When it comes to Warhammer 40,000, THQ and Games Workshop have earned a pretty stellar reputation thanks to the stellar development work that Canadian developer Relic Entertainment has put into the Dawn of War franchise. Relic's latest title, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, is still two months away, but this week, THQ released a prologue story in the form of Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team. Developed by the recently disbanded THQ Digital Studios UK, Kill Team is a twin-stick shooter that lays some basic groundwork for the events of Space Marine.
As a defender of an Imperial Forge World, you are sent out to board an incoming Ork Kroozer that is heading your way. An advance guard, the Kroozer is the first ship in an invasion force. It's up to you to prevent the Orks from getting a foothold on the Forge World.
When it comes to gameplay, Kill Team lives up to its name, as the entire point of the game is to indiscriminately slaughter Orks and Tyranids with one of four Space Marines. You can choose from a Librarian (strong melee, average range), Sternguard Veteran (weak melee, strong range), Techmarine (weak melee, average range) or Vanguard Veteran (strong melee, weak range). Aside from their different weapon skills, each Space Marine sports a unique skill that can be used whenever you fill the special meter.
The Librarian unleashes a psychic shockwave that kills everything in the immediate area. The Sternguard Veteran goes into an intense focus fire. The Techmarine can set up a tarantula turret, and the Vanguard Veteran fires off a jump pack charge.
Controls are direct and intuitive, with movement and shooting assigned to the two analog sticks. Grenades, melee, specials and sprinting are all activated with a button press. If you've ever played a twin-stick shooter, you'll feel right at home here.
Since racking up kills is the point of the game, Kill Team rewards your wanton destruction with optional perks. These perks slowly unlock as you progress, though the unlock speed is based on your performance. The higher your score, the more likely you are to land an unlock. Perks vary from extra health to stronger weapons. You can only have two perks active at any one time, but they can be swapped out anytime you reach a loadout point. It's not a deep level of customization, but it's a nice touch.
Visually, Kill Team is a standout title, as all of the character models are immediately recognizable. There's a codex option that details all of the different characters, but it's not needed for anyone who's a fan of either Dawn of War or the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game. The team did a great job here.
With solid control and sharp visuals, you would expect Kill Team to be a top title. Unfortunately, there are some hefty stumbles that prevent it from reaching "must have" status. The biggest is the way in which the game handles cut scenes. All of Kill Team's cut scenes are done in-engine and cannot be skipped, even when viewing for a second time. For a game with a focus on speed and killing, having to constantly pause the action while a cut scene plays out can be grating. Adding insult to injury is the fact that, because they are scripted, it is possible to prevent a cut scene from happening and effectively crash the game.
For example, in the first mission, there is an area with large pipes in front of a door. If you end up rolling those pipes too close to the door, you'll get stuck when the cut scene plays. The door opens, and the next wave of Orks appears, but they won't walk around the pipe. Not knowing how to path, the Orks just stand in position, and since you can't skip the cut scene, it's time to restart the level. Annoying.
The automatic camera in the game can also be a problem, as it can randomly swing into a new viewpoint, suddenly making items that were right next to your character completely inaccessible. You can work around this somewhat if you know it's going to happen, but on the first playthrough, it can be a bit jarring. A free-floating camera would have been a plus, but that likely wasn't done for performance issues. Kill Team sports plenty of visual detail, but if a lot is happening on-screen, the frame rate can take a noticeable hit.
Then there is the co-op support. Kill Team supports two-player local co-op across all of the missions as well as survival mode. Yay! Kill Team has absolutely zero support for multiplayer over Xbox Live. Boo! Talk about a missed opportunity.
Capping off the complaint list is the crash bug we encountered. When trying to quit the game via the menu, the whole system would freeze. The only way to resolve it was to delete the game and reinstall.
Amazingly enough, Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team is still an enjoyable game in spite of all its technical issues, and that's a credit to the purity of its design. If you're a fan of Warhammer 40,000 or killing stuff in general, chances are good you'll enjoy giving this one a go. Just don't be surprised if it feels like the Orks did some of the programming.
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