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Warhammer 40K: Space Marine Multiplayer Preview

By Jeff Buckland, 7/20/2011

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There's a game coming this fall that, if you didn't know its background, you'd swear was ripping off equal parts of Halo, Gears of War, and StarCraft all at once. Turns out, of course, that the Warhammer 40,000 universe is actually 25 years old, and it was those games' developers that ripped off this one. But it's apparent that the universe's creator, Games Workshop, is sick of sitting idly by and letting other studios build on ideas that were originally theirs, so now Games Workshop, publisher THQ and developer Relic Entertainment - creators of the popular Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War PC strategy games - are going mainstream with a big, bad third person shooter for PCs and consoles.


Warhammer 40K: Space Marine tells the story of the Imperium's most elite fighters, the one-in-a-billion Space Marine dudes that have been trained since birth and genetically enhanced to become the ultimate fighting machines. One squad of them dropping onto a planet means the tide of the whole conflict changes, and frankly, the Imperium needs them, because in Warhammer 40K, the whole universe is warring with each other. I've covered the single player campaign before, but this time, we got the chance to play the game's multiplayer modes for the first time.

Space Marine's online play is a team-based affair for up to 16 players with just a tad more in the way of tactics and overall strategy than what you'd expect from Call of Duty. There's a standard team deathmatch mode, but the Seize Ground mode has you capturing points and holding them to gain score; which ever team hits the score limit first wins. Both sides - regular Space Marines versus Chaos Space Marines - have three classes to play as, each with unique ways to fight. The Tactical class is the most standard of fighters, with a large choice of weapons, a decent amount of agility, and medium armor - he can fulfill many roles, including that of front-line fighter or sniper. The Assault player gets a jetpack and a choice of melee weapons (along with a rather weak bolter weapon to use in a pinch), and he can jump-jet around the map to quickly capture points and is the fiercest in melee combat. Finally, the Devastator class has heavy weapons and can plant himself in one spot, forcing him to stop moving but allowing him to do much more damage with his weapon.


We spent most of our time playing Seize Ground once only getting warmed up with a bit of team deathmatch, and I can confidently say that Space Marine's multiplayer mode is a lot of fun, even taken separately from the campaign. You can meticulously configure your marine to look very unique, with custom parts and paint, and you can easy swap between appearances that you've pre-set ahead of time. The ranking, challenge, and weapon perk systems will all be pretty familiar to Call of Duty players, allowing you to tweak your warrior just a bit to match your particular fighting style.

For example, I spent most of my time as Assault, mostly because I feel like too few games have things like jetpacks in them. The perks I chose centered around restoring my health when connecting with melee swings and in letting my jetpack explode like a grenade when I died; I chose that last one mostly because I was dying so much, but once I did, I started killing a lot of people, too. I'd drop into a capture point controlled by the enemy, use the game's generous third-person perspective to quickly zip around and hit people in melee, and go out with a boom once I was taken down. While the event we played at didn't cultivate much in the way of teamplay - players were not necessarily seated together and there were no headsets - when I did work together with other players in this kamikaze style, it worked beautifully.


I want to specifically point out here that Space Marine, in both offline and online modes, does not feature a cover system. You'll still want to actually walk behind cover to allow your armor and health regenerate, but when you're ready to let bullets fly again, there's no peeking out from behind a wall or corner. In this game, you have to expose your whole body if you want to shoot at your enemies, and while that seems antiquated and old-school on paper, it still feels fresh - especially after a couple of frustrating rounds of Gears of War I had recently. It's all a matter of preference, of course, but I feel like the game that gets you moving around, rather than one that makes you wait for the enemy to peek his head out, is at a huge advantage.

Most of the maps we played either were structured like a good old-school Quake CTF-style level or with an outdoor feel that was more akin to Unreal Tournament, and for a guy like me - a rare one these days who actually played competitive FPS games back in the early- and mid-90s - it was kind of nice to see this old-school level design return. Admittedly, a lot of it gets muddied and lost in the details once you have a jetpack with which to basically fly around the levels, but my time spent as the other two (non-flying) classes helped me understand that some smart level design is going into Space Marine's multiplayer modes.


While there are a ton of games coming this fall and titles like Skyrim and Uncharted 3 are getting most of the attention, there are going to be a few lesser-known games that you should be paying particular attention to. Space Marine is most definitely one of them, and luckily, you'll get the chance to play this before nearly all of the big, bad fall games arrive: it launches in North America for PC, PS3, and 360 on September 6th.


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