader, Lieutenant Zander, is infected with a bug virus and is transformed into a super-strong half-human/half-bug mutant. Intent on destroying the Troopers, Zander follows them to the fiery Klendathu planet. While they try to beat impossible odds fighting the enormous Arachnid army, they're also trying to save their former leader -- before he destroys them."

The Klendathu Campaign consists of the following episodes:

The Mission
Letters Home

Disc 4

Trackers - After escaping a showdown on Klendathu, the Bug Queen is heading to Earth and it's up to the Roughnecks to sneak aboard her transport ship and destroy it from the inside out. The mission appears to be a success until the Roughnecks land on Earth and Carl realizes the Bug Queen has survived to hatch her diabolical plot. By cloning human DNA, the bugs have taken human form and they're unleashing a global campaign for world domination."

Trackers is a stand-alone single episode (21 min.) that apparently doesn't "fit" into any of the specific campaign collections.

The Homefront Campaign - The Troopers are back on a familiar yet newly bug-infested planet: Earth. Tough-as-nails war veteran Rico, telepathic Carl, fearless female soldier Flores and their special squad must face an impossibly difficult assignment to capture and kill scores of enormous bugs without harming San Francisco civilians. But in the midst of their complicated mission, the Troopers suffer a shocking loss that threatens to tear their team apart. Could this be the Troopers' last stand and the final hope for humanity?"

The Homefront Campaign consists of the following episodes:

Among Us
Hide & Seek
Funeral for a Friend
Spirits of the Departed


Video: The episodes and compilations are presented in their original broadcast aspect ratio, which is fullscreen, of course. Picture quality is quite impressive for the most part ... even if the animation looks a little dodgy here and there.

Audio: It's a loud and frequently boisterous Dolby Digital 5.1 audio presentation, which allows the non-stop explosions, gunfire, and bug shrieks to cascade from your speakers in generally excellent fashion. (I've been informed that the Tesca Campaign episodes were previously released only in DD 2.0. Fans will be pleased to learn that all of the discs in The Complete Campaigns collection come with DD 5.1 audio tracks.)

Extras: Scattered throughout the first three discs are a series of episode photo galleries, but Disc 4 is where you'll find a quartet of bonus episodes. But don't too excited just yet, bug-fans, because none of the extra episodes are "all-new." In fact, the four extra episodes (entitled Pluto and Beyond, Propaganda Machine, Marooned, and Court-martial of Lt. Rezak) are not much more than simple "clip shows," quick-cut action-scene compilations that deliver the exact same bug-heavy sequences that you probably just saw (if you're taking the discs in order, that is.) Rounding out this 4-disc "Complete Campaign" collection is an insert, a Roughnecks fold-out illustration, and a handful of trailers for Godzilla Millenium, Jumanji: Deluxe Edition, Dragon's World: A Fantasy Made Real, and Steamboy.

Final Thoughts

I found that I most enjoyed The Complete Campaigns by watching the compilations in small, isolated doses. More than two campaigns in one sitting is kind of a chore, considering how repetitive the action can sometimes be. Also a little disappointing is the absence of any new supplemental material. The show has its fair share of supporters; surely a few audio commentaries or a behind-the-scenes featurette wouldn't have broken the bank.

But on the whole, hardcore fans of the Roughnecks spin-off should be quite happy with this 4-disc collection, even though most of the campaigns have already been released on single-disc releases. There's just something nerdily inviting about the idea of owning the an entire series in one handy little box.

(Credit where it's due: Thanks to Garn's Guides for helping me to put the Roughnecks puzzle together in clear and concise form.)
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