'Space Marine' is Games Workshop and Warhammer 40k's latest venture into the PC and Console gaming world, developed by THQ. The Demo has been released today for download, and equally today I was invited to play test the game at an exclusive event in London. The game is available on PS3, Xbox 360 and on the PC - just for the sake of those who are interested; the version we played was a near-full version of the game, on the Xbox 360 console.
The game is a 3rd Person Action/Shooter, with both shooting and close combat feeling really dramatic, natural and flowing.
I want to approach this review in the same way I approached playing the game this morning. I'm hardly a console gaming regular, so it was important to be able to understand the controls early on, if I didn't want to get totally destroyed once we got onto the multiplayer test later in the day. However I also wanted to look at it from a gamer's perspective; in that, would I want to buy it when it's due for release on September 6th?
<h2>Picking Up The Game</h2>
This was of great importance for me - firstly, the console I own is a PS3, so the Xbox 360 controller was unfamiliar. The controls in the game therefore had to be obvious and natural for me to get a hold of the game and feel comfortable from the offset. I also wanted to feel like I was learning how to play the game, rather than being told how to do it; there's a subtle difference, and a lot of games fall flat on their face in the form of literally forcing controls in the face of the player; disrupting gameplay. This was actually a pleasant surprise in this regard.
Firstly the learning experience for the controls is simple and not in your face at all. Every time a new weapon or ability is obtained or unlocked, you're informed briefly about how to use it there and then. Later on, combos and extras you might not necessarily need in the starting campaign, either become obvious via you having button mashed your way to victory finding them, or they'll be mentioned later in the game.
The game as a whole is very understandable; which is great for those who are perhaps more into the Warhammer hobby, but are less into gaming. The on-screen HUD is simple to understand and read at just a glance.
<h2>Game Mechanics and Weaponry</h2>
Overall the game is easy to play and feels natural; something which the last Warhammer 40k 3rd Person Action/Shooter (Hello, Fire Warrior) was really not. Whether you want to spray a ton of bullets at a horde of Grots, or want to snipe a Big Mek from the top of his tower, both are simple and easy.
The game as a whole could easily be something you pick up and play for a few minutes to waste a bit of time, or something you could really get heavily into - the simple nature of the game makes it easy to play, but equally skill is definitely required if you want to best others online, you can't just mash buttons to get top of the kills list.
Something which surprised me about the game actually is the level of gore included. Expecting it to be a typical Games Workshop game, suitable for all ages - I didn't realise the game actually has a '15+' Rating, and you can quickly see why. Butcher a whole mob of Ork Boyz with a chainsword, and their bodies will lie strewn on the floor, bits everywhere, and your Space Marine well and truly covered in blood and guts. Being a 3rd Person game where you can see your character as a whole, you can see just how bloodied up he's got - there are times when you can barely see the paintwork on the Marine's armour, which is why the level of gore surprised me! Over time the blood will fade away, ready for you to start over again.
There are some very clever mechanics put into place; either taken from other games or seemingly original ideas - A great one is without a doubt in the way in which you can regenerate health. By stunning and then 'executing' (your 'finishing move') a mob, you can generate health and look at a pretty animation of your Marine devastating a Grot while you're at it. This is often useful in the fact that your health does not regenerate naturally, though your Shield does.
Through causing damage, you also fill up a bar which allows your Marine to unleash that power in a blind rage, causing extra damage and regenerating health at the same time. This is especially useful if saved up either for desperate moments, or when you have a huge wave of mobs or a boss to kill.
There are some great effects built into certain weapons - for example using a Plasma Gun (and Pistol, and Cannon) is great and devastating, but you need to let it 'vent' every once in a while to prevent it overheating. And yes, you can kill yourself with a Plasma weapon, believe me we tried. Weapons act more or less exactly as you'd expect them to, as if you were using them in Warhammer 40k for real - a Bolter feels strong and can blast an Ork Boy to bits, but you'll need tougher weaponry to take down bigger opponents such as Chaos Marines later in the game.
Heavy Bolters are brutal weapons especially in multiplayer, where the player can kneel with the weapon to activate a rapid fire mode. Anyone stood in the stream of bullets better be out of it pretty sharpish, or they'll be on the floor. This restricts movement (you can't move while in this rapid fire mode) but is a great way of holding an objective from a distance, as we often found out.
Meltaguns are short range as you'd expect, much in the way of a shotgun - they take some time to reload but pack a big punch. Not really a favourite of mine in multiplayer at least though, other weapons can dish out much more damage in a shorter period of time.
For example, Storm Bolters again are reasonably short range, but feel devastating. Bullet after bullet pounding into your opponent, it doesn't take much for them to go down. Unlike the regular Bolter, a Storm Bolter has a ton of ammunition and very rarely requires a reload - in comparison, a Bolter will need a reload after more or less every pack of mobs, if not more.
Lascannons are clearly disgusting, anything in its path is toast. One shot to kill more or less anything, but with very limited ammunition in single player at least. Also very poor and unwieldy at short range, but devastating at long range. This is actually Space Marine's 'sniper' weapon, which felt odd for the first few moments, but fits the weapon quite well regardless.
A Vengeance Launcher also exists, in the form of a grenade-launcher style Bolter, although this seemed to have limited use - a Bolter seemed perfectly fine in dealing with groups of mobs - if not, a single grenade would do the trick!
The Stalker Bolter is another weapon for the Space Marine game, which is a pure sniper bolter variant, plain and simple.
As well as all of the above, you have the usual array of grenades; Frag Grenades, as well as Stun and Smoke grenades too.
<h3>Close Combat Weaponry</h3>
A Chainsword is the first melee weapon you'll get your hands on, and you'll grin from ear to ear the first time you use it. In typical button mashing style, the chainsword whirs and glows orange as it slices its way through those poor Gretchin. Against weak mobs such as Grots or regular Boys, this is perfect and brings great satisfaction which other melee weapons unfortunately seem to lack a little. The chainsword is very fast, but relatively weak once you fight tougher mobs.
Power Swords and Axes are more or less a better version of the above, but are much more capable of taking on tougher enemies. Still a fast weapon though, and seemed to be the melee weapon of choice in multiplayer for this reason alone.
Thunder Hammers are slow and cumbersome, but will deal some serious damage to even the most armoured of foes. The only thing I would say about the weapon is that although it feels powerful, it lacks the devastating sensation that a Chainsword brings you, tearing through the enemy. Battering a single Gretchin long into the distance just isn't quite as fun. There also seems to be a Trait (more about those later) which allows your Thunder Hammer to instant kill anyone it hits, which is ever so slightly overpowered in multiplayer especially. I don't believe such Traits are available in the Single Player campaign, so no worries about one-shotting the end boss.
<h2>Single Player Campaign</h2>
I've played through a fair amount of the Single Player campaign this morning, with a morning's worth of Ork and Chaos battering see me get through maybe 1/3 of the campaign as a whole. I say 'maybe', because the version of the game we had available had some 'Chapters' (zones/levels) available for play, with some deliberately not, presumably to not spoil the full campaign story just yet. Some of the last few levels were available, so it's a bit of a guess at the moment as to how much extra is available in the full game. I imagine based on what I've seen so far, that you could easily complete the campaign in a day if you really wanted to, but it could last a fair while if you've only got a few hours every evening. It depends what you want out of the game, whether to let it last or to get through it as quickly as possible.
The Single Player mode is cool, in the way that every level has extreme detail, whether looking inside a building or at the surroundings as a whole. A lot of the buildings have clearly been structured particularly to tie in with the terrain which is available in the Warhammer 40k tabletop game itself, so it all feels very real and true to the universe it's trying to represent. Graphically, the game is stunning too. Prior to the play test, I'd watched a few videos online and was quite underwhelmed - graphics quality looked poor and dull, but this is far from the case.
Sunlight shimmers in front of you, and the sense of dark and light really looks great; moving from inside a building into the outside world can be a little blinding, showing just how much thought has gone into every detail of this game. I expected the graphics to be a little lacklustre, but they are far from it - the levels and landscape looks stunning and is a pleasure to be a part of.
The one criticism I'd have about the campaign though (Although as I say, my experience of the campaign is a little disjointed as we only had a scattering of levels to play in) is with the story. It feels quite unimaginative and plain; you can see what's coming and nothing is out of the ordinary. That's a bit disappointing with the amount of lore available in Warhammer 40k to play with. At times it feels like you're just being fed wave after wave of 'new' mobs, with some reason given as a way of introducing these new mobs to you. Don't get me wrong, it's good fun, but just feels too ordinary.
First things first. The Multiplayer mode is fantastic. We had the afternoon to have a play around with it, and the afternoon was gone in an instant, it was that much fun.
We had three (or four?) maps available, though more will no doubt become available either for the game's release, or with DLC in the future (DLC is 'confirmed' by the way - in a "I can't tell you anything about it" sort of way). These maps were all based on situations you'd played in the Single Player campaign, but turned into very balanced multi player maps.
With multi player, it looks clear as if the emphasis has been more on this side of the game than it has been on the single player side - as seems to be the case these days. Players can choose between playing a Tactical, Assault or Devastator Marine - each of course with their own unique abilities.
Tactical Marines naturally are good all-rounders, good on their feet and with good short range weaponry such as the Storm Bolter or Meltagun. Devastators on the other hand are slow and sluggish but have brutal weaponry, meaning they are understandably good at long range but vulnerable up close. Assault Marines come equipped with a Jump Pack, and seemed to be the most fun to play, purely for the close combat mechanics being so damn good and enjoyable in this game. When having a Jump Pack equipped, your Marine gains the ability to jump high and glide through the air for a matter of seconds - during which time you can either choose to land normally, or drop strongly onto an opponent, stunning them in the process. This was a great tactic to pick off Devastators by getting them stunned and killed quickly while in melee range. You'll have your own favourite I'm sure, but Assault Marines were definitely my favourite for the enjoyable close combat and mid-air abilities.
What's more, it looks like the different classes are all balanced very well! No one particular class or weapon really stood out as being the best to choose, nor did it ever dominate a game.
A great feature added to the multi player, which I've not seen implemented in other games; is the ability to use another player's Traits, Class and Weapon choices temporarily. When you die, you'll be shown which Trait/Class/Weapon combo that player was using - and if you wish, you may use that combo for your next life. Once you die again, you return to your original choice - it's a nice way of getting revenge via using their own combo - or you can use their combo, convinced that their combo must be the only reason they're killing you so often, only to find that you still die endlessly regardless...
One of the biggest attractions with the multi player is the Traits system which has been put into place. This allows extra variation when it comes to choosing your class, meaning it's not purely a three way choice between which class to play. Each class has around 10 Primary Traits to choose from, along with some Weapon-Specific Traits too.
Traits allow your class to do something a bit better than previously - for example you might be able to reload faster, have more grenades, more ammunition, better armour, move faster, etc. - There are also more unique traits, such as causing more damage with a specific ability - Devastators have a 'Stomp' ability for example, which stuns the opponent and causes a high amount of melee damage, but is slow to perform; and this can be improved via a Trait. Similarly, Assault Marines can choose a trait which allows their Jet Pack to explode a few seconds after a death; resulting in a chance of it exploding while your opponent is still lingering around. There are many, many more. You're also able to choose from similar Weapon-Specific traits; so for example a Power Weapon can regenerate health every time you hit an opponent, along with similar unique Traits depending on the weapon.
Probably the bit that most Warhammer 40k gamers are interested in, is the customisation menu of Space Marine. The ability to play as your own Space Marine chapter, with your own unique colour scheme and chapter name has been available in games since Dawn of War, but absolutely nothing like as detailed as is available now.
In Space Marine, every single last detail is editable. And I mean every single last. Colour schemes can be styled entirely across the whole Marine - whether you want your right forearm to be red, but your left forearm to be blue and your left shin to be yellow; sure, no problem. Each part of a Marine's armour is customisable, whether it's the Helmet, Shoulderpads, Chest Plate, Upper Arm, Lower Arm, Upper Leg or Lower Leg. Additionally your colour scheme doesn't need to be plain; you can have a 'chequered' or split down the middle colour scheme if you so wish. Basically, if you've painted a Marine in a particular colour scheme for the tabletop game, 99.999% of the time you'll be able to replicate that perfectly in Space Marine.
The bit which impressed me most, however, was the choice of armour available. There are tons of different variations of Space Marine Armour, from different eras in the back history of Warhammer 40k. It's nice to see that THQ have paid particular attention to the background and history of the Space Marines with this feature, allowing you to choose the armour of your Space Marine (as well as colour it) from any of the Eras. If you want your Marine to be in Mk5 Heresy Armour, so be it. If you want your Marine to be in Veteran Armour, so be it.
Even further on from that; you can specify which part of your armour uses which era of armour. So, you could have a Marine in Mk5 Armour using a Mk6 'Beaky' Helmet if you wish. You can mix and match no problem to ensure your Marine is as unique as you possibly want.
On the whole the game was hugely enjoyable - I actually unintentionally stayed an hour later testing the game because I lost track of the time trying to hunt people down in Multi Player mode. For a Warhammer 40k player, whether you're into gaming or not, I'd say it's a definite buy - the level of involvement and overall feel would be enough for anyone who enjoys the Warhammer 40k universe. At times the scenery, the mobs and the gameplay can make you feel a part of that universe; something which other Warhammer 40k games have often struggled to achieve. You could additionally quite easily spend a huge amount of hours customising your own Space Marines - I know I could; I had to drag myself out of that menu to get back to actually testing out playing the game itself.
In terms of longevity of the game for those who'd be buying it for just that; a gaming purchase, I'd try it out first (Demo link - clicky) to see what you think. The multi player is without a doubt going to be the major selling point. Despite the beautiful graphics and sublime animations, the campaign just feels that little bit too unimaginative to really stand out from the crowd. The hours upon hours you could spend in multi player however, is where you'd find the most long-lasting entertainment and value for money.
If you've any comments, would love to hear them! Additionally, I've no doubt missed something and might know the answer; so feel free to ask any questions and I'll do my best to answer. Thanks for reading!