The Average Gamer

Warhammer 40K: Space Marine Demo Impressions (360)

There are some folks out there that maintain that Gears of War 3 by Epic and the upcoming Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine game from THQ are essentially one and the same. Okay, so they both feature obscenely large men in bulky armor shooting anything that moves. Okay, so you spend a lot of time tearing apart anything that comes in range of a large bladed attachment or, in the case of Space Marine, a whacking big chainsword. Really that’s where the similarity ends. For a start the Space Marines don’t crouch. Of course they physically can but why would you need to when you look that cool?

For the sake of those whose consoles are not connected to the internet, I checked out the demo that recently landed on XBL and PSN. Some of you may be aware of the Warhammer 40,000 franchise. It’s often considered synonymous with the word “nerd” and occasionally stretched to gamer. Usually shortened to Warhammer 40K, the original is a tabletop action game from Games Workshop where you can command whole armies set across a fictional sci-fi universe.

In this universe, humanity has become this insane intergalactic empire named The Imperium of Man, ruled over by the non-egotistically titled God Emperor of Mankind. Space Marines are the 8-feet-tall genetically enhanced super-soldiers of the Imperium and generally are so badass it hurts. Most Space Marines undergo decades of training just to wear the inches-thick armor. The game follows the story of Captain Titus, lead badass of the Ultramarines, on his quest to smite evil and “crush overwhelming alien forces”.

The demo lets you jump right into the action with two missions to tackle. I won’t spoil the story for those who haven’t played yet BUT I can reveal that it does feature Orks – you know the green skinned ugly buggers from the likes of Lord of The Rings and other such fantasy tales. This time however, they are usually heavily armed and attack in stupidly large numbers. Within 5 minutes of starting the demo I found myself being assaulted by waves of 20+ Orks. Where Gears of War prefers its levels to take a more cover-based approach, Space Marines forces your hand into melee by swarming you. Lucky you have that handy portable chainsword. Pressing X on the keypad swings your trusty blade hard enough to rend most Orks asunder. A swift tap of Y either in a combo or not will stun the sturdier opponents, allowing you to execute a beautiful and equally gory execution which usefully restores health.

Health is crucial. This may sound like basic knowledge but especially on the harder difficulty modes where enemy damage poses a serious threat when surrounded, (and believe me that will happen more than you like) your health and shields will drop at a serious rate and this execution is the only way to regain health quickly.

As if the swarm of overly-aggressive green dudes wasn’t enough, they will be backed up by the more intelligent Orks of the gene pool, who you’ll often see hanging behind cover lobbing grenades or shooting you with surprising accuracy. Of course, for these annoyances you do have ranged weapons, namely two varieties of bolter; one bolt pistol and one semi automatic; a bolt rifle, which acts as a long range sniper rifle; and the vengeance launcher which fires sticky charges onto surfaces or enemies which you can then detonate remotely. All four weapons are available during the demo at all times. Each has ammo restrictions except for the bolt pistol which has infinite ammo.

It doesn’t take long to discover the best uses of each weapon. The bolter is great for spraying an oncoming group of Orks with bullets to reduce their numbers before the melee showdown. The Vengeance Launcher can be effectively used on larger heavy armored enemies by coating them in rounds and detonating to make the stumble. The sniper is, of course, for picking off those more difficult annoyances in the distance. One of things I love about the guns is that Space Marine prompts you to reload well before you have emptied your clip, saving you from those annoying instances of suddenly running out of ammo.

One of things I was concerned about was just how well the two combat styles of melee and ranged would mix together. Battles flow smoothly between Chainsword action and gunplay in a way that could almost be orchestrated. There is no better feeling then charging at a group of Orks while spraying the bolt pistol, hacking away with the Chainsword then picking off a long range attacker only to bring your Chainsword back down on the head of another assailant.

There is quite a difference in terms of the approach you’ll need for the different difficulty modes. On Easy, running Chainsword-first into a horde and just letting loose will generally not have a negative effect. On the Hard difficulty however, doing so will just bring you an early death and a respawn at the last checkpoint. Checkpoints are placed just far enough between to allow for a little challenge without having to replay 30 minutes of grinding combat. A word to the wise; you WILL die when playing through Hard so be prepared to see the same checkpoints a few times over. If things get too hard however you can unleash some of Titus’ pent up rage by activating his Fury. This makes him glow gold and inflict harder and faster damage for short period of time. Fury also regenerates the health bar so keep an eye on both bars for tactical use.

The second part of the demo is a short 5 minute section that sees you jumping from platform to platform with the awesome jump pack in order to support your team mates on the ground. The jump pack works in short bursts and sends you shooting into the air. A handy reticule appears on the ground and is controllable with the right analogue stick. Give a short tap of the X button and Titus will go thundering down to wherever the reticule is placed, slamming into the ground with enough force to kill some enemies or stun others. Don’t make my mistake and boost-slam into stacks of explosive barrels. It doesn’t end well. The jump pack can also be used to quick dodge – this is great for diving into a group of Orks, slashing away with Mr Chainy and boosting out again before receiving too much damage.

In regards to graphics and sound, Warhammer 40k: Space Marine is extremely polished. Environments are detailed and can mostly be destroyed by explosives and bullet fire. The detailing on the marines themselves is spot on and Titus’ purity seals and detailed armor gives away his Lord status while differentiating him from the others. The only gripe I have is that the Orks all seem to speak perfect English with exactly the same voice. Constant calls of “Space Marines!” or “Kill those Space Marines” does get a little grating.

All in all I like Space Marine, not just because I was and occasionally still am one of those people who loves playing the tabletop game but because it actually works. The combat is smooth and delicious while being challenging enough to avoid boredom. The Universe itself is so massively detailed. THQ have so much to draw from and the mention of some of the Imperium’s most revered soldiers, The Inquisition, within the first 2 minutes of the demo had my nerd buds tingling. Whatever your playstyle, Space Marine has something for you and looks set to be one of the best Warhammer 40,000 video games made. If you do have an internet-connected console, go and download the demo NOW and watch this trailer while you are waiting. You won’t be disappointed.

The Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine demo is available now on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. Preorder the game itself for 9th September 2011.

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