Warhammer 40,000 is a game series from Games Workshop long familiar to tabletop miniature wargamers, and the franchise has had several trips into the video game realm since the early 90s. In 2001, Games Workshop licensed the series to THQ, and they have produced a string of games in that world from the forgettable Fire Warrior, to the popular and successful Dawn of War and Dawn of War II, with the standalone Dawn of War II expansion Retribution released in March earlier this year.
But where Fire Warrior was a poorly received first-person shooter, the Dawn of War games are real-time strategy titles. Relic Entertainment has been the team behind Dawn of War, and they are mostly known for their RTS series of games like Homeworld and Company of Heroes. They are also the development team for Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, and they're abandoning the point and click strategy for this game, which is a third-person space shooter.
In fact, gone are any strategy elements whatsoever. It's like the team watched a series of Sam Peckinpah movies and they themselves call this game a "bloodfest." One of their mottos when working on the game was to "unleash visibile violence," and that certainly shows. Enemies explode into clouds of blood and viscera, heads erupt like sanguine watermelons, and there are plenty of over the top finishing moves that offer up even more gore and guts. You couldn't get much farther from an RTS game than you do with Space Marine.
Visually, the game looks like Gears of War meets Warhammer with a dash of Tychus Findlay from StarCraft , with the enormous Captain Titus character you play encased in massive power. Gears players will immediately be familiar with the third-person playstyle, and Titus even wields a motorized Chain Sword that he can use to open up enemies, much like Marcus Fenix's Lancer. The similarities don't stop there, as the entire point of the game is to have you mow through hordes of Orks while using an arsenal of different weapons.
Relic took us a third of the way into the game where Titus is battling his way across Forge World, a planet-sized factory that makes weapons and is under attack by the Orks. Titus tools up at the beginning of the level we were shown by picking up weapons from a grouping of crates, including the Vengeance Launcher (similar to a grenade launcher), and the Storm Bolter (a heavy machine-gun), along with the requisite grenades and ammo. What followed was a bloodbath, with Titus blasting his way through Orks with both guns and melee combat (that Chain Sword comes in very handy). It's extremely loud with the gunfire underscored by bombastic drums, and bellowing Orks who holler they trademark "Waaagh!" at you as they charge at you.
Space Marine uses regenerative health, but it recharges as a very slow rate, because Relic didn't want people engaging in combat, and then running back for a few seconds to regen. Since the health meter fills up at a trickle, chances are that you'll meet some enemies before you get back up to full speed. What they've put in place of the traditional health system are melee moves that boost your health meter at a much faster rate. Get into combat and take out a lot of enemies, and you'll see results immediatelty. It's meant to keep the game moving, and to have the player squarely placed in the middle of those blood fountains.
As we've pointed out before, one thing that separates Space Marine from Gears is the total lack of a cover system. You can still place environmental obstacles between you and the incoming Orks, but most of those things will be destructible, and you won't be protected for long. While there is some sniper-based combat in the game, it's moslty an up-close-and-personal death-dealing situation, where you'll be deftly switching from your Plasma Gun to your Power Axe, straight from machine guns to melee. Relic doesn't want you cowering behind cover in that enormous holy armor.
You'll also build up Fury as you kill foes, indicated by an upside-down Omega symbol. Fury allows you to trigger both ranged and melee Fury Modes, which slow down time and allow you to deal out more damage. In ranged combat, things slow to a near crawl similar to bullet time in other games, and your gun does more damage, fires more bullets, and is much easier nail headshots with. In melee, the slow-motion isn't quite as pronounced, but you'll deal out a lot of nearby damage with special moves, good for clearing out groups of enemies.
Some of the other gameplay mechanics include screens that fade to black and white with extremely muffled audio while an alarm blares, warning you that you're about to die. It's much more attention-grabbing than games that just have red-tinged edges to indicate that you're not doing so well. The grenades are a nice touch as well, offering up a slice of science-fiction as they make a sort of insectoid whickering noise when you hurtle them (hopefully) towards your opponents.
Relic then took us further into the game to a level with a lot more verticality to it, and to assist with that, Titus gets a burst-based jump pack outfitted to his power armor. He and his allies (who fight alongside you throughout the game) are trying to make assault on an enormous cannon that is firing on the human forces. These levels offer a lof of platforming, and you can manuever over enemies while jetpacking to perform a "ground pound" move that does area damage, and can explode an enemy nicely if you land on top of them. Although getting into a good position and firing is important in these levels, the jump pack can also get you quickly into melee combat.
From there we briefly battled the Forces of Chaos, which were recently annouced as being in the game. The Chaos are much more devious than the brutish Orks, and they'll force you to quickly change your playstyle. There are several other weapons in the game, including the Melta Gun that gun punch holes in armor, and the Thunder Hammer that rounds out the trio of melee weapons.
Relic wasn't talking much about multiplayer, but the game will have both co-op and multiplayer in it with more details coming in June along with information about story-based collectibles that are scattered throughout Forge World. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is due to launch September 6.