Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine multiplayer preview

With its September release approaching like a pack of belligerent Orks, Relic's Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine was shown off again at a closed-door press event last week. It had been a few months since I first previewed a few sections of the game's single-player campaign, but this time out, I got to wade neck-deep into Space Marine's competitive multiplayer component to duke it out in some 8v8 matches with other curious journalists. The game includes two team-based multiplayer modes that pits the IP's iconic Space Marines against corrupted Chaos Marines: Annihilation and Seize Ground. Annihilation is ostensibly a Team Deathmatch mode, and Seize Ground has both teams competing for control of a series of predetermined capture points. focalbox At face value, neither mode is particularly innovative; however, the minute to minute experience that Space Marine's multiplayer offers is an intense one. The multiplayer is given serious legs by a choice of three playable classes, multiple levels of unlockables, and class-specific customization options. Using the game's "Customizer," loadouts can be created, weapons and perks can be switched in and out with ease, and individual pieces of armor can be mixed, matched, and painted in, what Relic claims to be 1.8 billion combinations. The Tactical Space Marine class (and its Chaos Space Marine equivalent) is the most balanced of the three available, with weapon loadouts that allow effective attacks at range or in close quarters. Of the three classes, I spent the least time with the Tactical Space Marine, but its balanced nature makes it the easiest class to play right out of the gate. It makes some sense that this class is the only one available to start. The other two classes will need to be unlocked. The Devastator class (or Havoc for the Chaos team), is a ranged specialist who focuses on heavy weapons. I found this class particularly effective at both defending and clearing-out entrenched enemy positions. Equipped with a Heavy Bolter by default--akin to carrying around a heavy turret--I was able to drop to one knee and become a stationary turret, quickly making corpses out of the opposition. The downside of the Devastator class is that it's incredibly weak at close range, with nothing more than a kick as a melee attack. My favorite class proved to be the Assault Marine (or Raptor, on the Chaos side). Though more lightly armored than the Tactical class, they're equipped with jump packs that allow players to quickly traverse the map, or dive straight into a group of foes from the air with a ground-pound attack. Bringing death from above is exhilarating. Coordinating with teammates of other classes, I was often able to boost myself behind enemy lines and go to work with a chainsword, warhammer, or other devastating melee weapon, taking out several foes before they knew what hit them. Very satisfying.

To War!

While Space Marine's focus is on mid to close-range combat, those predisposed to sniping will find a few unlockable weapon choices they'll like, and each map contains areas conducive to long-range attacks. The game is expected to ship with five multiplayer maps, though Space Marine DLC is already planned for the future. Each map captures the appropriate Gothic-industrial vibe of the 40K universe, filled with multiple routes and wide-open spaces (as well as some clever places for Assault Marines to perch). I'll confess to being surprised at how much fun I had with Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine's competitive multiplayer. Relic's choice to forgo a cover mechanic ramps up the action. I often found myself deciding how to best enter a pitched battle as I ran straight toward it--based on the participants and terrain--rather than sticking to predetermined routes. The flow of the matches I played (especially in the Seize Ground mode) encouraged me to regularly switch up my class, perks, and loadouts, depending on whether assault or defense was more important at a given moment. My time with Space Marine's multiplayer kept me on my toes with action-packed combat, class system and perks, and more interesting weapons than I could reasonably check out during the two-hour demo. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is due out for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on September 6.