Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine Hands-On Preview

By Darryl Kaye on April 21, 2011, 9:26AM EDT

The depth and size of the Warhammer 40,000 brand as an offline entity can't be understated. Over the years Games Workshop has successfully transformed the age-old fantasy fiction into a futuristic conflict with exactly the same ideals. However, until recently, video games that attempted to capitalise on this often fell short. It was only once Relic Entertainment came to the forefront that things started to turn around, with the Dawn of War franchise. That was a real-time strategy game though, and their latest project, Space Marine, couldn't be further from that in almost every aspect.

As soon as you take control of the main protagonist, Captain Titus, you will get an instant sense of power. The guy weighs around 1,000 lbs, and it shows. Every step you make will be prefaced with a huge thud on the ground and when you perform an evasive manoeuvre, it's almost as if the world is shaking around you.

Many people have donned Space Marine with the rather unfair label of "Gears of Warhammer". There are the obvious comparisons, in the burly looking protagonist and the fact it's a third person shooter. But beyond that, they are quite different in how they actually play. You see, Space Marine is all about going on the offensive. There's absolutely no cover system and it's been designed this way on purpose. Relic has put you in charge of a walking battle tank, so they want you to use him to the max.

You will have a selection of guns, all of which play a prominent role in the Warhammer 40,000 lore. There's the classic Bolter, but also the Stalker Pattern Bolter and the Lascannon and Meltagun. However many of the stronger weapons will have a limited supply of ammunition and in the case of the Plasma Pistol, you can use it up rather quickly without even thinking about it. The ammo isn't stored in a conventional way, and you can charge up a shot to burst the entire coil in one go - but you only have five coils.

Fortunately, every Space Marine carries around a trusty melee weapon, and Relic has made sure you'll want to use this wherever possible. Of course, it's possible to rely on your Bolter, but you will have enemies rushing you wherever possible and Gretchins do nothing but rush you. It means that if you decide to use the gun in close quarters, you will get over-run with enemies and maintaining a nice balance between gunfire and melee combat will be the key to victory.

It's a system that works well because of how much damage a Space Marine can soak up. The game employs a regenerative health system, which makes perfect sense considering how modified the Space Marines are. And if you're in a tight spot, facing rather sketchy odds, your best bet is to whack out your melee weapon and do some serious damage. You have the option to perform light attacks and heavy attacks, but the system felt as though it was lacking a bit of depth. Since it feels as though you will be using melee attacks quite a lot, some variation, or different moves, would work wonders here. It's worth mentioning though, that the animation blending is excellent. Your Space Marine will adapt to the situation they're in and it's so fluid.

The Fury system also suffers from a lack of depth. Dispatching foes will raise your Fury meter and when it's full, you can either perform a ranged, or melee Fury Attack. The ranged attack just slows down time when you aim allowing you to pick off enemies easier, while the melee attack just performs a strong flurry. It didn't ever look as though this move changed though, and while it was cool the first time, it felt a bit odd. It was as if the Space Marine was just doing a move and the enemies were dying afterwards randomly - it never really felt like the move connected with anything.

The thing that's most exciting about Space Marine though, is the prospect of a third-person shooter having a detailed and well thought-out story. If it doesn't, there will be a huge amount of backlash, as it's what the franchise is famous for. If the story is there, and the gameplay receives a little more polish, Space Marine could be one of the surprises of this year.

The game still has a fairly open release window, but it's currently down for August 2011 on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.

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