I'm hunkered down inside some massive armor, hiding on the other side of a pile of crates waiting on my gun to reload so I can get back into the fight and kill some bad guys. Are Dom or Baird anywhere in sight? No, because I'm actually playing Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. The lumbering brute I'm piloting is Captain Titus, a key member of the Ultramarines, and he's apparently so much badder than Marcus Fenix that he doesn't even need a cover system to get through his adventures.
The Warhammer series is based on a tabletop game that yearns for (and has had several) video game adaptations, and Space Marine is the latest in that long saga. We've spent some time playing the multiplayer Ultramarine experience before, but recently we were able to check out the single player. While the gameplay is nearly the same (obviously you can't switch loadouts on the fly), the biggest different is getting behind Captain Titus and playing the story as it unfolds in front of you.
You're tasked with stopping an Ork invasion of Forge World Graia, a gigantic, industrial location that builds vehicles and weapons for the Imperial Guard. The Warboss behind the Orks is hoping to steal a Battle Titan, which is a huge mech that can decimate entire battalions. But while you're busy fighting this threat, a scientist/marine Inquisitor Drogan opens up a portal that allows Chaos forces to pour through, bringing a much more serious facet to the battle.
As the game unfolds, you're tasked with leading the Ultramarines against the Orks, who attack in great numbers. You'll learn how your weapons work, initially only armed with a Bolt Pistol and a Combat Knife. As you progress, you'll encounter drop pods that contain new weaponry, and these only unlock for qualified Ultramarine personnel. It's not long before you're outfitted with your iconic Chainsword, and your Bolter automatic rifle. These two items are your bread and butter throughout the campaign, although you'll eventually gain access to other weapons like Power Axes, Thunder Hammers, Vengeance Launchers, Plasma Pistols, and more.
Titus' battles eventually take him beneath the massive Titan Manufactorum, where the Titans are assembled, and in the nearby habitation centers is where you first encounter Inquisitor Drogan. He's behind some secret experiments (why is it always one rogue jerkwad of a scientist doing things like this in video games?), and he'll tag along with you as long as it serves his purpose. He's a "psyker," able to access psychic powers, and he's using them to control the bleeding from wounds sustained during encounters with the Orks.
Pressing on, you'll begin encountering Chaos Marines, and these guys are much harder to kill than the Ork hordes. They also have baddies with them that spawn from The Warp, and these demonic forces represent a considerable step up on the combat chain. This is where you'll want to master weapons like the Melta Gun, perfect for taking out groups of foes in close range, and the Lascannons, which can down foes at long range. Getting up close and personal is part of the Ultramarine mantra and training, but it's easy to get quickly overwhelmed while you're in the middle of melee battles. The key is remembering to stun your enemies, and then performing an execute maneuver on them afterwards to regain some of your health.
Partway through the game, you'll be equipped with an Iron Halo that provides an energy shield around Captain Titus. It's important to keep an eye on this (it's represented by a gold outline around your health bar) and to make sure you back off when it's depleted. Titus is tough, but when his shield is gone and his health is low, he won't last very long as all. It's also key to keep an eye on your Fury meter in the lower left-hand side of the screen, because when it's full (charge it up by getting kills) you can push down on both thumbsticks to go into Fury, which provides you with enhanced melee strength and bullet time for ranged combat.
The Ork levels aren't too taxing, and you'll have a lot of fun on the missions where you're equipped with a jetpack. Sadly, that piece of equipment is only limited in use, and when you get near the end of the area where you can use it, Titus will say, "Out of fuel," and it will drop off of you. There's no fuel meter when you're using it, it's just not a permanent piece of equipment. But flying in short bursts and using the melee button to perform a "Ground Pound" is very satisfying, and often stuns nearby enemies enough so that you can execute them and restock your health.
One of the hardest battles in our preview build was with Warboss Grimskull. He's the one intent on capturing the Titan, and he is a pain in the ass. He has a powerful charge attack, launches multiple grenades, and also attacks with waves of Orks behind him. The problem is that when you engage in melee attacks with the normal Orks, he'll charge in and blindside you, often resulting in a one-hit kill. Fury is your friend here, and if you activate it immediately, you can get a full clip's worth of headshot on him, with should stagger him enough to put him down with melee attacks.
Moving on to the Chaos Marines and their otherworldly allies, the best advice is to Ground Pound whenever you're equipped with a jetpack, and to use ranged weapons if at all possible to down their armored marines early. Getting in close will have you hammered with ballistic attacks, and since you can't take cover, that will quickly eat through your shields. Range when possible, and switch to melee when the daemons get nearby. The Thunder Hammer works particularly well against them, but equipping that disables any long-range weapons, so choose accordingly.
Our preview build was only part of the game, and it culminated with the Chaos sorcerer Nemeroth possessing Inquisitor Drogan's body. You're meant to take Nemeroth on one on one, but our build stops just before that titanic fight can begin. While Space Marine lacks the graphic attention to detail that Gears of War 3 provides, there's plenty of compelling gameplay and an intriguing story here. Even without the tabletop element that appeals to fans of the series, there's plenty to like about this Warhammer entry. And if the 10 to 12 hour campaign single-player experience doesn't feel long enough for you, that's where multiplayer comes in. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more of this game when it comes out.