I grew up slightly after the heyday of demo discs, but the one game I most closely associate with it was Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. The third-person shooter was the main game featured on an Official Xbox Magazine demo disc, and I remember having tons of fun playing its short demo again and again, mowing down tons of Orks with my guns and Chainsword in the process. There was something simple and satisfying about its demo that I couldn’t get enough of at 12 years old. While I never actually played the whole game, it’s a somewhat formative gaming experience I’ve remembered for over a decade.
Those positive feelings all resurfaced when I played an hour-long demo of Saber Interactive and Focus Entertainment’s Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine 2 ahead of its appearance at Gamescom, which captured the same frenetic energy I loved about that demo. More surprising, though, is how much it’s reminding me of the much more recent Exoprimal from Capcom. It’s dumb fun, and I mean that in the best possible way.
My preview began with Ultramarine Lieutenant Titus, who players will recognize from the first game, and new characters Chairon and Gadriel landing on the Planet of Kadaku. Their goal is to help turn the tide of a nasty intergalactic fight and take back an orbital canon facility. This level of Space Marine 2 swaps out the original’s Orks for Tyranids, which are more bug-like enemies; regardless, they’re just as quickly torn apart by a shred of bullets or a chainsaw sword.
It didn’t take long to get to that shooting, either. Shortly after landing, my crew met up with Major Sarkanna, who explained that the Tyranids had taken over Kadaku’s Orbital Guns and pushed the Cadians back to a trench-filled encampment that wouldn’t look out of place in World War I (minus the aliens). Like the raptors in Exoprimal, Tryanids rushed the encampment in a giant horde, so I had to fight back with the weapons at my disposal.
The Bolt Pistols and rifles I used had heft to them, as their bullets tore apart the smaller enemies and noticeably hurt the bigger ones as I fought in that camp, through a jungle, and finally on the Orbital Guns as I took them back. If anything got too close to me, I could dodge, use my Combat Knife (and later Chainsword) to parry attacks and quickly strike back, or activate Titus’ Righteous Fury skill to increase my health and defense in pivotal moments.
Combat in Space Marine 2 feels weighty, but it also made me feel powerful. My Space Marines were much stronger than any of the soldiers around them, and I could feel that. It’s gory and brutal, with detailed execution animations and intense set pieces that capture the feeling of a warzone just as well as games like Call of Duty: World at War or Gears of War. Still, it revels in the power trip that playing as a strong, action hero soldier slicing and shooting through hordes of enemies in a situation like this enables.
Space Marine 2 is intentionally macho, brutal, and gruff. It’s like the angsty, violent, sci-fi stepchild of a Dynasty Warriors game. By playing into that so much, it taps into the same primal power trip that made its predecessor memorable, even during this short demo. It’s the same inherently gratifying feeling that has kept me coming back to Exoprimal, a recent, surprisingly great multiplayer shooter from Capcom. It’s good to know I have another option to get that fix.
Space Marine 2 is primarily designed as a co-op shooter. It seems like it’d be easier to take down all of these Tyranid hordes with the help of other players, and there’s a full ping and revive that you’d expect from games in this genre. I enjoy games of this ilk — like Outriders and Remnant 2 — although the fact this preview build didn’t let me play with others means some crucial questions remain. Namely, I’m not quite sure how distinctly each player character will feel to play from each other, which is essential in a co-op shooter that one might play over and over with friends.
I hope to learn more about co-op play soon, as playing with AI wasn’t a very smooth process during my time with the game. I played a build from a game actively in development, so hopefully the bot AI will get a bit better before release. Still, during this demo, my allies ignored reviving me when I was down multiple times, even when there weren’t many enemies around or they’d killed all of the ones that were. This is frustrating, of course, so it seems like it will be a better idea to play Space Marine 2 with two friends over bots when it does finally come out.
Space Marine 2 seems like a satisfying action game; I just hope the co-op elements don’t end up causing any problems in the final version, whether you’re using the features or not. Still, it’s hard to say no to a game that can tap into that primal joy of annihilating hordes of enemies with massive blades and powerful guns in a big suit of armor. Capcom demonstrated that in July with Exoprimal, and now Space Marine 2 is poised to be a worthy herald of that power fantasy. If that’s what you want from this game, then I think you’ll have a good time with it in both single-player and co-op.
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