Preview: Warhammer 40,000: Space MarineBy Matt Keil - Posted Aug 13, 2010
On August 6th, I visited Relic Entertainment in Vancouver, British Columbia for a first look at Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. Two trailers had been released at E3 2009 and E3 2010, but this was the first time live gameplay was shown to the press.
Relic is known to Warhammer 40K fans as the developer behind the much-praised and highly successful Dawn of War real-time strategy titles. Space Marine is a departure for them, as it is a third-person shooter along the lines of Gears of War set in the 40K universe. Despite the fierce competition any shooter faces in the market these days, Relic is not intimidated due to the strength of the 40K brand. They do have the original space marine, after all.
The premise of the game involves an Ork invasion of an Imperial Forge World, a planet entirely devoted to the production of war machines. The warboss of the million-strong Ork horde wants the Imperial Titan housed somewhere on the planet. Should the Orks capture the Titan, the tide of the war could turn against the Imperium permanently. While the bureaucrats argue over authorization of a counterassault, the Ultramarines are sent in to do what they can to prevent the Orks from achieving their objective. And Ultramarines can do a lot.
The player is cast as Captain Titus, one of the superhuman Ultramarines. The gameplay demo shown started off with Titus manning a side turret in a Valkyrie gunship, taking out an attacking horde of Stormboyz (Orks with giant rocket packs strapped to their backs). After saving numerous neighboring Valkyries from attempted Ork boardings, Titus leans out the side door to shoot an Ork off the cockpit glass of his own ship, only to have the offending Ork’s corpse get sucked into the engine, destroying it. Titus leaps to safety as the Valkyrie crashes.
Titus proceeds on foot, and the third-person shooting gameplay that makes up the bulk of Space Marine was finally front and center. As large numbers of Orks swarm at Titus, he uses a bolter machine gun to mow them down in short order. If a group gets too close or closes in from behind, a quick melee combo with his chainsaw sword will make quick work of them. Several brutal kill animations were shown off using the sword, including one particularly memorable method of bisecting an Ork using his own weight to drive the hungry blade through his midsection.
An underground section was shown next, featuring Titus fighting alongside other space marines. The centerpiece of this area was a setpiece event that required the player to wield a massive heavy bolter in order to hold off an encroaching Ork assault while your companions work on clearing the path ahead.
Finally, a level set on a speeding train showcased some of the top grade special effects in the game as an Ork gunship, brought down after an intense battle spanning most of the level, severed the back half of the train. The resulting railway catastrophe was a tangle of burning wreckage and flying train cars, all unfolding in realtime.
One interesting wrinkle to Space Marine is the complete lack of a cover system. While one expects a “stick to” cover system in most third-person shooters these days, Relic decided (after much experimentation) that it was not a proper fit for the Space Marine characters. A Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine is, after all, a seven foot superhuman killing machine. They are fanatical shock troops who, quite simply, do not take cover on a regular basis. In Space Marine, you should be wading into battle against superior odds without hesitation, not hiding behind a rock. The robust melee system encourages this, offering much more flexibility than the usual “last ditch” melee attacks of most shooters.
Many of the classic Warhammer 40K weaponry was shown, including bolters, heavy bolters, and plasma weaponry. A progression system will level up Titus’ ability with each weapon the more he uses it, adding new types of ammo, damage, and other perks.
Co-op and competitive multiplayer modes are in the game, but THQ and Relic weren’t talking about them beyond confirming their existence.
The decision to enter into the already crowded sci-fi shooter market is a bold one, but Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine looks to be continuing Relic’s much-lauded traditions of extreme attention to detail and triple-A quality. The release window is stated to be fiscal year 2012, so there’s plenty of time for THQ to build awareness of the game that could finally bring the Warhammer 40,000 brand to the attention of the mass console audience.