Warhammer 40k: Space Marine demo

I got a chance to play the demo for THQ’s new third-person shooter, “Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine,” today; the game is based on the Games Workshop tabletop game of the same name (well, sans the “Space Marine” part, anyway) that’s been around for the last few decades.

You play a Space Marine, which is a guy in a big armored suit, armed with a “bolter” (your standard big, future-y firearm) in one hand and a chain-sword (sword with a chainsaw in it) in the other. Your mission is to chop through huge groups of Orks to achieve glory for the Imperium, whatever that entails.

The demo drops you into sort of a port area, and you have two primary objectives: first, you’re supposed to deactivate a crane that the Orks are using to try and move a gigantic laser cannon into an area they control elsewhere on the map; once that is accomplished, you get a radio call from a guy who can let you into a huge manufacturing facility, and you have to meet up with him. Once you meet him, the demo ends.

The map isn’t wide open; it’s big enough to explore a little by going a few yards off of the one path through the zone, but for the most part you just follow the only path through the zone, kill bad guys along the way, and reach the objective points indicated by big glowing blue gauntlets. You’ve got two sidekicks, who can assist in mowing down the waves of enemies you’ll face, but there are no protection mechanics; they were never in danger of being killed that I saw, and you don’t have to worry about drawing fire from weaker-armored teammates or worry about healing them.

There were maybe four major encounters in the demo, all following the same mechanic – you and your teammates survive an opponent who uses vastly superior numbers to overwhelm you. There were three types of opponents in the demo – normal Orks, similarly armed to you with a bolt-gun and an axe for melee; Squigs, very small fast-moving opponents with only a melee attack; and bigger Orks who only have a melee attack but hit exceptionally hard and have a ton of health compared to their much-smaller counterparts. There were, I believe, only three of the bigger Orks in the demo, serving as mini-bosses for the final three significant encounters.

The encounters ranged from maybe around two dozen opponents for the first encounter to probably a couple of hundred, coming in multiple waves, for the fourth. The mechanic for defeating them was similar every time — fire your bolter into them while backing away while they charged, then open with a melee sweep attack once they were in range, then find individual opponents to kill with normal melee attacks, switching back to the sweep when overwhelmed or back to the bolter when you’d managed to open some distance between you and the Orks, then back to melee when they closed the gap.

I could actually see the game getting old in a hurry; it was fun and satisfying in short bursts, but I don’t know about spending at least a dozen hours playing through a single-player campaign on the full game. Bolter ammo ran out too fast (eight shots between reloads, which you would chew through quickly; ammo for reloads was infinite, which made me question the need for such a dramatically-limited clip capacity) for that to feel like an effective weapon. It did, however,  seem like it’d probably be possible to upgrade that gun’s capacity later, just based on how the game’s UI was laid out. Control-wise, with “aim” and “grenade” buttons right on top of each other at L1 and L2, respectively, it was painfully easy to fat-finger the grenade key, leaving you without. Also, the fight mechanic of “back away from the crowd while shooting, then switch to melee when you get overrun” would get tiresome. In essence, each of the primary encounters in the demo could be defeated that way, even the two that featured a mini-boss type mob that was only apparent because it was taller than the others.

The biggest problem in the demo was the camera; it didn’t re-orient itself fast enough when you were in combat, so I’d spend a lot of time looking at my shoulder doing sweep melee attacks against off-screen mobs until the camera would fix itself and I could actually see what was going on. Then I’d do a barrel-roll on the ground into a group of mobs, and it’d be messed up again. It didn’t seem game-breaking in the demo; just more of an annoyance.

Also, the game is rated “M” for extreme violence, but it’s actually pretty tame; the blood effects on bullet and sword hits are completely over-the-top, but other than beheadings enemy bodies didn’t seem to be destructible in any way (i.e., I didn’t ever notice that you could, for instance, shoot off legs and hands), and once dead corpses just lay there on the ground in a pool of red pixels, either with or without their heads. THQ clearly cut a corner on those graphics, since with the sheer number of opponents on the screen at any one time, coding and displaying unique corpses for each probably would’ve taken some work.

Indicators for which direction you were taking ranged damage from didn’t seem to be in place, either. If they were there, they weren’t terribly apparent.

The graphics were decent but nothing Earth-shattering; nothing about them surprised or disappointed me. It was pretty much what I expected a game like that to look like. But it certainly didn’t have that “oh, man, just sit back and watch” feeling of something like, say, “L.A. Noire” or even “Dragon Age II.”

Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe is pretty interesting, but it’s hard to know from this very brief demo if this game’s a worthwhile way to explore it. There’s a jump-pack mission on the demo I’ll try out later, too, mostly so I can know I played it and then delete the demo. This doesn’t feel like a “buy” game, but a rental at best, or maybe a “too cheap to pass up” type deal if it’s ever on clearance at Target.

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