Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine hands-on preview

From the tabletop to the front lines

Captain Titus and the Space Marines under his command have it rough. They've been raised from birth to defend the human race against the oncoming, never-ending swarm of bloodthirsty and warlike Orks. To make matters worse, they're also being attacked by the devious and powerful followers of the Chaos Gods, who warp in from alternate dimensions to join the fight. Luckily for them, they've been genetically altered to deal with just about any threat that comes their way. Standing at more than seven feet tall and weighing in at about 1,000 pounds, they're capable of destroying most everything that comes their way. And that's why they're the focus of Relic Entertainment's newest foray into the Warhammer universe.

As soon as you take control of Captain Titus, the sheer power of the Space Marine becomes apparent. They're heavy, strong, and well-versed in all kinds of combat. They can switch from long-range gunfights to melee swordfights at any moment, and the speed and fluidity of gameplay matches that. Taking out a couple snipers from afar in the midst of going hand-to-hand with rushing Ork grunts is as easy to pull off as it is enjoyable. It also helps that Titus wields a sword with a chainsaw attached to it – that's pretty cool.

With the emphasis on brutal and violent combat, don't expect to be able to sit back and pick off enemies from a distance though. There's no cover system here. Hell, there aren't even a whole lot of places to run. Enemies come in relentless waves, and Titus has to deal with them the best he can. Do enough bloodletting, and you'll fill up your Fury bar, letting you either unleash a powerful melee attack that takes down small crowds of enemies in one swipe, or lets you slow down time to fire away with your ranged weapon of choice. Got a brutish Ork and his minions coming after you? No problem, the Fury attack will take care of those folks. How about a half-dozen snipers taking potshots at you from behind cover? Easy solution: slow down time and pick them off with your own sniper rifle. It's all an effort to exemplify the Space Marine's main way of deterring more fighting, which just happens to be by causing lots of "visible, violent death." Excellent!

The Warhammer universe definitely has a distinctive visual style, and Relic certainly isn't skimping on that. Framing all the blood and gore is a world heavily influenced by heavy, gothic architecture and large-scale industrial areas. In one area, after making his way through the sewers of an industrial area into the command center of a shipping port, Titus takes a moment to look out over a planet that seems to be entirely covered by this one port. The sheer size of one of the gigantic shipping cranes dwarfs even the super-sized soldiers. There's a reason why Warhammer's style is well-respected; it's dark and gorgeous. Titus isn't the type to let a serene moment stand though, so he pulls a switch to drop a shipping container on an unsuspecting group of Orks.

The Marines won't be stuck in industrial zones forever though. Later in the preview, Titus and his crew somehow find their way into an ambush situation in the middle of a desert canyon. After picking off the stragglers of a fight between Orks and Chaos, a Psyker shows up, blocking their path through the canyon. This particular agent of Chaos is able to not only summon force fields, but also open up portals to let other minions through to join the fray. It's a struggle to fend off the oncoming hordes while also trying to pick off the Psyker, but certainly showed off Titus's varying styles of combat.

It's rare that we see the Warhammer 40,000 universe from the frontlines, but when we do, it's an exciting time. Getting to explore a fully fleshed-out version of what we've only really seen from the top down promises to be a wonderful experience. Especially if we get to chop Orks in half with a chainsaw sword.

Apr 20, 2011

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