Nowadays, you’d be hard pushed to find a game that features guns but doesn’t feature a multiplayer component. Upon the onset of the current generation of hardware and their focus on internet connectively, developers (or, more precisely, their publishers) became afraid to release a game to market that didn’t include some form of online mode/s. The thinking is that it’s a bad thing to look as though you’re not making ‘full’ use of a console.
Such intelligence has resulted in the tacked on afterthought that is Bioshock 2 and Dead Space 2’s multiplayer modes. Genius.
My first thought with Warhammer 40K: Space Marine’s multiplayer was that this is the same kind of thing… a mode that doesn’t need to be there, a mode that the fans don’t really want and a mode that limits the amount of time Relic can spend on the all-important single player. Then, after thinking about it a little longer, I decided that I was wrong. Space Marine needs a multiplayer element because the table top game it’s based on thrives on multiplayer. Indeed, the table top games are (to the best of my knowledge) multiplayer only.
It’s a shame then that, despite its legitimate inclusion, multiplayer feels rushed, tacked on and lacking in any kind of creativity or originality. I’ll get the disclaimer out of the way now: Space Marine is still a work in progress.
At its core, Space Marine’s online component is simply Call of Duty played from a third-person perspective combined with a very hearty dollop of giant armour, futuristic weapons and the swapping of ‘Marines vs. Russians/Iraqis/Germans’ for ‘Space Marines vs. Chaos Marines.’ The game modes, the classes and the map layouts have been seen numerous times in the past year, a thousand times in past five.
Like COD, you work your way through a simple levelling system unlocking news weapons, perks and various other frills on your way. As per usual, XP is earned for kills, assists, capturing points, double kills, headshots et al. Having played with one starting level character and one that was maxed out, I can tell you now that there’s a massive gulf of available weaponry between the two.
Of course, like COD, this make-the-best-better tact is going to alienate players left behind by not jumping into the multiplayer on day one. From what we’ve played, there’s simply no contest between your standard Bolter and a Melta Gun (guess which one is more powerful). Higher ranked players are going to have a field day – unless, of course, Space Marine manages that most impossible of feats and implements a working true-skill system.
The weapons available to you are defined by your choose of class. There are three to decide between; assault, devastator and tactical. Tactical is the middle ground, wielding mainly assault rifles with the odd rocket launcher and sniper rifle thrown in for a change of pace. They’ve got standard armour and are also the least interesting of the bunch visually.
Devastators are the tanks. Sporting oversized armour and giant weapons, they can take significantly more damage but pay for it with slower movement. However, during our gameplay session, it was the assault class that quickly became the group’s favourite. As an assault marine you have less health than the other classes but that quickly becomes an afterthought once you’ve got to grips with the jetpack and melee options.
All of the classes can perform melee attacks but it’s only when playing as an assault marine that you can legitimately use it as anything other than a last resort. Equipped with a Chainsword you can lay in wait for prey (an act made easier thanks to the absence of a radar on your HUD), jet-pack in behind them, take them out and jet-pack back out to safety. When faced with multiple enemies the assault marine is almost useless, when used patiently he can be most satisfying.
It’s a shame then that the execution isn’t always as good as the idea; melee combat in Space Marine isn’t the most natural of acts. This is largely due to the lack of any sort of aim assist. When you swing your weapon you’ll swing it in the direction the camera is facing, meaning enemies must be lined up perfectly in your field of vision. The problem with this is that the camera is controlled with the right stick and melee is performed by hitting a face button (there’s a hard and light attack option), meaning that you can’t aim and attack at the same time. If only human’s had three thumbs…
While Space Marine’s multiplayer may have its problems with originality and melee combat, what you can’t accuse it of is a lack of focus. The three classes are joined by only two game modes – Annihilation is a simple first to 41 kills Team Deathmatch and Seize Ground is COD’s Domination or Battlefield’s Conquest mode by another name. (Pro tip: Tactical marines can have their teammates spawn on them – very useful when capturing points in Seize Ground.)
The maps that these modes play out on are suitably epic in nature. Waste Management is an abandoned factory scattered with wide corridors, choke points and miscellaneous machinery. Hab Centre features an open courtyard bookended by two tall, dilapidated towers from which the two sides spawn and Shattered Bridge is a long, thin… shattered bridge. Their designs and layouts are imposing and suitably war-torn but hardly exhilarating.
Then there’s ‘The Customiser,’ allowing you to paint and accessorise your Space/Chaos Marine to your own liking. Far and away this was the most enjoyable part of our hands-on with the game’s multiplayer modes, bringing back those nostalgic memories of painting our own Warhammer miniatures back in ‘the day.’
Each plate of armour can be individually coloured from a huge range of official Games Workshop paint colours. Alternatively, you can wait until you’ve levelled up enough to unlock a selection of pre-defined designs of various factions from Space and Chaos Marine lore. Relic stated that there are 1.8 billion different combinations available, enough for most of us.
The Customiser aside though, I didn’t see a whole lot to get excited about. It’s painfully obvious that Space Marine’s focus is on its single player campaign and the sense of power that comes from one man slaying thousands of Orks. The smaller scale, marine vs. marine battles just don’t stack up – the technology, the movement, the camera and the weapons have been designed in such a way that just doesn’t allow them to.