Previews// Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

Posted 22 Jul 2011 10:46 by
Warhammer 40,000 is one of the most enduring strategy games ever created, and many people still love the franchise today due to its rich universe and intimate model customisation. It seems strange then, that THQ and Relic Entertainment would ditch the strategy side of things in favour of a third-person shooter.

And while the campaign mode seeks to provide a story worthy of the Warhammer name, it seems that Space Marine?s real draw will be in the online multiplayer mode. This pits your customised galactic grunt against a number of fellow players in either a deathmatch (Annihilation) or king of the hill (Seize Ground) scenario.

It all sounds rather straightforward, but as with most online run-and-gunners there?s a fair bit of rock-paper-scissors play going on with weapons and equipment loadouts. From the start, you can choose to be one of three different classes of Space Marine (or Chaos Space Marine, the opposing faction in this futuristic war): Tactical, Havoc/Devastator and Assault/Raptor. Each can wield different weapons, but also have the bonus of having different attack and manoeuvre patterns.

Tactical Marines are your standard all-rounders, and can equip the usual automatic weaponry - bolters, plasma guns, that sort of thing. They can also carry a knife for melee attacks, and will dive out of the way of oncoming enemy fire. If you?re after some heavy guns, the Devastators are your boys with a huge turret for a gun which compromises movement.

You can easily knacker a bounding enemy by laying down some fire from a distance, but you?re screwed if someone gets too close - your only dodge move is a limp hop to the side. As a last resort, Devastators can use their extremely heavy armour to smash their boot into other players? faces.

Which leaves the wildcard class - the Raptors. These bad boys are melee-heavy types, carrying a badass sword that deals heavy damage when you get close to an enemy. The trade-off is that you?re not quite as strong or healthy as the other classes, meaning you?re an easy target for faraway Devastators. However, Raptors come equipped with a jetpack that can be used to temporarily fly or otherwise dart about the map at high speed.

I?m not entirely sure that there?s a great balance here just yet - many players in the preview session just ended up choosing the Raptor class to buzz around the level. If you picked any other class, you were history. It will only be a bigger problem as the game reaches the hands of gamers worldwide. For a game that?s really quite slow-paced in nature, the jet-pack speeds things up in a way that you can?t compensate for.

Besides the necessity for a balance tweak or two, it?s quite an enjoyable multiplayer experience, even if it doesn?t seem particularly inspired. There are some good ideas - like the ability to copy the loadout of your killer if you get fragged - and some of the maps provide excellent opportunities for a party-scale ambush on the enemy. But the big focus here is really how authentic the maps are to the Warhammer universe.

With 41 levels of progression and about 1.8 billion combinations of customisation options (according to THQ - there wasn?t really much time to double-check that) it?s also very faithful to the model-painting and modification side of the franchise.

Relic might want to put more obvious markers for players on the same team - after customising my Space Marine to the max, I was getting intentional friendly fire at point blank range from my teammates on Seize Ground, just because I wasn?t blue.

Space Marine looks like it?s going to be a game that ticks all the right action boxes, but I reckon it will leave many die-hard Warhammer fans confused as to what its purpose is.

It?s undoubtedly an attempt to move the strategy universe to a wider audience, but I?m not entirely sure if it will succeed on capturing new players who will likely be waiting for Gears of War 3 at this point. Time will tell if the hardcore fans will appreciate the bold new move into the third-person genre too.

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