It’s interesting that it’s taken this long for Games Workshop to greenlight or push for an action iteration of their expanded Warhammer universe; taking the table-top figurines or detailed RTS representations of their much-loved goodies, baddies and all those in between into third-person space. But they have and it’s coming in thick and fast, much like the armour of the Space Marines found within. Well, thick yes, fast... maybe not so much.
Actually that last point was one of contention among myself and Dan when we saw the game out at TGS last year. Space Marine was pitched to us as something of a Gears of War, only with walking cover, so no cover-mechanic at all. And on paper, this sounded good, but the presentation was slow and we just weren’t sold on the pacing at the time.
Since then, I’ve actually had my own mitts on a playable version, and walked away pleasantly surprised. The action has been ramped up with slightly more complex combat, better combos and an overall boost in speed. It still looks like a no-brain-needed action affair; something to sink into after a hard day at work or school, or with a few friends and beers. And it’s the action stuff I really had fun play with during my hands-on. There’s a greater rhythm to stringing together combos, and it reminded me a lot of Darksiders sword-play in this area.
Myriad enemy types will feature specific attacks to break their block, or their own chain, however, a Fury Meter you build up through successful combos, etc, can equally help you unleash your own powerful finishers, and the game does not skimp on the colour of these; painting the town red has never been so much fun. You can also utilise your Fury drain for abilities like bullet-time, which allows for more precision aim if you’re in dire need of taking out camping Orks, of which the team at Relic have planted many.
Unlike Gears of War, Space Marine takes the up-close-and-personal melee stuff to new heights, while never relinquishing on ranged fire-power, either. This creates an interesting dynamic in a game otherwise about slaughtering hordes of baddies, in that you can really craft your own play-style and, theoretically, get more out of it with replayability as a result. It’s not something I dived into headlong while speaking with my demo chaperon, but there was definitely an air of multiple play-throughs riddled across what I played and saw.
For the hardcore fans out there though, please take none of the above as word there’s nothing meaty for you here, because there’s a fairly extensive story that not only includes Space Marines (the main character, Titus, is voiced by Mark Strong of Kick-Ass and Rock ‘n Rolla fame) and Orks, but also Chaos and many, many more shenanigans - all approved by Games Workshop as official Warhammer 40K canon.
Moreover, there will be a Paint component that will let you play around, on-screen, with a fully 3D avatar as you would a table-top figurine. It’s an addition added solely for the Painter crowd out there, but also adds a cool level of customisation for the rest of the non-figure painting audience who will obviously pick this one up as well.
There are other cool components for the nerdier Warhammer fans out there, such as the inclusion of certain weapons that have never been represented outside of sheer words before. An example we saw was a Grenade Launcher we’d been told is part of the series’ lore, but has never seen the light of day and that the game would feature more hardcore Easter-Egg type stuff like this for the observant folks.
Visually the game has come a long way from what we saw last year as well, with everything running off Vigil’s Darksiders game-engine. There’s a bit of an art parallel between the two games, but that was to be expected based on how the Warhammer characters have been represented over the years anyway (and makes us more confident in Vigil’s current handling of the next Warhammer MMO project). Lighting is much improved, as are animation trees, and hit-detection overall. As mentioned earlier the team have not skimped on the gore, but given its more bright presentation (again, think Darksiders), we can’t really foresee any problems with the Ratings Board here in Australia.
I was also told the game is going to be aggressively supported post-release with “robust DLC” that they were obviously too reluctant to overtly get into. But there was a hint at certain DLC packs being added to this model to “appease fanboys”, which I’ll take as a “if you build it, he will come” angle. So fanboys, listen up, if you like the game when you get it, be sure to tell the team what it lacked or what you’d like to see down the track, because we have it on good authority they’ll likely listen.
Finally, there is definitely going to be a day and date release for the game on PC, and it was hinted at we’d be seeing a little more love on the PC to take advantage of its deeper feature-set, though nothing beyond “wait and see”. It will definitely look better, and is being handled internally, so no outsourcing here, which hopefully means a tighter, more consistent vision for that platform overall.
There’s not much more to say though. By and large, this is definitely a hard-slog action beat-em-up with lots of guns, lots of melee and lots to kill. The combat has evolved to offer up more depth, which is very welcome, it will sate fans with an original and engaging story worthy of the franchise’s canon and is well and truly worth getting excited for. At this stage, provided the team maintain the course they’re on, we’re reasonably happy.
To be fair, it’s not a game-changing entry in the action genre, but it’s not meant to be. Instead, so far, it’s immensely satisfying in the amount of power you wield, the depth of combos and use of your Fury Meter, and the various enemies on-hand to kill. Bring on Titus and co.