Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine preview

By Jeff Mattas, Apr 20, 2011 5:00pm PDT

The simple fact that Relic is making another game in the 40K universe should be enough to pique many fans' interest. The real twist, however, is that they're branching off from the series' traditional videogame adaptation as a real time strategy game. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine puts players squarely in the seven-foot, thousand-pound boots of Captain Titus. The heroic Space Marine is described as a heavily-armored badass who is "humanity's last hope for survival in a dark future that knows only war." I recently had a chance to play through an early build featuring four levels pulled from different parts of the game's main campaign.

The look of Space Marine will be immediately identifiable to those familiar with the 40K universe. Massive, war-torn Gothic architecture takes on a sense of scale not fully realized in previous games in the Warhammer universe. Trademark weapons and armor are instantly recognizable to fans. It's clearly a Warhammer 40K game, and the fan-favorite pastime of sawing Orks in half translates quite well to a third-person perspective.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is a third-person shooter; however, whereas most shooters these days are geared towards mid to long-range combat, Space Marine takes a short to mid-range approach. Battles are violent, bloody, and chaotic, and players will regularly find themselves fluidly switching between melee and ranged attacks as each battle unfolds. Brutal finishing moves and power-charged Fury attacks are supplemented by the ability to charge headlong into battle and send enemies flying. Of the game's fifteen weapons, only a semi-automatic, cover-piercing weapon called the Stalker Pattern Bolter, is scoped. Snipers need not apply.

Health and armor in Space Marine is of the recharging variety - with a twist. Players can still retreat from the line of fire to regenerate their protective layers, but since Space Marines aren't known for retreating and hiding, the armor and health meters can be similarly refilled by unleashing deadly finishers on nearby enemies. The result is a system that encourages you to dive deeper into a battle, rather than flee.

Another refreshing aspect of Space Marine is its lack of the ubiquitous cover system used by many modern shooters. After all, the notion of seven-foot warriors in one-ton armor hiding behind stuff is kind of ridiculous. In practical terms, this also means that players are almost constantly on the move while in combat.

Most of the enemies present in the demo were of the Space Ork-variety - though they came in all shapes and sizes, some armed or armored more heavily than others. Heavy shield-carrying "Ard Boy" Orks were best dispatched at close range, as were the swarms of tiny Gretchin Orks and slightly larger Melee Boys. Of course, the large Orkish Warbosses proved a good bit tougher to take down.

One of the levels also showed off a couple of units from the Chaos faction - former Space Marines and Imperial Guard soldiers driven mad by the Chaos Gods. Tainted Psykers hovered over the battlefield, spawning Bloodletter Daemons that would warp into close range before attacking. Tactics for fighting the Orks was quite different from fighting the minions of Chaos - a good sign of variety.

Though I only sampled four missions and confronted twelve of the game's twenty-six enemy types, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine already seems like it does an effective job of translating ballets of bolters and chainswords into the realm of a third-person shooter. Based on my time with the game, I'm cautiously optimistic about Space Marine's potential to deliver a successful Warhammer 40K game that is far more about action than strategy.

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