Space Marine, Dead Island, X-Men Destiny (natch)

In Video Games on September 8, 2011 at 4:39 pm

I love September. It’s the time when summer begins its lazy decline into fall, and oh, the food! Summer blueberries give way to early fall peaches, so full of juice that you have to eat them at the sink; early harvest gourds begin making their way into pastas, curries and sauces and their seeds grant a nutty, earthy taste to pastries and salads. Duck and rabbit find their way into more and more meals, garnished with the season’s berries. It’s a good time of year that makes summer’s passing more sweet than bitter.

Oh, wait. This is a video game blog.September saw and will see the release of several high profile, interesting and as a matter of technicality “unoriginal” titles, among which are the three I’ll discuss today. First off: Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine (known to its friends as just Space Marine).

Space Marine technically ranks as unoriginal as it’s a licensed game based off of the Warhammer 40,000 IP, and unjustly labelled as unoriginal with its frequent comparisons to Gears of War as they’re both, ostensibly, third-person shooters with chainsaws and so on and so forth. In implementation, Space Marine is like an old friend or nigh mythical figure returning to you with a strong embrace. I love Warhammer 40k with its “grim dark” setting where humanity is simultaneously so ridiculously beset by so many unthinkably monstrous aliens (xenos), daemons and even other humans that are worse bastards than they, and yet it’s a setting where humanity is so tough it chugs promethium and shits bolter shells. The Imperium of Man is a cyclopean machine whose fires are stoked with thousands of sacrifices and heinous acts to merely stake a claim for survival, and its empire holds untold millions of worlds with untold billions of subjects. Its gothic and baroque attitude and architecture is bizarrely offset by its amalgam of fantasy and science fiction, with grant cathedral ships carrying chainsaw-sword wielding, genetically and surgically engineered warrior monks in powered armor — the Space Marines. And yes, years before Gears would attach a chainsaw bayonet to its machine gun, Warhammer 40,000 saw fit to grant you a nightmare weapon replete with sawing, jagged serrated teeth as a sword — the perfect compliment to your pistol that fires miniature rockets that explode inside of your foes’ flesh. It’s high time this setting got a proper action title.

I’m not usually one tooting around with “badassness” or “kicking ass” being acceptable attributes lacking in other things, but this is basically the setting that kicks ass, and in this setting no one is more badass than a Space Marine, whose new recruits are veterans of hundreds of conflicts across decades of war, and whose veterans have seen more years of war than our planet has seen of civilization.

Space Marine puts you into the boots of the Emperor’s finest and lets you wear them well. The first mission has your avatar going all “dynamic entry” in upper atmosphere, jumping out of his perfectly good ship with naught but a jump pack to take out an ork battle barge by himself. For this task, you get a bolt pistol and a knife. This could probably be considered unfair — to the orks.

These weapons feel powerful. Bolters fire with a profound thunk-thunk-thunk and impacts with a wet spray and a lively thud; death at this weapon’s hand are visceral and chunky affairs thanks to its explosive capabilities. The knife impacts well and your marine will gleefully perform what fans to developer Reclic’s Dawn of War titles will call “sync kills” — special animations where your Space Marine brutally eviscerates his foe in a variety of ways. Kills with the chainsword are family favorites in my house.

And this is the kicker: that “finishing move” is actually your health pickup. Cover is the color of cowards, so there is no “hug walls” mechanic in this game. Naturally, you do take a few hits, and to regain health you must use these special kills. This has a kind of Blood Rayne effect where hordes enemies walk somewhere between fun things to shoot and powerups in and of themselves.

I do mean hordes; ten minutes into the game and I had already unlocked the “100 kills” achievement. The game isn’t shy about throwing dozens of orks at you at once, some closing for melee combat, some hanging back and shooting, and your marine is a match for them all, tearing down their number with an opening bolt-volley and easily closing for melee combat as he charges through their number.

Melee is what will set this game apart from Gears the most, as if the setting and scope were not enough. Your marine can switch to their melee weapon and back to ranged quite easily and the combat feels great either way.

In terms of features, the game is alleged to have a 10+ hour campaign from word of the developer’s mouth, but reviews are stating it’s shorter than that. To pad it out, there is an 8v8 deathmatch in both classic “kill them all” style as well as area control. However, at the time of this writing I had a bit too much difficulty in actually getting into a match. Paired with this will be the co-op survival / arena mode that will be released in October, and both of these tie into the general XP / level based character customization and progression. Customization is a huge aspect to the tabletop, and here you can fully outfit your space marine (or chaos marine) in a stunning number of ways, down to three classes and weapon and perk load outs as well.

So really, it’s a great game for someone like me that enjoys the setting, the attitude and so on. In actuality, I bought the game for its version of a jetpack (a jump pack), which shoots you into the air and, if you so choose, slams you into the ground and your foes if you boost when you land. You get to do this in campaign mode and in the deathmatch modes if you choose the appropriate class. As we all know, there’s a dearth of proper jetpack based gameplay and I’m glad to see Space Marine step up to fill the gap.

Next up is Dead Island. Unoriginal for it being zombies, but great and refreshing for being more akin to Borderlands than Left 4 Dead, with the comparisons to Dead Rising being completely unfair due to just how much freedom you have, with no clocks or anything like that looming over you. Right out of the gate I was wandering in the direct opposite of where my map told me to go, killing zombies and looting everything I could get my hands on.

The game’s ingenious in more than a few ways. You’re one of four immune survivors, so naturally you’re tasked with doing anything the rest of the survivors need. You find weapons everywhere, from broken broom handles to diving knives, though it isn’t as ubiquitous or silly as Dead Rising. There’s a slew of RPG mechanics in the form of leveling up, talent trees and weapon stats, but the dead actually level with you so I’ve yet to encounter a higher level zombie that outclasses me in its prowess at excel spreadsheet.

The game co-ops quite well, with my friends and I piling into a vehicle, beating down zombies or basically wandering about with any number of timewasters in this expansive zombie-infested island. Why is it that the first thing I thought to do was to down a bunch of whiskey and drive my friends off a cliff? I have no idea, but I haven’t had this kind of fun since L4D was first released. I mean, you can actually target and break and sever limbs! Heads open up into ripe mush with a crowbar! Zombies run around on fire, and the fire hurts you! Zombies can drown! It’s great!

But oh man does this game get some demerits due to the sheer incompetence of its developer (or publisher, depending on who is taking the blame). First, I got this on Steam for my PC. A solid choice, my computer murders the graphics and everything runs smoothly. As I was out of town and away from my compy until Wednesday evening, I actually missed the ill effects of the wrong version of the game being released on Steam. Yes, they actually pushed an earlier dev build to customers that barely worked.

Then, co-op is non-functional in-game (we had to use a VPN service called Hamachi to spoof a LAN game over the internet) as the game is apparently way more popular than they accounted for in their modest server setup.

Let me be the first (not really) to kindly say, “You stupid motherfuckers, your game was Steam’s top pre-order for a full month, what the flying fuck did you expect I mean Jesus.”

It’s still awesome though.

Lastly, is the yet-unreleased information-scarcity-defined X-Men: Destiny. Made by Silicon Knights (who need no introduction. The game, however, does. It’s some kind of spiritually successor to X-Men Legends — we think — where you play as one of three new mutants who are placed in the unique position between the Brotherhood and the X-Men as being some kind of arbiter of the destiny of both (we think). You can splice X-Genes towards offensive, defensive and utility powers (we think), creating a unique character that you can continue to customize as you play the game (we think). And your costume somehow plays into this, depending upon which classic character it’s based on.

We think.

Honestly, for a game coming out in three weeks I know next to nothing outside of the fact that I would like for it to be good.

  1. First things, there is an error by way of repeated sentences in your fifth paragraph. With that out of the way…

    I played the demo of Space Marine. I’m amazed there isn’t more “this is a rip off of God of War” going on since the game feels somewhat more like that than Gears. That said it does feel like the lovechild of both games, which is fine with me. I had a blast with the demo and would love to buy the game…sadly I will have to pass for now even I wanna even have a hope of getting Gears 3. But I have forced my girlfriend to sit through me playing the demo, and I tried to encourage another friend into the ways of the Emperor.

    Dead Island had that cool trailer…and then it just lost me. That you compare Dead Island to borderlands is intriguing though. I honesty think I prefer games that are well made and include a zombie mode to games that are made specifically about zombies. Even then I’m not sure open range is the best way to go about it, based upon Borderlands own zombie DLC which got very repetitive and boring before it was through.

    The X-men game makes me think of ‘Rise of the imperfects’ and how I’d rather be nightcrawler than the new guy they included who could teleport.

    What really bothers me is all these games are dropping way before Saints Row 3. I wanna hit the row now. But I’m having to skip prime games so I can get Saints when it comes out.

  2. REPEATING SENTENCES!? You know, I write these things half in MS Word, half on the wordpress page itself, copying and pasting back and forth, so I’m surprised the thing is readable at all.

    I haven’t really played God of War that much so the comparison doesn’t quite make sense to me, but I have heard the comparison elsewhere (that “Gears and God of War had a bizarre lovechild for us to gawk at”). The game is a blast, but outside of my retardedly knee-jerk reaction to the WH40k franchise (TAKE MY MONEY PLEASE) it’s got tons of stiff competition this month and through the rest of the year, and the only reason to BUY NOW would be to get in on the multiplayer deathmatch while it’s still relevant. Otherwise, the singleplayer campaign is still there and co-op won’t be out for a while anyway. But yeah, good times. Gears 3 I am strangely less concerned with, as I’ll just pick that up whenever anyone else does, because there’s no way in fuck I’m playing a 4-player co-op campaign by myself.

    Dead Island made a bit of a mistake with the trailer being so emotionally impactful, since that really isn’t representative of the game at all (the devs coming out and saying this several times between then and now didn’t help things either). I admit I’m probably more into the zombie aspect than you, but the co-op flavorings of this game really, really work well, likely due to the Borderlands structuring of hub-quest-kill stuff-cash+item+xp reward.

    The big difference between this and other zombie games might be that it’s very easy to bite off more than you can chew; early on, you might fight a few zombies at once, but in the city on the island you can easily be overwhelmed, leading to situations where you peak around a corner to a street crowded with zombies (walkers, runners and other types) and weigh using up precious resources or just going around.

    But it is still a zombie game, and I actually got this one for the PC so obviously us co-oping it up in it isn’t going to be on the table for a while.

    I think X-Men actually lends well towards giving you a new mutant to play with, especially in an RPG. Everyone’s got so much baggage, you know? You can’t really have an RPG where you make decisions of consequence when you know Nightcrawler would never just side with the Brotherhood out of hand. Plus the thing has a whole New Mutants vibe to it, which I’d been missing since House of M.

    THE ROW!

  3. I do see your point about the X-men game, however I think they should have went Saints Row with it and let us make our own character. The choosing your side dynamic is interesting, and the option of seeing this conflict from an outsiders perspective is cool but in the end I have way more interest in Toad than I do the Asian girl they keep showing.
    But since the powers are apparently alterable and modifiable I don’t see why they can’t just let us make our own dude.
    Er, what i’m saying is: Unknown new character vs Nightcrawler, I’ll take NightCrawler. But between my own personal mutant and Nightcrawler I’ll very likely take my own guy.

    Also, glad to hear about Gears. I’m looking forward to playing it with ya, but honestly the Row takes precedence in my mind.

  4. Yeah. I was about to say that they’ve actually given the characters backstories which will obviously be referenced throughout the plot, but that could have been applied Mass Effect style. What I think it is, is that this is kind of a low-rent next gen title. Full-on character customization is hard and expensive, and Silicon Knights is already getting flak in that the game lacks feature xyz or doesn’t look pretty enough and so on. I fully understand and agree with the reasons they chose to give us new characters (designed by Marvel) over some weirdly polite version of Logan, as with others, this is just another gameplay decision that will alienate people who were hoping for something more.

  5. Out of all the games you’ve discussed, Trod (and sorry I didn’t get to this sooner!) I think X-Men is the only one I may end up picking up.

    I could care less about Space Marine, mainly owing to the fact that Warhammer has never had any appeal to me. Nothing against it, but nothing compelling me towards it either. Not too mention, I think the inherent concept of the space marine has in and of itself run a little ragged for me that I currently just have no interest in it.

    Dead Island was something where I, like Jack and most of the internet, saw something in the trailer. I was already skeptical whether they could recreate that specific impact in the game itself, but I figured if they did something, it’d be worth getting.

    In fact, I almost ended up getting it up until the minute it came out, but the screw up with the shipment gave me enough time to look at things and rethink the decision. The heavily mixed reviews, including some blasting the story itself, certainly put me off (RPGfan called it abysmal in particular). I liked the atmosphere in the brief demo I played at E3, as it the chaos was rather evocative, especially since they put everyone in headphones to play the game (for a whole whopping five minutes!).

    Ultimately though, I was still finishing Deus Ex, which I was already enjoying and am now suspecting will ultimately turn out to be the better game. Following that, I figured I could pick it up or go with something off my shelf, and finally decided to give Mass Effect another go (which has worked out well, especially now that I’ve moved onto the remarkably superior sequel).

    If Dead Island had local co-op, I’d have been much more likely to pick it up, as it’s something Maggie and I would have loved to play together, and would have likely made up for whatever shortcomings the story suffered. I’ve actually had a similar concern about the forthcoming Raccoon City game Capcom is publishing, but the difference there is I derived greater enjoyment from playing the game in and of itself, and I’m more curious as to what the story will do to mess with established grounds (is it mean-spirited? Yes, but I’m still curious). I suppose with the deluge of zombie games coming up, I felt that while Dead Island is more of an original entry (and credit to it there) it’s just not doing what I want right now.

    Couple that with the cost of my physical and some dental work I had to do, I decided I just didn’t want it enough to take the hit along with all of that. I may still check it out later.

    So… X-Men. To approach the pre-built character subject, I think whether or not it’s warranted ultimately depends on what the plot does with these characters in relation to their backgrounds. They’re meant to be young people, so will their family and heritage provide a heavy impact? I don’t have some raging need to build my own character, despite what the western role playing philosophy is, but given the level of customization they seem to feature otherwise in terms of power and such, I just hope each of these three characters is interesting enough to warrant their own play-through.

    Aside from that, I’d like to see Silicon Knights do something neat again. Their games are too far and few between, so when something goes wrong (as Too Human apparently did) it’s unfortunate to hear.

    Of course, I’d also love for them to fulfill that tease of an Eternal Darkness sequel, but given the conditions they originally state for it, I don’t want to get my hopes up…

  6. I must admit I’ve become a bit averse to zombie games as of late, and as Jack and Lucas stated above, the “Borderlands + Zombies” aspect just wasn’t enough to make me pine for it, despite the refreshing-sounding freedom you mentioned in your article.

    What I’m trying to say is, there needs to be a complete reboot of what it means to have a zombie game. Due to the sheer saturation of zombies in the market now, shooting shambling humanoid targets just doesn’t seem to cut it for me anymore. I don’t feel the risk or thrill that I used to back in the day, and isn’t that at least half the “fun” of the zombie genre? To imagine a world where a single bite could spell the end of you? This is why comic series such as The Walking Dead are so intriguing to me now. It’s real, it’s visceral, it’s merciless, and it delves deep into what it truly means to be human, what lengths we go to to try to survive. The real disappointment is that Dead Island’s developers evoked those exact sentiments in their beautiful trailer, and didn’t follow through with what they had.

    That said, you genuinely got me interested in checking out Space Marine, being that I’m a bit of a Warhammer 40k fan myself. The videos of jump+stomping looked really satisfying. Though, an achievement for 100 kills when they throw thousands of enemies at you? Really? They might as well give you an achievement for starting the game and playing it.

  7. The game not matching the trailer is probably it’s biggest falling. The moment-to-moment quests focus on survival (or the selfish whims of survivors), with some of it being nonsensical (go get this money this guy owes me). This marries well with the zig-zagging tone, which goes from horrendously tense when playing by yourself, to surrealistically macabre with others (gang stomping zombies to death does that). Co-op is tons and tons of fun, but it’s yet another way that poignant trailer is detached from the actual game.

    If you give it a rental or a playthrough, I urge you not to give up until you get to the city of Moresby. By and large this is where I feel they nailed the atmosphere the most, even with co-op partners, and in terms of design they really nailed the “beautiful resort for tourists, shitty city for the locals” feel. If you’re into that sort of thing, But man does this city feel dangerous, mixing far-off wails into rapidly approaching infected cries as they run towards you. You can never really be sure if you’ve cleared an area or if there aren’t more running towards you, and simple fights can spiral out of control very easily.

    I agree that Space Marine is not going to really thrill you as much as it should if you’re not into WH40k, despite it and Gears perfecting the over-the-shoulder third-person action/shooter genre. What I do want to shove at you as hard as I can is that the space marines that litter the gaming landscape with their shaved heads, grunt-like positions and gruff attitudes are nothing like the Emperor’s Finest, the Angels of Death brotherhood of SPACE MARINES with their dogmatic theocracy and gothic overtones. Battle-brothers raised through hundreds of conflicts over centuries of constant war, they speak to each other with trust and respect (rather than the casual, cold sarcastic digging in most “space marine” squads). They are different beasts entirely, and I just want to emphasize that.

    X-Men Destiny I’ve actually pre-ordered and cancelled twice. There really isn’t enough information (or incentive) to warrent pre-buying this one for me. As for how unique each playthrough will be, well… The very, very few dev interviews I’ve seen are pretty dodgy on this. On one hand, they emphasize that these are blank slates, that if the X-Men or Brotherhood hate you it’s your own doing. On the other hand, they haven’t said much about how this is going to be impacted by your background. I would assume it’d be on the level of Mass Effect, with maybe one or two quests that deal specifically with your background and maybe a passing reference confirming it. I am, however, very intrigued by the characters they presented (which are now canon in Marvel) and that the intent is for a darker story than we usually see out of X-Men video games. Silicon Knights needs to do more, and I’m happy to support them.

    Just not in the same 30-day period that Dead Island, Rage, Gears of War and Space Marine come out.

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