Warhammer 40k: Space Marine Demo Impressions

Killing po-faced is what Space Marines do.

I’d been waiting a long, long time for a shooter that uses the Warhammer 40k license. The vast majority of War40k games are turn based or RTS, which is only natural. The core game is all about strategy, after all. You don’t see guys decked out in giant suits of power armor at your local laser tag.

Of the eighteen released and upcoming War40k games, only three of them have been released as first-person shooters. Back in the early 90s, my PC was a whimpering mass of metal and refused to run Space Hulk at the time of its release; after playing it several years ago, I learned that it’s a game that doesn’t age well. Fire Warrior attempted to provide a FPS experience based on the War40k universe, but buggy and poorly paced gameplay, shoddy graphics, shitty clipping, and awful weapons modelling left me with a jaded outlook on life.

So, after several years of waiting, I eagerly, yet apprehensively, awaited the arrival of Space Marine. After playing the demo last night, I’m of mixed opinions, but for the most part it’s a positive reaction.

Let’s start with the setting. The two levels shown in the demo were fairly reminiscent of the scenery you’d see in a Dawn of War game: giant cyberpunk monoliths in a desert landscape, and gaping chasms with multiple levels filled with ambush and choke points. It was well modelled and lovingly rendered, but I have the sneaking suspicion that this is pretty much what the entire game is going to look like from start to finish.

The game does manage to retain that War40k feel. Thankfully, Captain Titus and his two aides don’t sound like they got lost on their way to a Shakespeare reading, and actually sound like real people. The Orks, on the other hand, hardly sound like the war-loving xenos that I grew to know and love – they sound more like disgruntled Guardsmen. Shame.

However, the weapons make up for any grievances. The chainsword snarls short and sharp, like the revs of an F1 engine. The bolter weapons actually sound like they are firing heavy calibre, explosive-tipped, Gyrojet rounds. Explosions are meaty. Blood is plentiful. And the Nobs sound fucking insane.

The THQ developer diaries reveal that their intention was to portray “visible, violent death”, but occasionally this isn’t always the case. Sure, explosives separate flesh from bone and the chainsword does lop off the occasional limb, but it’s inconsistent. I would have thought that a chainsaw fashioned into a sword would be effective at, you know, cutting meat, but I guess I was mistaken. In addition, bolters sometimes make bodies disappear entirely. Is this just a cheap trick for consoles to avoid having to animate a proper death sequence, or do bolter shells actually have the capacity to vaporise someone? Either way, it kills the immersion.

The gameplay is comforting and familiar – to use a dangerous analogy, it feels like Gears of War sans cover. Where Gears encouraged tactical manoeuvring and flanking, Space Marine rewards careful ballet between enemies, balancing the use of ranged weapons with melee, and occasionally executing the odd Ork to replenish some health. That’s not to say that players can simply swan dive into a horde of foes and simply tap a button repeatedly to win – enemy attacks are quite powerful and can drain your “shields” quickly.

I’m fairly confident I’ll enjoy the final cut despite my criticism. While it may not be absolutely perfect, it’s a damn sight better than what was released back in the day, and for that, at least, I’m thankful.

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