Protagonists in video games are usually reflected as being elite in some form, whether that be intelligence, strength, or simply having an impressive armory. In Relic’s Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
, the protagonist’s elitism is taken to an even higher degree. As a Space Marine, Captain Titus has undergone radical transformations both physically and mentally. He’s seven feet tall, and even boasts more organs than the average, non-elite human. Space Marines are built to be fighting machines. This character that you will guide to face the ultimate threat to humankind - namely, the alien invasion - sets the dark and grim tone for the rest of the game and the obstacles you will be facing.
At a recent press event in San Francisco, THQ and Relic introduced members of the gaming press to parts of the single player campaign of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. (Note:THQ paid for the airfare and hotel room for this trip) Game Director Raphael van Lierop gave us an idea of the importance of the project for Relic: out of 200 developers working on 3 projects, 120+ programmers, designers, artists, etc. have been focused on the Space Marine project. To shift the franchise from Relic’s traditional RTS route to a blockbuster action console game, they’ve even hired developers renowned for making console action games to lend their expertise to the title.
Although Relic is transforming the franchise into a console, third-person action shooter title, this does not mean that it is going to be a regurgitation of every third-person shooter out there. Contrary to popular belief, explains Raphael, the genesis of Space Marine is not “Gears of Warhammer.”
Space Marine incorporates a hybrid combat model. Players can choose from a mix of both strong melee hits and shooter elements. While most third person shooters implement a medium to long range distance for engagement, Raphael explains that Space Marine’s combat distances are more short to medium range to encourage players to run out into battle. This allows players to really take advantage of the multiple combat options available to them. Close range combat involves melee attacks, charge attacks, and a Fury system that builds as you damage your enemies. The Fury strike attack is a heavier melee attack that will clear a distance immediately in front of you. You can also engage Fury Marksman attack that works like bullet time to slow the on-screen motion for a more precise ranged aim. Should you feel in a vindictive mood, your Fury bar can also work towards executions on fodder units or stunned elite enemies. You can harvest them for Fury or health, depending on which enemy you are killing.
These options during combat are meant to add more depth to an otherwise x-mashing experience. It’s also meant to replicate the forward momentum, and power and strength of a Space Marine. Relic has made an attempt to encourage players to be actively on the offense in battle through combat mechanics, tuning, and even the regenerative health system. Raphael insists that this sets Space Marine apart from most shooters in that you are typically expected to remain under cover while picking off enemies from a distance. In Space Marine, however, you’ll be fighting anywhere between 15-30 enemies per mob. You are forced to make short term decisions; in order to survive this third-person shooter, you’ll have to quickly assess the combat zone to jump into the thick of the battle.
Although Relic emphasized multiple times over that Space Marine encourages quick decisions and close combat fighting, I often found that enemies with a long range threat can easily drop your shields and health. Rather than jump into the thick of battle as is the developers’ intention for you to do in their game, I hid behind structures to ensure that all long range enemies (who often had the more powerful weaponry) were cleared before making my way into the large mobs of enemies. Mobs of enemies that we saw in the preview at the THQ event included variations of orks. They range everywhere from small scurrying runts to more heavily shielded brutes. Raphael describes these enemies as animalistic in nature, that attack like a pack of wild dogs. Relic also showed a level in which we encountered the Chaos. These fiends are far more devious than the orks, whose movements are predictable by comparison. The Chaos race will teleport behind you and whir in and out of your vision, making a precise shot much more difficult. Although they won’t swarm at you in similar numbers as the orks, these enemies are much more dangerous even in their smaller packs. Fortunately, the Fury Marksman ability is perfect in situations where you are confronted by elusive enemies such as these. The Psyker enemies who accompany the Chaos hover above the ground and are particularly fickle, but the marksman ability is a savior here. Fortunately, there are also a healthy assortment of weapons to choose from including pistols, grenade launchers and a sniper rifle.
Fighting the Chaos race was where I most noticed the inhibitions of your clunky suit. Once an enemy warped behind me, it was difficult to turn around and face my threat. However, being that we were playing a pre-alpha build, I was told that the third person view would be changed to be further zoomed out than it currently was in our build. This would at the very least give a better perspective of what enemies are approaching from your blind spots. However, even simple tasks like attempting to round corners on stair cases as the Captain felt heavy.
The Warhammer 40K universe can be explained very simply by its own tag line: “In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only War.” Everything about Space Marine is captured in a blend of fantasy and science fiction, and accented by gothic designs. The environment has a dark tone, and constructions tower above you, reminding you of the deeper universe of the Warhammer 40K franchise. The outdoor industrial area is not the only place you will fight through, however. We were led through dilapidated factories and the under city’s waste management tunnels.
Playing as the elite superhuman warrior, Captain Titus, you are tasked with protecting the Imperial Forge World from an alien invasion. The alien threat is attempting to steal the Titans - incredibly valuable war machines - and so you must hold them off until the Imperial Liberation fleet arrives. The threat of a dark conspiratorial organization in search of a mysterious power source is another obstacle to humankind’s survival. Of course, all of these burdens fall on your shoulders as the franchise’s hero, who has served for 100 years (as indicated by the service studs in his forehead).
Even the Space Marines are designed to be conspicuous, and as dark and gothic as the environment in which they fight. Dressed in a colorful, and yet medieval look, these marines stand out on the battlefield. This further encourages the motivation to go headfirst into the battlefield.
We’re told that the entire campaign takes around 10-12 hours to complete, out of which we played about and hour and a half of. Expect the game to release this summer on the PC, 360 and PS3.