As you may have read, I was fortunate enough to attend a THQ community event last week. I joined several gamers, journalists, hobbyists, and fans of the Warhammer 40k universe for a day-long, hands-on session with the upcoming WH40k: Space Marine game. I have only a fledgling knowledge of the franchise, so I was very much out of my league. A friend of mine told me to use the phrase “For the Emperor” whenever possible. I may have not said it aloud, but after playing Space Marine, I was most definitely thinking it.
I was given the opportunity to play hours of the single player campaign as well as the two multiplayer versus modes. Unfortunately, THQ was tight lipped on the co-op support. I tried to ply them with compliments, favors, and even a sexy dance, but they weren’t having any of it. Their loss. The official statement remains that co-op exists and details are coming very, very soon. Oh well. It’s not like I was going to pass up an opportunity to play Space Marine. I wanted to get my hands on that bad-ass armor customizer. I also wanted to find out if this was just another stale third person shooter cloaked in a beloved license. I’m happy to say that it’s not a Gears clone, although lazy gamers are sure to make that comparison. I played WH40k: Space Marine all damn day, and it was awesome.
We were given ample time with the single player campaign. I’m going to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, so don’t worry about seeing any specific plot details. All you need to know is it’s the 40th Millennium. That means it’s the future, for you non-math majors out there. There’s gun-toting Orks, jetpacks, and all that crazy stuff we’ve been promised ever since Jules Verne and J.R.R. Tolkien got drunk together and invented science fiction. Mankind is facing a whole universe of adversaries, and you are one of the human race’s few protectors, an Adeptus Astartes, a Space Marine. The single player combat embodies the idea of “visible, violent death.” This is Thermopylae as a spectacle. You are the 300 Spartans compounded into one dynamic kill-crazed wrecking ball of power armor. Since that’s a helluva mouthful, we’ll just call the main character Captain Titus.
The Decapitron 40000 is dishwasher safe for easy cleanup.
Space Marine’s combat system is impressive and intuitive. Gameplay shifts between third person shooting and bloody melee action with ease. If you pull the right trigger Titus shoots. If you smash the melee buttons Titus become a maniacal murder machine. And do not think you can simply spam the “X” button. There’s only one way to regain health in Space Marine, and that’s done by performing executions. These are gory finishers that require a bit of finesse to pull off. They are also rewarding on a dark, guttural level. You’ll have to time your melee combinations with stun attacks in order to initiate these gruesome maneuvers. You must always push forward, as you can only heal yourself with the death of your enemies. The devs call this “momentum combat.” At times the game will intentionally slow down when you’re in the thick of the fight, lending a cinematic feel to the visceral action. The dev team mentioned 300 as one of their inspirations, but they didn’t need to. You can feel it. The single player campaign will supposedly take around 12 -15 hours to complete, which is high for a shooter, but just about right for an action game.
There were a few things I was wary of as I played Space Marine. I was surprised by the difficulty. I had a hard time with several areas, and I was playing on the “Easy” setting. It wasn’t frustrating, just difficult. I felt as though Titus could dish out massive damage, but I didn't feel I could absorb much punishment. The momentum concept of the combat system continually drew me into melee encounters. I found sometimes it was best to sit back and pick off the guys with rocket launchers before wading into a Chainsword fight. This may have been a result of me trying to rush through the game, since I had limited time with it. I found that if I mixed up my attacks I got the best results. The game is also very brown, but that seems to be the nature of the beast when you have an industrialized setting. Later levels did add some variety to the color palette. Despite the (at times) dreary background, the game looks great. The gameplay videos and screenshots really don’t do the title justice.