The Made2Game Warhammer 40K Space Marine preview
At the MCM Manchester Expo we were able to go hands on with Relic’s upcoming action shooter/brawler Space Marine and we came to two conclusions. One; Space Marine will be unfairly compared to Gears of War. Two; Space Marine is nothing like Gears of War. Nothing like it at all.
Looking at a screenshot we wouldn’t blame you for making this incorrect assumption. Gears Of War, as with the art styles of many games, owes a lot to Games Workshop’s future Gothic designs, all burly blokes with massive shoulder pads slaying space faring nasties. Alongside this, Space Marine involves some third person shooting, and has a half-sword/half-chainsaw you use to carve enemies into dripping chunks.
But to play, Space Marine is absolutely its own beast. A beast that foams at the mouth and gnashes at the bars when provoked.
Where Gears of War is about cowering at the backlines and picking enemies off in pitched firefights, Space Marine is about swiftly judging the battlefield before wading into rooms big boot and bigger gun first to administer your unique brand of zealous interplanetary justice through a mix of straight up blasting, circle strafing, and violent melee carvery.
Trial by Fire
The first level of Space Marine we played was based on an industrial planet to which our trio of Marines are answering a distress call, filled in with browns and greys the visuals didn’t do a lot to endear in the opening minutes as we stomped around and over the corpses of our dead allies.
But before long we were into the combat, and it was this first encounter that instantly endeared the experience to us. A group of Orks roared and dribbled as they ran towards us, axes raised. Savages. We showed them the advantages of advanced technology by raising our bolter pistol and promptly dropping a few of them, but their numbers were overwhelming.
Noticing that an Ork ‘marksman’ was covering the group we decided not to engage the group directly in the open, instead moving back while taking another Ork down with gunfire. We got out of the gunner’s line of sight and started tapping X, to which our Marine responded by instantly wading into the group, chainsword swinging, Orks dying.
Pressing Y caused a ground stomp to give us breakthing space, while a stab on B landed a nasty instant kill that ate a chunk of a recharging power meter but was unavoidable to these weak foes. The group quickly fell to our Space Marine’s superior melee skills and we deftly dealt with the marksman quite easily soon after.
While this is an action game it frequently alludes to the genuine Warhammer experience and because of this, Orks aren’t very good at shooting.
Following the linear path we soon found ourselves in another fight. Feeling confident in our brawling abilities, and wanting more of the bloody instant kills, we waded into the group, Dynasty Warriors style. But before long a big Ork with a mahoosive mallet turned up with a loud roar, bowling his own allies aside like skittles. We deftly dodged with a press of A but were suddenly on the backfoot, peppering him with Bolter shots before moving in for the melee kill when he was stunned.
A little further into the level we were almost at our objective. A group of Orks charged through a bottleneck and we quickly popped a grenade down, obliterating the group in one stylish explosion. Arguably the best thing about Space Marine is just how effective you are. The game pulls no punches in making you feel like an unstoppable beast; a refreshing change after piles of games that would rather have us looking at the back of a wall than getting stuck into combat scenarios.
It was a swift level but a nice introduction to Space Marine’s constantly measured mechanic of gun, melee, and precise movement. We imagine battlefield knowledge will play a very important role in tackling the game at higher difficulties.
The second level we played was more of a grey gothic city, and introduced Chaos to the mix. For those who don’t know, the Chaos are a heretical race of demon worshippers with a disturbing penchant for tentacles. Makes us shudder just thinking about them…
Chaos presented a different challenge; their canon fodder types preferred ranged attacks and were often positioned as a trap, luring us in for those beautiful melee kills only to have a big nasty demon lying in wait, ready to leap out and impale us on his daunting ten-foot sword once we got close.
This level also mixed the two armies, Orks and Chaos, and saw us join battles already in progress. The effect was dizzyingly empowering, and seeing Orks blow up their own troops with their own explosives is both faithful to the universe, but also smirk-inducingly entertaining.
The one issue we found with Space Marine was that some of the optional weapons, the sniper and shotgun (called a melta gun) specifically, ruined the feel of the game when we used them, as they felt in conflict with the gun and sword dynamic that the Bolter so elegantly embodies.
This said, these different guns likely come into their own in the game’s promised co-op mode, with friends able to take on different roles using the optional weaponry. Until we see this is action, however, the Bolter is the weapon of choice without a shadow of a doubt.
Our only other gripe? A few muddy textures here and there were unfortunate, with one door control, which actually received a cutscene close up, looking particularly, and peculiarly, smudged. But when you get involved in the huge skirmishes you are thankful that the game runs silky smooth. As with Dead Rising, we’ll take a few muddy looking rocks and walls if Space Marine keeps up the aggressive pace and spectacle glimpsed in this demo.
Space Marine is a surprisingly satisfying and remarkably solid action game. The dynamic between gun and sword is wonderfully realized and manages to feel unique, with neither aspect seeming undercooked. The gunplay is accurate and chunky, while the melee is brutal, satisfying, swift, and effective. Most importantly – it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Relic clearly know their stuff, and we have to applaud THQ’s head of core games, Danny Bilson, who, it was revealed to us, stepped in to remove excess fluff and make sure the game is simply great fun to play. And it is. Regardless of whether you know your Gretchins from your Genestealers, it’s easy to revel in Space Marine’s brutal brilliance.
It’s not short either; reportedly clocking in at ten hours Space Marine will be a meaty game, with co-op and versus multiplayer to bulk out the package admirably. The real question on our lips is how Space Marine will stay fresh for all that time. We know Warhammer’s army diversity should effortlessly lend itself to constantly surprising gameplay, as long as Relic are both brave and careful, but we’ll have to wait until its release to know for sure.
The Warhammer 40K Space Marine release date is 9 September.