Thursday, August 25, 2011

30 Minute Playtest: Space Marine Warhammer 40K

After recent posts on comic book adaptations and the need for a good Conan game, you might be thinking that there’s no limit to my nerdery, well you’d be wrong. Just about. I tried to like traditional roleplaying games when I was younger. All my mates liked them, it seemed only fair to join in, but I could just never get into all that dice rolling and note taking.

For all my distaste for traditional RPGs, however, I’m pleased to see Space Marine: Warhammer 40K on the Xbox 360. Warhammer 40K was the roleplay universe of choice among my boyhood chums, and while I never liked the games, the universe itself always intrigued me. All the baroque industrial-gothic environments littered with architectural adornments that couldn’t disguise the cold and hard nature of the universe. The teeth grinding hardcases built like tractors waging an endless and brutal war in defense of an Empire and lifestyle that looked too miserable and despotic to be worth it, how could you not get behind such a distinctive look and feel?

Space Marine: Warhammer 40K gives me the chance to chug around that universe without having to roll dice or forever renounce the touch of a woman. Score. Except it’s not really worth it. Space Marine is a decidedly middling game from what I’ve seen in half an hours play.

Your heavily armoured character has a chainsaw in one hand and a gun in the other, and the game mixes up the melee and ballistic combat nicely. The single shot nature of your pistol gives every gunfight a sense of trigger pumping urgency as you bury shot after shot into your surprisingly durable enemies. The chainsword takes out opponents rather more speedily, but does entail getting close enough to be swamped.

This dichotomy appears to allow a player choice, but the sheer number of opponents combined with the need to restore your health using special melee execution moves means that you almost always end up fighting at close quarters, swamped by huge numbers of opponents. It’s a little like one of those far Eastern slash-em-ups, Dynasty Warriors or 99 Nights, where the joy is had in whipsawing your way thorough ludicrous numbers of enemies, but where those games offer the protagonist eough speed to compensate for the numerical disadvantage, in Space Marine you’re a plodding musclebag dressed like a Volvo and with a tendency to get stuck on the scenery, meaning the hack and slash action gets ponderous and tiresome almost as soon as it starts. You’ll find yourself desperately triggering your rage mode to repel opponents in order to thin them out with grenades and gunfire. You know you’re in trouble when one of the game mechanics is compensating for the core gameplay rather than complementing it.

It’s not an entirely charmless game. There’s an enjoyable jetpack that lets you battle for the high ground, and the dialogue, although repetitive, is amusingly delivered: the Orcs all come from Sarf Lahndahn and yell “Kill the Space Marines” in a tone of voice better suited to cheering on Crystal Palace. The marines, meanwhile, have a laconic upper crust delivery that’s unfazed by what’s happening around them. With voices like that they should be called Toby and Sebastian, and be offering you cake at a garden party. Instead they have names like Drogon and Antioch, and spend their time disembowelling space-goblins with powertools.

Sadly, the hilarious voice acting and rich universe can’t compensate for the tedious gameplay. After our half an hour try out, we’d give this one a miss.