Summary: THQ and Relic Entertainment are preparing to release a third-person action game based on the Warhammer 40,000 universe in early September. Titled Space Marine, it puts you in the bold, blue shoes of Captain Titus, leader of the Ultramarines. Experience fast-paced, bloody combat as you defend an Imperial forge world from a massive Ork invasion!
A playable demo for the game will be releasing in a few days, but it's already become available to those who have pre-ordered. If you're curious as to whether Space Marine is something you'd like to play, why not read all about my experiences with the demo? At least to tide you over until you have a chance to try it out for yourself. Go on then!
Over the past decade, nearly all Warhammer 40,000 game releases have been strategy affairs. Ever since THQ acquired the rights to the intellectual property in the early 2000s, Relic Entertainment has been churning out new iterations in the Dawn of War series of RTS games almost on a yearly basis. Come September 6th, however, we will see the first action title in the franchise since 2003, when an apparently abhorrent FPS was released on PlayStation 2 and ported to Windows…
Space Marine is a third-person action game releasing for PC, 360, and PS3 that puts you in a suit of the titular faction’s oversized and ornate power armor on a quest to defend an Imperial forge world from Ork invasion. Next week, THQ will be releasing a demo that features two truncated levels showcasing the game’s in-your-face combat, both on foot and using a jump pack. You can try it for yourself right now if you’ve pre-ordered the game, or just keep reading for my opinion of it.
Beat ‘em down or shoot ‘em up
Space Marine’s controls were clearly designed for a gamepad, but they work well enough with the keyboard and mouse. By default, left-click fires your selected gun and right-click is for melee, which means you have to hold left-control to zoom in for more precise shooting. It feels weird not using RMB to do that, but melee is so important in this game that it’s worth the trade-off (there’s no crouching anyway). Aiming overall is tight and responsive enough, provided you disable mouse smoothing in the options. As with most multiplatform titles these days, you can plug in an Xbox 360 controller and seamlessly transition to a gameplay experience that might as well be on a console. You know, except for the smoother framerate and higher resolution visuals.
You are accompanied by a pair of squadmates for both levels in the demo, as will likely be the case for most levels of the campaign in the full game. They’re not particularly effective in a fight, but they do tend to draw a few of the enemies’ attention away from you. As such, you will be counted on to cause the majority of the bloodshed, which is only fair for a single-player experience. The hordes of Orks I’ve seen consisted of waves of around 10-20 weaker enemies and maybe one or two stronger ones. Saving your Fury Mode for them is a good idea, otherwise you’ll get beat up pretty good in close combat. The bigger nuisances to me were the ranged Orks: if you allow them to sit back and take potshots while you scuffle with the cannon fodder, they will bring down your health rather efficiently.
My biggest gripe with how Space Marine plays has to do with the animations. Not that they’re bad or anything, but there is not enough variation for a game that relies so much on melee combat, especially finishing moves. True, it is really awesome to pick up an Ork and saw him in half (with an added explosion for some reason) or knock him down and stomp him with your gigantic boot… but after seeing the same handful of finishers a couple dozen times each, they start to lose some of that luster. Especially when you consider the fact that each one lasts several seconds, and sometimes a brief slow-motion effect is applied to draw things out longer. I do like that you still take damage during the animation, though, because otherwise you’d be invincible.
Furthermore, transitions between animations are somewhat clunky, causing you to wait a moment after your melee swing or perform an evasive roll before you can initiate any other action. While not a direct result of the controls, it does have a negative effect on how controlling the game feels, if that makes sense. Oh, another complaint: you can’t jump normally. I understand this makes the level designer’s job a lot easier, but it’s always annoying to have a 3-foot crate blocking your way. You’d think a big, bad space marine would at least be able to vault over the thing, rather than have to walk around…
Still, any time I felt the slightest bit of boredom with spamming right-click, I just switched to shooting for a while. It’s pretty satisfying when you manage to hit them in the head and pop it like a melon, which is easy enough to do with the sniper rifle using the mouse to aim. Getting the jump pack in the demo’s second level is by far the most fun, though. If you’re familiar with the Dawn of War RTS games, you know that Assault Marines use jump packs to cross otherwise impassable terrain and land with considerable force. Well now you get to pilot one of these babies yourself, flying up into the air, firing your bolter as you float back down and/or performing a devastating ground pound on unsuspecting enemies below. The segment featured in the demo was brief, but hopefully that piece of equipment will be featured throughout the game.
Do I have blood on my suit?
The quality of graphics in Space Marine is largely unremarkable. Expect adequate lighting and effects courtesy of the engine previously used in Darksiders, but there’s nothing extraordinary. The textures are pretty bland, too, but you’re not paying much attention to that when there’s blood splattering everywhere. I guess there’s also the chance that they only left lower-resolution ones in the demo to cut down on the file size. Although, the video options menu is pretty basic, so I don’t know how much hope there is for that. You get to set your resolution (strangely, there are lots of esoteric aspect ratios like 683:384), shadow quality, and effects quality, as well as toggle post-processing effects, v-sync, and ambient occlusion, but that’s it. On the bright side, you know it will run well on any decent gaming rig.
The game’s HUD and user interface in general is simplified and oversized -- no surprises there, either. The damage indicators were getting on my nerves: when you have your shield up, any bonks on the head you take will cause a shiny yellow ripple on the screen of various shapes and sizes. It wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t sometimes take up so much of the screen, making a rather narrow FOV even more claustrophobic. Then, of course, when you’re losing health you start to get the blood red halo around the edges of the screen, and the colors become desaturated the closer you are to death.
Ultimately, I liked what I’ve played of Space Marine so far, and I look forward to getting my hands on the full game. There’s not much of the story revealed here, which they no doubt did on purpose, but I’m hoping that turns out to be good. Otherwise, they’re going to need a lot more variety in the gameplay to make it compelling enough to see through. I’d also like to see some kind of character progression and at least a few instances where the combat is on a much larger scale. If not simply a higher number of enemies coming at you, then a full-size battle between Imperial forces and Orks would be cool. Can’t forget about the Chaos demons, either! I wonder if there will be any three-way action?
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