Warhammer 40,000 has come a long way in the last quarter of a century. From an obscure hobby for paint-spattered English schoolboys to a global, multi-million dollar industry spanning books, movies, videogames and everything in between, Space Marines are as big business now as they’ve ever been. Relic and THQ have been handling the PC gaming side of things for a while now, and have garnered huge success with their RTS Dawn of War series, but one thing has always been conspicuously absent: a game where you step into the titanium-plated shoes of the Space Marines themselves and get the true down-and-dirty, visceral experience of being one of the super-soldiers of the future, wading through hordes of foes.
But the wait is over! We at GD got a hands-on look at the new Warhammer game, conspicuously titled Space Marine. Sure enough, here’s third-person up-close combat between Ultramarines and orks, and with a chaos faction promised for later in the game.
The player leads a three-man squad of humanity’s finest warriors against swarms of foes, armed with bolter and chainsword. Squadmates have their own personalities; one a young and idealistic newcomer, the other a grizzled veteran who understands that the universe operates in shades of grey, not just black and white. Early on in the story, an Inquisitor who has been dabbling in forbidden knowledge inadvertently opens a portal through which the forces of chaos spew, and the tension between your teammates and their opinions on how best to deal with the situation becomes a theme in the storyline. Personally, three Space Marines against the world seemed a little out of keeping from the squad-level skirmish roots of the franchise – I would have been happier with a squad of five or six. But I trust Relic. They’ve not let me down yet, and they know what they’re doing.
Besides, this isn’t really a game about planning, tactics and operations. It’s more about the grisly moment when chainsword meets flesh under heavy fire. While we were playing on a 360, Relic confirmed the system requirements that GD already had on the site. The artists and designers obviously have a clear idea of the visual style of the 40,000 universe, no doubt honed through their previous work on the series, and it’s immediately obvious to a fan when you’re facing, say, a Mek Boy.
Combat is really up to the individual player. The Space Marines are just as handy with a bolter as they are in the midst of melee, and there are a range of grenades and weapons available. Melee finishing moves are blood-curdling and the player has a ‘rage meter’ that powers up when you fight and kill under fire, which in turn allows you to either slow time (to pull off a series of accurate headshots, perhaps) or unleash a giant stomp, flooring everyone in the area. Clearly, this isn’t a game where you’re expected to hang back. In my playthrough, I found myself assaulted by seemingly endless waves of orks, although the Relic devs did assure me that the enemy are not literally numberless, and it is possible to clear out areas. With the pace of the game however, the player is always moving forward, leading the charge against the foe and through into new areas, and yet more foes.
Not all enemies are focused only on the Space Marines, though. Certain scenes will find the marines intruding on a full-scale battle between the orks and the forces of Chaos. Whether this distraction will make progress easier for the heroes o just mean double the number of enemies to fight remains to be seen.
Space Marine is out on September 6th, 2011, with further DLC as good as confirmed. Great news for fans of the Imperium!