by Robert Zak
previewed on PC
First step into 3rd Person Shooters
The Warhammer videogames have seen considerable success in recent years, mainly fuelled by the solid Dawn of War strategy games and the Warhammer Online MMO. However, an area that has until now remained uncharted territory for the popular brand is the third-person action genre. Considering the fact that the franchise revolves completely around war, weaponry, and bad-ass creatures, this is a surprising gap in the Warhammer repertoire. Thankfully, THQ and Relic Entertainment - the publisher-developer combo responsible for the Dawn of War games - have taken it upon themselves to give the brand the action-game makeover it has always seemed destined for, and they are determined to make it a stand-out game in a crowded genre.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is set on an Imperial Forge World belonging to the Imperium of Mankind. In more simple terms, it is a planet that is responsible for the mass-scale production of machinery and weaponry to fight off the Ork hordes; if it falls, mankind is doomed. You play an Ultramarine called Titus, who finds himself working with a team of Space Marines. Ultramarines are a blue, slightly less iconic and fashionable version of the traditional red Space Marines; a good way to make your hero stand out in the crowd. Your mission is - quite simply but not so easily - to defend the Imperial planet from the mass force of the Orks.
So with a fairly conventional plot like that, how does Space Marine hope to distinguish itself from the rabble of third-person shooters? Something that immediately stands out in the footage is the gameplay style. There is no cover mechanic here, so clearing waves of baddies from behind an indestructible wooden box is not an option. This makes sense considering that you are padded out in huge power armour and have a brutal array of melee weapons at your disposal which would be a shame not to use. In fact, Titus can smash through certain walls and piles of rubble, effectively saying 'f&$k you' to stick-to-cover shooter gameplay.
Guns, more guns, and Chain-swords
As expected from a Warhammer 40k game, there are futuristic weapons in abundance in Space Marine. All 15 weapons in the game level up with use, changing their appearance and improving their damage-dealing capability. Relic have also focused heavily on integrating melee combat into the game. Among these, players will be able to use hammers, power knuckles and, of course, the legendary space marine chain-sword. Such weapons really make you feel like a Champion of the battlefield rather than a mere soldier, and all are supplemented by pleasingly gory finishing moves. Producer at Relic, Raphael Von Lierop, has emphasised the aim to create a seamless flow between ranged shooting combat and up-close-and-personal melee action; something that's definitely done too rarely in 3rd-person shooters. As if that wasn't enough, there will also be special Exotic Weapons that can only be used at specific points in the game, such as the Heavy Bolter, which makes quick work of hapless Ork hordes.
Gameplay footage of Space Marine certainly shows a nice mix of melee and gun combat. However, I couldn't help feeling that the graphics and lack of enemy variety make the game look a little bland. Much of the teaser footage shows little more than Titus tearing through an undeniably impressive amount of identikit Ork enemies; while it certainly looks heroic, it also looks repetitive. Thankfully, there was also footage of a spectacular set-piece in which Titus is airborne and gunning down waves of jet-pack Orks from the sky. Let's hope that this sequence is just one of many that would help give Space Marine's gameplay some much-needed diversity.
Living out a Warhammer fan's fantasy
Relic have stated that Space Marine's campaign mode is around 10 hours long, and that there will be both co-op and competitive multiplayer modes, of which the details have not been released yet. Relic have showed some good initiative by making the full-on gameplay reflect the fact that you're a super-soldier of the sort rarely seen in videogames. While such unrestrained action is undeniably fun for a bit, it will also be crucial that Space Marine contain enough gameplay and environmental variety that will prevent it from becoming repetitive. That being said, it has been many a Warhammer fan's wet dream to run headlong into a horde of Orks with a boltgun in one hand and a chain-sword in the other; this formula alone could guarantee success for Warhammer's brave foray into the 3rd-person action genre.