Multiplayer, eh? Bit of fun! Having a laugh with friends. Persistent unlocks. Leaderboards. And all I can think as Relic demo Space Marine's multiplayer component to me, is this: Frivolity! The Emperor would not approve. My tune was, however, changed slightly following several hours and a dozen matches of hands-on.
The most important thing to know about Space Marine's multiplayer is that it features the same 50/50 split between ranged and melee combat as the singleplayer. This shapes absolutely everything. When you round a corner to see some terrible, spiky Chaos Space Marine around the corner (all of the multiplayer is Space Marines vs. these corrupt yet perfectly matched antagonists), your first thought isn't simply drawing a bead on the freak and firing. Or, perhaps it is, but there's a second, more intriguing thought jostling for space with this: is he going to charge?
Because every single melee weapon in this game, be it the chainsword, thunder hammer, power fist or even a lowly sword or the charge attack of a Devastator class who already has both his hands full with a colossal lascannon or heavy bolter, is something to be feared. If an opponent drops into melee combat with you, be it through charging or a literal drop in the case of the jump pack equipped Assault class, and you do anything other than utterly outclass them in a fantastic display of evasive rolls and well-timed hacks with your own weapon, that's you cooked. It's over.
Which isn't to say the guns are frail – there's a beautiful satisfaction in gunning eager Assault troops out of the sky as the go rocketing towards you – but the thick armour of Space Marines and the capacity for melee attacks to punch clean through it colours everything, morphing the game's two modes of Annihilation and Seize Ground (read: team deathmatch and point capture) into unique experiences.
But persistent unlocks were what Relic were really trying to sell us on, and the game certainly does have its fair share of them. The game features a hefty 41 levels of progression that you'll advance through for everything from getting headshots and revenge kills to winning matches, unlocking every classic weapon you might hope for, from melta guns to storm bolters, as well as new perks and pieces of armour.
The flexibility of the game's customisation is a bit eyebrow-raising. Everything from each of your shoulder pieces to your backpack can be painted whatever hideous day-glo shade you care to inflict upon your enemies, and the instant Relic unlocked this for us fully I found myself facing down a veritable 70s disco of far-future warriors. That said, I was able to content myself in a set of armour pieces that turned me into an 80s Space Marine miniature, done up in classy Dark Angels green.
Space Marine's fabled co-op mode will still be the main draw here, I suspect, but finding out that there's still fun to be had competitively was a nice surprise. This is a package that might not have the thunderous poise and confidence of a Space Marine, but it looks more and more like it has the stoic competence of one every time I see it. Put some money aside for when this one arrives in September, guys. For the Emperor.