The Games Workshop space faring Warhammer 40k universe has been begging for a proper action game for years. Having provided so much inspiration for video games it's about time it had one.
Relic Entertainment have served 40k well already with their Dawn of War strategy games on the PC, but now they face a different challenge with an assault on the crowded action shooter genre. This is no Gears of War clone though; you're playing as a Space Marine, the toughest soldiers out there. These seven-foot tall genetically engineered killing machines don't need a cover-system; they're all about fighting through the pain.
The plot sees these Ultramarines sent to the Forge World -where huge walking battle Titans are built- to repel an invasion from the Ork armies. Millions of orks against a few Marines? Just another Tuesday for these guys. Don't expect the orks to be the only enemy you'll be facing as the story develops though.
The game pits you against large numbers of enemies, making you rely on both firearms and melee skills, changing between them on the fly against gretchin, slugga boyz, shooter nobz and standard melee orcs. Shooting and aiming is assigned to familiar shoulder buttons while the face buttons handle the melee action with regular attacks comboing with stun moves to provide an opportunity for a brutal execution when the Circle button appears over an enemy’s head.
The executions are a gloriously messy sight to behold, your chainsword is forcedly ripped through heads, necks, and torsos. Or your might rip an ork's jaw apart, or kerb stomp them, or just kick them so hard their chest will explode. The detail, slo-mo, style and camera angles make them look awesome every time.
Apart from satisfying your bloodlust, executions are the key method of regaining health. Your armour will regenerate over time, but your life bar won’t. Considering how tough the Space Marines are supposed to be, you'll find your health disintegrates fast. You can still lose health while performing the execution animations too. It’s a slightly unbalanced system as it's overly difficult to refill your health when you go through a section where the enemies are on impossible to reach platforms and you can only shoot them.
Ah yes, the guns, you'll spend so much time using your chainsword or power axe you may sometimes forget about them. Aiming and shooting feels reliably solid with the weapons having a meaty impact, as every bullet fired from a Space Marine should. Guns begin with bolter pistols, then heavier machine guns and sniper rifles. Some creative flare is added with a weapon that fires flaming shotgun-style blasts that disintegrate orks in a storm of glowing ash. Remotely detonated explosives and rockets come in handy for boss fights or when you want to see a large group of enemies explode into a red mist of limbs. Jump-packs let you rise high in the sky from where you can perform a devastating ground pound strike by rushing back down to the ground, obliterating anything underneath or around you.
A familiar rage mode can be activated once built up. This will give you a short power boost and slo-mo aiming, but more importantly, it will slowly refill your health metre and open up instant executions.
Seemingly in an effort not to alienate players new to the Games Workshop world, the story never relies on inside knowledge. The lore isn’t really given much depth at all, which is a shame given the rich history available. The audio diaries pad out the story a little, but players wanting to learn more about 40k's may feel short-changed.
There are many visually appealing elements to the game. The industrial Cathedral architecture is unique enough to make you take notice as is the detail on a smaller scale; be in the dementedly carved armour of the Chaos Marines or the scrap yard armour of the Orc leader, Grimskull. Relic have really nailed the looks from the excellently painted models that grace the window of any Games Workshop store as the models have so much more appeal and character to them than most other games. Even the lighting is impressive, for example, the way an illuminated door switch will reflect its green light around the contours of your armour.
The Marines themselves are fantastically over-the-top, half of them seem to have bullets permanently wedged into their skulls, taking the 'chicks dig scars' ethos to a whole new level. They sound lethal as the screen shakes when they sprint, they feel lethal as they shoulder charge into a crowd splattering ork bits everywhere and they look lethal towering over most enemies, covered in blood. Mark Strong (Kick Ass, Green Lantern) adds a righteous air to Captain Titus' (that’s you) voice. You can imagine his nose pointing upwards while recording the dialogue. The reverent tone in the dialogue is similar to a fantasy setting, as is the semi-religious take on the Space Marine. It’s strange, but makes for a nice change from overly macho scripts like Gears and Army of Two.
There are a fair few downsides to the game. It's entertaining, but very linear, as every level involves travelling from A-B and killing everything. Don't worry it never feels like Dynasty Warriors with guns. We'd love to see more 40k action games, but maybe it would benefit from a semi open-world feel next time around, similar to something like Darksiders?
Limiting the game to one planet means the colour palette is restricted, and there are only so many factory floors and courtyards you can take. The enemy audio is mightily repetitive too; all you'll hear is thuggish English accents bellowing 'Space Marine!' at you all the time.
After a long delay, I was finally able to get into some online matches after a patch was released to sort out the matchmaking bug. I still struggled to get a game in the capture and hold matches though. Fingers crossed the upcoming co-op Exterminatus DLC won’t be such a mess.
The Annihilation (Team Deathmatch) games worked best between Chaos and Ultramarines, with them fighting over reaching 41 kills first. The gameplay is strikingly different from single-player, where you generally wade through lots of easy to kill orcs and gretchin. Online, where everyone is a rock hard Marine, a lot more firepower is needed kill anyone.
That is until you clock on to the fact that your melee weapons are utterly brilliant. It can take a little getting used to aiming it correctly, but if you arrive behind a group of rivals, you can easily take out two or three of them before they can retaliate. For balance, you only have a pistol for ranged fire if you want a melee weapon, which makes you useless across open areas. To be honest, it's hard work going back to the guns when you know how easy it is just get messy.
A perks system is in place for upgrades that’ll be familiar to any shooter fan. I was impressed that you can borrow the whole load-out of anyone that kills you for one life. This really evens out the playing field for new players who haven’t unlocked anything yet.
Another impressive element is the character customisation where you deck out the colours and armour types for both the Space and Chaos marines. Much of the armour has to be unlocked, but the colour range is there from the start. There's not much you can say to defend yourself when you're getting owned by a seven-foot pink Space Marine.
- A violent delight of melee and guns
- Whets the appetite for more Warhammer 40k action games
- Character models nail the GW feel perfectly
- Very linear
- Annoyingly repetitive Ork voices
- Online matchmaking still hit and miss
The Short Version: The multilayer matchmaking fiasco almost ruined an enjoyable romp through the single-player game with frantic melee kills mixing it up with guns for a gloriously messy rampage. The online action still needs work, but the brutal action and cool customisation will encourage fans to forgive the flaws.