Saber Interactive is a fascinating developer. Oftentimes a support studio on series like Mortal Kombat, occasionally a publisher of niche titles like Dakar Rally, and even rarely fully developing its own games, it's impossible to categorize the New Jersey-based team.
It’s somewhat fitting then that Warhammer 40K: Space Marine 2 feels almost impossible to fit into a box of its own. While obviously a Warhammer 40K game, its genres meld between shooter and hack-and-slash, and playing it feels like oscillating between bleeding-edge tech and dated design.
We won't go too in-depth on story details, as there are a million Warhammer fans that could explain the exact setting and scale of conflict that Space Marine 2 is lodged in. We will, however, highlight that this game follows the first game's protagonist Captain Titus, several years and a promotion to Lieutenant later, as he leads the Ultramarine 2nd Company in a fight against Tyranid instead of Orks.
Alongside this time jump comes an increased focus on Titus' world-weariness in his role in the Imperium's never-ending wars. Something many 40K properties have struggled with is creating sympathetic or even semi-likable characters out of Marines that are basically leading the charge for religious space fascists. But, several times in this demo, Titus countered assumed protocol to either take his men through a safer, if slower, route or to detour to save less capable fighters. It made him feel somewhat aware and disapproving of his leaders’ callousness. It's helped that voice actor Clive Standen (replacing Hollywood talent Mark Strong) does a good job conveying just how capable, yet exhausted, this hulking marine is.
For The Empire
Anyone who played the first game will know that Space Marine 2 is an interesting hybrid between 3rd person shooter and hack-and-slash. This focus on the Marines' iconic melee weapons always made that first game stand out in an era of cover shooters, and it still feels badass 12 years later.
Titus is overpowered. He’s basically an unkillable war machine. To compensate, his enemies are legion, now more than ever. Thousands of Tyranids take up the screen as they flow into combat. It's an impressive visual at first glance, but upon closer examination, you can clearly see where the background monsters dip off-screen into bunker ridges, so that fewer, albeit much more detailed ones can swarm into the combat arenas. This isn’t to say that there aren't a lot of enemies attacking because there definitely are, and it's easy to get overwhelmed even on normal difficulty.
This, paired with the extremely linear mission structure, can make Space Marine II really feel like a sequel that's releasing straight off the heels of the original 2011 action game. Players will begin to notice that structure more and more as the game goes on. It usually involves going to a place, killing handfuls of enemies, activating a thing, holding off several big swarms, walking into a new area, fading to black, and starting a new mission.
With that said, slaughtering waves of enemies, cleaving through them as they swarm you, and tossing grenades into piles of Tyranids clambering over each other climbing up your bunker still feels amazing. Space Marine 2 is exactly what you’d expect from a sequel to the first game, the question remains, "Have these sorts of games been left behind in the decade since the last one?"
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine 2 is coming soon to PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S. Sign-ups for the beta are up right now.
These impressions are based on an on-site demo from Gamescom 2023. It may not be representative of the final product.