A recent multiplayer hands-on event has shown VG247 the distant future of the 41st Century: it’s filled with deep space war in an array of fetching colours. Hands-on thought and Relic words inside.
It’s not every day I associate videogames with painting, but recent hands-on time with the multiplayer and customisation modes of Relic Entertainment’s Space Marine has struck a chord with the frustrated-artist in me.
Some years ago now, Citadel paints were one of the (many) banes of my teenage life. Attempting to ape the finesse with which both my brother and my best friend were able to apply the Games Workshop range of colours to small plastic miniatures destroyed my confidence as a budding artist.
Goblins, Chaos Warriors, Orks and Space Marines were left half-finished as finer details were clumsily obscured by splodges of paint. In some extreme cases, miniatures were left permanently disfigured as I discovered that rage-quitting can apply to models too.
Fortunately, THQ and Relic are looking to soothe my pain whilst providing those that have always had an eye for Leviathan purple, Adeptus Battlegrey and Mithril silver with the perfect digital paint set.
The Citadel paint inspired custom-colour scheme is one of many parts of the Games Workshop Warhammer 40K universe that is being faithfully adhered to for the unpretentiously titled Space Marine. Despite this devotion, it should by no means be considered an impenetrable clique, inaccessible to those that have never heard of Ultramarines, Dreadnoughts and Warlord Class Battle Titans.
“Space Marines are like these superhuman warrior monks,” explains Relic marketing manager James McDermott. “There’s like ten thousand of them to a billion of us so we really want to put across how rare they are, but also, for people that might not be familiar with the Space Marine mythos, to convey a human element and put in to context why they’re revered.
“So, we show ordinary soldiers kneeling before them and show them to be these 7ft tall superhuman warriors, but we add background context throughout the game world with story details and audio logs that aim to give more of that human element as well.
“We were really conscious of that angle and that people that come to this afresh get a good understanding of who the Space Marines are and what it means to be one of them.”
From what I glean during an afternoon of 8-vs-8 multiplayer bouts, to be a Space Marine is to be a dealer of death. One with access to numerous weapon load-outs and varied armour sets bolstered by special ability perks. In fact, Relic suggests that there are some 1.8 billion combinations of weapons, perks, armour sets and insignias - with which you can adorn individual pieces of armour – and that’s before you’ve started on the custom paint jobs.
Those raptors be deadly
The session begins with several bouts of Annihilation, the team-based frag match in which either side must reach a combined total of 41 kills. We start the round to find that the majority of players have opted for the melee focused Assault class – named Raptor if playing as Chaos Marines - passing up the touted versatility of the Tactical class and the destructive heavy-weapon potential of the Devastator.
In truth, it’s not difficult to work out why – it’s primarily due to the hard-to-resist jump-pack the class comes equipped with. This enables a few seconds of rocket-propelled thrust to reach higher ground, dodge incoming weapon fire and, with practice, perform a brutal air to ground stomp to daze opponents before moving in to finish them off at close-range.
This manoeuvrability and melee prowess comes at the cost of both armour rating and decent firearm options, certainly at the lower levels that make up the first part of our playthrough. Nonetheless, Assault appears to be the preferable option and those that experiment with the other two classes are soon lured back by the jump-pack, suggesting it might be the easiest to get to grips with despite not being unlocked until you’ve progressed to experience level 5 with the default Tactical class.
“I think you’ve tuned in on the right thing, and it’s fair to say upfront that there’s still tweaking and balancing to do with the multiplayer,” McDermott acknowledges. “But the way it’s intended to work is that you start with the Tactical class and you’ll get to grips with those guys as you build and unlock the other classes.
“Tactical is the most versatile and has the most weapons overall, in the long term the belief is they’ll actually be the best class to play with as you’ll have more options when adapting to the flow of the game due to their versatility.
“The Assault is definitely cool and I think part of the appeal of them is the jump pack which catches people’s eye and they want to dive in a jump around. But if they get cornered they’re screwed, and if they’re not able to get up close to their opponent then they’re really going to face some challenges.
“They’re probably only going to be able to take maybe one or two guys out at a time. It’s like they have the slimmest chance of surviving and are possibly going to have a pretty fast spawn cycle.
“Tactical is likely to have the best chance of staying alive and getting some good kills, and the heavy weapons class could take out in four or five guys in one go - they’re the slow moving easy target but they’re built a lot stronger.”
Redressing the balance
Reinforcing McDermott’s explanation of the studio’s vision for each class is the second half of our session, in which we switch map types to play the Seize Ground mode – capturing control points that accumulate team score for as long as they’re under your control.
Here, we’re levelled up to the maximum cap of 41, which affords many more options for further customising the three classes. The Assault class is still attractive and has options to take it in a more specialised melee direction or, with the right choice of perks and high damage but slow firing weapons, a long-range sniper build.
The Tactical and Devastator classes have a much more balanced array of weapons and perks and some tightly-fought matches are played out with people choosing an array of character classes and loadout options. It’s encouraging to see that the early imbalance of the Assault class should be easily rectified with some minor tweaking ahead of the game’s release in September.
Space Marine’s multiplayer mode is shaping up to be a well crafted affair, allowing you either to dive right in by choosing one of the pre-set loadouts or to spend time customising every aspect of your marine. There are plenty of choices to be made, taking in character class, weapons and perks, not to mention perhaps the most important of all: whether to paint his armour and helmet Tentacle Pink or Nauseating Blue.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine launches on 360, PS3 and PC on 6 September in the US and 9 September in PAL territories.