I'll get this out in the open right now; I'm not much into the Warhammer scene. Therefore, if I misspell a certain race's name or get some minor detail from the game's universe wrong, feel free to bombard my email with hate messages. What I definitely am, however, is a fan of shooters, and playing through four chapters of the upcoming action title's campaign would have proved a fun time for any shooter fan.
"This isn't just Gears of Warhammer," said Raphael van Lierop, the game's director at Vancouver's Relic games. "This is what it is to be a Space Marine in the Warhammer universe."
Regardless of what van Lierop had to say, I got a distinct Gears of War vibe when I picked up the controller. Playing as Captain Tidus of the Ultramarines, you're tasked with repelling an endless invasion from both millions of Orks (with guns), and a mysterious demonic race known as the Forces of Chaos. I may have not been too familiar with the intricacies of the plot, but the action was comfortable, yet unique in its own way. Chaotic action from all angles and a group of Space Marines in heavy armour will certainly conjure a few flashbacks from Epic's shooter opus.
Space Marine differentiates itself from many modern shooters by eschewing a standard cover system, and rather encourage the player to throw themselves into the fray. According to the presentation before our playtime, the key features of the title were "Visible Violent Death, There is Only War, Be a Space Marine, and Blockbuster entertainment." To clarify on that, the combat engine allows players to switch quickly between quick and powerful melee attacks, and seamlessly switch to gunplay and back again. Quick attacks with the chainsword can be chained with other quick or powerful strikes, giving the title something in common with another "of War" series, this of the God variety. Despite their huge armour, the marines are surprisingly nimble and rolling out of the way of attacks as well. With explosions and enemies coming out of the very detailed and destroyed woodwork, the developers have succeeded in creating an action packed blockbuster feel while maintaining a solid control scheme and smooth playability. This is surprising considering Relic Games are best known for their real time strategy titles like Company of Heroes and Dawn of War.
As you take out enemies, you'll fill a fury meter which allows for powerful extra attacks in both melee and ranged modes. The melee mode allows you to rip through enemies easily with your chainsword, or slow down time for a well placed headshot in ranged mode. Enemies can also be torn apart with a well timed charge into their ranks. Space Marines can also unleash gory executions to increase health, at the risk of keeping your character open to other attacks.
The game was linear, pushing us from set piece to set piece battle. There wasn't much story to mention in the four chapters we played, so it remains to be seen if the combat engine will remain compelling throughout the developer's suggested 12 hour campaign.
We got our hands on quite a few of the ranged weapons, none of which were anything unique, but were fun enough to cause carnage with. Here you're given access to the Warhammer universe's equivalent of pistols, machine guns, sniper rifles, plasma guns, and a sweet laser cannon to take out heavier enemies. We only were able to use the chainsword as a melee weapon, but we were promised a power axe and a thunder hammer in the full game.
Enemy AI also seemed pretty solid, but a little predictable. It didn't take long in our playthrough to know how a given Ork was going to react as they poured into the levels. The Chaos enemies did prove surprisingly unpredictable and difficult to kill, however. Overall, we encountered 12 of 26 enemies in the game, promising some variety in targets.
It bears mentioning that we played a pre-Alpha build of the game, upon which several bugs were present, including a particularly nasty one that had us falling through the level on more than one occasion, and a few minor ones that played havoc with the physics of Ork corpses. There's still plenty of time to fix these bugs before the game goes gold this August.
Whether you're a fan of shooters or the Warhammer universe, this is a title to keep your eye on. If you happen to love both, then consider your pre-order a safe bet. This action packed shooter will be gracing the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC.