Developer: Kuju Entertainment
Release Date: October 21, 2003
Warhammer 40,000 is one of those games that’s been around forever, but seems to have no casual fandom. It has quite a few rabid, frothing enthusiasts, and a nearly equal number of people who consider it the worst use of lead since Roman aqueducts. It’s kind of a neat concept, though, by anyone’s standards; it began as a fantasy miniatures wargame, which was then boosted thousands of years into the future, so now the battles between men and orks involve plasma rifles and starships on far-flung alien worlds.
In Fire Warrior, you’ll be playing as a member of the tau, a new reptilian race that’s only recently been introduced to the campaign setting. As Case, you’re a member of the elite Fire Warriors, crammed into power armor, handed a powerful rifle, and sent out to kill. The first level’s also Case’s first mission as a Fire Warrior; to prove yourself, you’ll be sent to clear out a hostile landing zone more or less singlehandedly, so you and the rest of the tau soldiers on the field can be evacuated.
Over the course of the game’s next twenty levels, you’ll find yourself taking the field against Chaos, one of the most powerful and evil factions in Warhammer. If you aren’t a Warhammer fan, don’t worry about it; just be aware that there are horrible creatures of darkness that need to be shot in the face. That’s where you come in.
THQ was nice enough to send us a build of the game’s first level, and the first word that comes to mind is “gritty.” You start in the middle of pitched trench warfare. It’s dark, it’s bloody, gunfire’s coming from all directions, burning tanks litter the field, and the landscape explodes with frightening regularity. It’s enough to make you jumpy, even before you hear the computer-modulated voices of your human enemies, who’re just waiting for another alien to kill. It reminds me of nothing quite so much as the Beach Invasion level in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, with a full complement on the Nazi guns; the real trick in Fire Warrior is figuring out which attacks are harmless window dressing, and which ones are coming straight at you.
The controls are solid, but generally unremarkable. It’s much the same as most of the other FPSes you’ve seen on console—move with the left stick, look and aim with the right. Its one real quirk is that you reload with the Select button, which I would respectfully request be changed in the final build. It’s annoying that I have to take a finger off another button in order to manually reload.
It’s easy to die in Fire Warrior, since one grenade will usually take off most of your health bar, and most of the enemy soldiers are toting powerful rifles. There’s this one guy, who has a pistol in one hand and a club in the other, and I don’t know what he’s been eating, but his melee attacks can kill you in four or five hits. You can rely upon enemy soldiers to take up sniper positions whenever they can, and to utilize cover to their best advantage.
That’s the other thing that stands out about Fire Warrior: the enemies are not messing around. A lot of games claim to have good AI, but so often, those claims fall short, like the Germans in Medal of Honor: Frontline whose idea of seeking cover is diving behind a six-inch-wide lamppost. Fire Warrior’s enemy soldiers have the advantages of entrenched positions, numbers, and cover, and they will use them. Grenades make next to no sound in this game, so it’s not hard to run into or over one without realizing. To win, you have to be in constant motion, listening for even the slightest sound that might tip you to your opponents’ next action. I daresay that even FPS veterans may find a thing or two to surprise them in here.
The weapon variety’s not quite up to snuff in this build, as all that’s available is a laser pistol, a laser rifle, and the tau’s trademark plasma rifles. Then again, all I’ve got is the first level, so that’s no great surprise. Each weapon has a secondary fire mode, as with all the better futuristic FPSes, and you’ve got some decent concussive grenades to throw into the mix. In addition, if you can clear out an enemy gun emplacement, you can turn the mounted machine gun onto any luckless opponents to wander into the area. The full version will feature twelve more weapons, including missile launchers, flamethrowers, and my personal favorite, the sniper rifle.
Fire Warrior’s real play time will, reportedly, be spent with its multiplayer mode. The PS2 version will apparently support full online play for up to eight players, with multiple games, such as Capture the Flag, Team Deathmatch, Deathmatch, and the ubiquitous “more.” Our build has no multiplayer, which makes us very sad, but this is one of those cases where the hype has us interested. If half of what they’re saying is true, this could be the first decent online FPS for the PS2, even with the relatively low number of players.
If that has your curiosity up, or if you’re curious how well Warhammer translates to the world of first-person shooters, keep your eyes open in mid-October for Fire Warrior.
More articles about Fire Warrior