This is a first impression based off the Playstation and Windows versions of the demo that I played.
There are two sections to play here; The Inquisitor, and Battlements. The Inquisitor is a quite long section where you and your Space Marine brethren do battle against the green tide of Orks, whereas Battlements is quite short, and has your character wearing a jump pack and you doing slam attacks into the ground at high speed. The funny thing is that Battlements is more like the demo I was expecting in terms of length, with lots of demos being vanishingly short. The Inquisitor has the sort of meat needed in demos and the fact that this particular demo includes both is convincing since it speaks of a confidence in the game from whomever devised the demo.
In fact, the game meets everything applicable in my own Developer Checklist of stuff that should be in games, except possibly the difficulty levels. Whilst from their descriptions they appear to be the usual Easy, Medium, Hard and relating those to the average player, in Normal I died a lot more than what I’d call “occasionally”. It seems the game at some level recognises this fact, putting you on Easy difficulty by default, which in practice leaves the game without an actual Easy setting. However, compared to other recent games with the difficulty bloat problem, Space Marine is comparatively mild.
Oh! They did use a help screen that depends on how long it takes to load the game, I generally look on this as a bad thing since hard drive speeds vary, but Space Marine lets you access all that information from the pause menu so it isn’t a problem.
A small explanation of the peculiar Health system of Space Marine would have made the experience a little more rounded too, in most games you don’t ‘heal’ by doing a particular type of attack. It’s amazing how much expectations of generalized controls drive our ability to pick up and play a new game, isn’t it?
The demo starts and you have instant control from the very beginning, rather than being a cut-scene where you have to just watch what the computer is doing. Not that it doesn’t have cut-scenes, but it doesn’t use them overly much.
The developers wanted a flow betwixt hand-to-hand and ranged combat, a seamlessness to using a close combat weapon after shooting and they’ve achieved this reasonably well, although I was surprised to find that the Space Marines aren’t as “shooty” as I’d expected, with the hand-to-hand seeming to be more necessary rather than picking off Orks from a distance, the shooty Orks also seem to be far more of a threat than I was expecting. In terms of the table-top game, Orks generally aren’t shooty being mostly mêlée-based, whereas Space Marines are shooty and kill things with their ranged weaponry, after all the bolter is a gun that fires rocket-propelled exploding bullets that detonate after they penetrate the skin. That’s kinda their thing. In fact, it turns out game-play wise it plays a little bit like Dynasty Warriors even with the power attack you can string on to the end of repeated normal attacks.
There is a dodge and a sprint to get a little extra fire-power in there before the enemy closes in too close, but with just shooting it takes a very long time to drop bigger Orks. Sprinting in Power Armour looks and feels exactly as clunky as you’d imagine. Actually they’ve done a really great job in animating and modelling the Space Marines, there is always the risk when you’re drawing something with such over the top proportions and vivid colouration as the Space Marines that they’ll not work so well and end up looking silly and breaking the audience / player’s suspension of disbelief, but it is simply not the case, the Space Marines look great, the other problem area is having the serious future humanity’s greatest warriors against Da Orks who are comedically over the top and silly, yet again it all just fits nicely.
Whilst the Space Marines themselves are the very colourful larger than life characters they should be, and the Orks are also the bright green they should be, the game does get a little muted and grey at times, I suspect the game doesn’t really have a proper black colour, but this is generally a bad idea in games since it just makes them look murky when it’s supposed to make everything always viewable, they should not be afraid to use very dark shades, it ends up looking better. Still the game is extremely appealing graphically, ‘though it is a shame we didn’t get to see the Space Marines with their fearsome looking helms on, I’m sure we will in the full game though! The game has, unlike the first Dawn of War and even the second one to a lesser extent, gotten the size difference right between the various Warhammer 40k universe characters. Space Marines are not Imperial Guard in wide suits, the Space Marines are far larger than the Guard even without their Power Armour on. That’s how they’re supposed to be.
There were a few graphical glitches in the demo with character models occasionally twitching to a different stance or appearing briefly in the wrong place, but generally these glitches were few and far between.
It’s nice to have a futuristic fantasy shooter which is not a contemporary one in thin disguise. The Halo games are a good example of what I mean, early Halos were far more fantastic than later variations which are much more identifiably contemporary. Even Killzone has easily recognisable modern elements, the ISA is one letter away from USA for good reason. What Warhammer 40k Space Marine brings however is something that is refreshingly divorced from the usual fare, we’re talking about the battle between the fascistic human empire complete with their immortal emperor and their struggle against Da Orks, a race of green-skinned partially fungal creations made for war whose latent psychic ability turns their clearly non-functioning guns into deadly weaponry, and who just happen to have comedy cockney accents.
I mention this in every review or comment about THQ and Relic’s Warhammer stuff, but it bears repeating here, the voice acting is absolutely spot-on bringing Dem Orkz to life. Competently used surround sound really helped place me in the world and tell me where my enemies were at.
Don’t even get me started on the forces of Chaos and the intricate role they play with every other race (except perhaps the Tau) and the Warhammer 40k universe. It’s pretty out there, but because it’s so established and has been through so many iterations it comes across as, unintuitive as it may sound, strangely believable simply because it’s so fleshed out and solid, and if you’re someone who appreciates Games Workshop stuff, wonderfully familiar.
In the game whilst you only have the option of using the mêlée weapon you are currently carrying, you can swap guns at any point, even to two-handed variants whilst not inhibiting your ability to use the mêlée weapon in the exact same way. Don’t worry about it, just go with it. The selection is, Bolt Pistol, Bolter, Stalker Pattern Bolter, and the Vengeance Launcher. The Bolt Pistol has infinite ammo and is the backup weapon whilst the others are the equivalent of standard rifle, sniper rifle, and sticky grenade launcher. Close combat-wise, so far we’ve seen the brilliant Chain Sword and Power Axe and the help screen indicates there will also be the standard Combat Knife, and the rarer Thunder Hammer.
They aren’t afeared to use lots of the background flavour and colour of the Warhammer 40k universe either, skull probes and skull motif buttons are to be found in abundance, Orks travel the universe in hollowed out asteroids. Orkytechture is brilliantly designed looking suitably constructed from scrap and hastily pained in clan colours.
Level design is interesting, if perhaps a little flat at times, but has a great sense of scale with some things in the game being suitably massive. There is always plenty of cover in the more open areas, in the smaller you’ll have to carefully watch all exits to succeed.
For the main game, rather than using the Blood Ravens, developer Relic’s in-house Space Marine Chapter (that’s a unique Space Marine army with its own subset of rules and colouration), they have instead used the Ultramarines, this seems odd, but on the other hand makes sense because they are one of the most easily identifiable Space Marine chapters, but unlike the others (Blood and Dark Angels for example), their chapter is the most likely to use Stalker Pattern Bolters, so perhaps that is the reason?
It’s a great feeling to wade a bloody path through the resistance.
The game is deliciously brutal, with blood everywhere, although its a shame the blood decals don’t stay on the models longer since its very cheap to do. Lovely kill sequences practically pour with blood and it’s ever so satisfying to stick a Chain Sword down a big Orks throat. Gretchin, smaller, runtier Orkoids slowly morph into walking health packs as the game progresses.
There are three optional layouts and a variety of extra options for control customisation, such as swapping the sticks, and inverting L1,R1/L2,R2. Nice to see an option to turn off the aiming assist, but a slight shame it didn’t just let us remap all the controls we wanted.
Weirdly, the controls for the XBox 360 controller used on the PC were less customisable than the Playstation version which lets you swap the shoulder buttons whereas on the PC it wouldn’t let me.
The Windows version didn’t seem particularly stable and I had a few sound issues.
In conclusion though, this game is so much fun, and I for one will be getting it, and I recommend it whole-heartedly.