Platforms: XBLA | PSN
Developer: THQ Digital Studios UK
Space Marine is shaping up to be one of the big guns of this year's holiday rush. It's an orgy of destruction, a majestic, empowering romp that makes its players feel like an unstoppable tool of The Emperor's vengeance. Matt's hands-on preview sheds some light on its gratuitous close combat mechanics, which are set to appeal to newcomers and veteran wargamers alike.
So, in order to spin up some extra publicity and revenue, THQ has duly rolled out a downloadable prequel with an unlockable in-game item - and has entirely missed the point. Space Marine is all about the melee combat and brutal chainsword massacres, and yet, Kill Team decides to merrily throw this major selling point to the winds by opting for the most predictable and inappropriate of genres. A twin-stick shooter... with melee-centric characters.
This would be cause for concern in and of itself, but just to further consign Kill Team to Chaos, it's rare to see a game ship with so many fundamental design flaws in this day and age.
After breaching into an enormous Ork Kroozer (a massive capital ship), a small team of Space Marines are tasked with scuttling it from the inside, killing the crew and assassinating its Warboss commander. To do so, you'll trudge through five cavernous dull levels and carve your way through literally thousands of ravening Orks - as well as Tyranids who show up for reasons so ridiculous that fans will probably heft their controllers through the screen - and occasionally face off against a major boss or arena from time to time. The action is utterly homogenous, bereft of any sense of pacing and ultimately soul-destroying. It's a twinstick shooter without any spark of personality or originality; just hapless grind for the sake of filling a couple of hours.
Players can choose from four classes of Space Marine, three of whom are entirely impotent and pathetic. The warp-wielding Librarian, Stormguard Veteran and Techmarine all favour melee combat over gunplay (featuring some awesome franchise mainstays such as Force Swords, Lightning Claws and a mechanical Servo-Arm), but are equipped with weak firearms as a tradeoff. Using your melee weapons is as simple - and boring - and hammering the A button, but since it's a twinstick shooter, closing with hordes of enemies usually results in humiliating death. Movement speed is slow and cumbersome, and more than half of the enemies are content to just hang back, laugh and shoot you. All of the bosses and destructible objectives require you to shoot them. The game is designed for shooting, hence the name of the sub-genre, and it's therefore an exercise in frustration, apathy and ceaseless aggravation.
Unless, of course, you decide to play as the Sternguard Veteran: who's the only Marine smart enough to actually bring a big gun to a gunfight. He's completely unbalanced simply because he's actually suited to the genre, and ends up absolutely dominating the experience. A thankless, torturous grind turns into a simplistic, torturous grind once you've upgraded his weapons - and it's the only way you'll be able to enjoy the proceedings in some small measure. On the flip side, your thumb will probably fall off halfway through the first level.
Multiplayer is limited to two local players. Kill Team proves to be much more enjoyable with a friend in tow, but the omission of four players and online functionality stops it from actually living up to its name. And in practice, the player who manages to select the Sternguard Veteran gets to have all the fun while his mate provides no help whatsoever.
Kill Team isn't entirely without merit, and does manage to pack a few neat ideas into the proceedings. Killing foes gradually rewards you with Perks and unlockable weapons that can make the action easier, meaning that there's at least a tiny virtual reward for your hours of mental torture. By far the most impressive part of the package, though, is the visual presentation, which uses chunky design elements to resemble a lavish tabletop wargame brought to life. Liberally-placed explosives grant you the illusion of power, and it's certainly more satisfying to look at than it is to play.
But this good work is entirely undone by a sickening array of basic, avoidable and entirely deliberate flaws that we wouldn't have put up with eight years ago. The infrequent checkpoints are always placed on the wrong side of unskippable cutscenes. An escort objective can be damaged by friendly fire. Falling off narrow catwalks results in instant death and checkpoint reset. There's a 'run towards the camera to escape from an invincible enemy' section - which is as terrible as always. Each long level has to be completed in a single run. I could go on, but the urge to purge the offendng file from my hard drive has become an inexorable compulsion. Exterminatus.
Just to put the icing on the cake, Kill Team's sound design is possibly the worst in recent memory. The Orks trot out a few mockney one liners every once in a while (when they're not just screaming) - and the narrator is clearly phoning in his lines without even practising them first. He plays it straight rather than striving for a hammy fun factor, and tends to put the emphasis on the wrong words in each sentence. Do you see how annoying that is? Kill Team is an assault on the eardrums, thumbs and common decency.
- Long levels make for decent raw value
- Competent visual design
- The Sternguard Veteran is relatively fun to use
- Horrible unbalanced action
- Commits every gameplay sin in the book
- Deserves to be purged
The Short Version: Kill Team is a twinstick shooter with weak guns; an unbalanced, pointless, thankless grind that proves to be a waste of a perfectly good license. Sore thumbs, sore ears and major buyers remorse await the brave marines who enter its killing floor.