Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior Preview

We travel to a dark and distant future with a preview version of Kuju Entertainment's upcoming Warhammer 40,000-inspired first-person shooter.

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At a recent THQ press event in London, we got to try out the latest version of Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior for the PlayStation 2. The game, which is currently in development at Kuju Entertainment and is also scheduled for release on the PC, is a first-person shooter inspired by Games Workshop's futuristic tabletop wargame Warhammer 40,000. In the single-player campaign, you play as a young Tau warrior who, along with a small group of allies, is doing battle with the forces of the Imperium. The early version of the game we were able to play featured six of the game's 21 single-player levels taken from various stages of the campaign.

Your Tau allies aren't always as helpful as they might be.
Your Tau allies aren't always as helpful as they might be.

After completing the game's basic training level, which does a good job of familiarizing you with the controls and some of the different weapons you'll be using in the early stages of the game, we proceeded to the game's first campaign mission. After a brief cutscene set in the back of a Tau dropship, we found ourselves disembarking into an area where entrenched Imperial forces were proving to be troublesome for the Tau forces already on the ground. Initially we were armed only with a single Tau weapon and a sword, but just like in Halo--a game Fire Warrior seems to borrow more than a few ideas from--you can pick up the weapons of both fallen comrades and enemies. Of course, you can't carry more than two weapons (in addition to the sword and any grenades you find) at any one time, but it wasn't long before we were able to switch between our two weapons as ammo supplies and combat situations dictated. It was occasionally frustrating that we were unable to substitute our original Tau weapon for more-powerful ones that we found as we progressed. Apparently, one of your two weapons will always be a Tau weapon, and this weapon will automatically be substituted with more-powerful Tau weapons as you progress through the game. It all sounds great in theory, but since on more than one occasion we found ourselves without any ammo for our Tau weapon, we had to resort to using it only when no second weapon was available.

With the exception of the Kuju-designed Tau rail rifle (which Games Workshop has now incorporated into Warhammer 40,000, along with a Tau dropship that was designed specifically for Fire Warrior), all the weapons in the game already exist in that sci-fi universe, and as such more closely resemble modern-day weapons more than they resemble anything you might see in Star Wars or Star Trek. The game has a total of 17 weapons, and one thing that Fire Warrior does extremely well is introduce you to more-powerful weapons gradually as you progress. For example, if you kill an Imperial officer or a space marine on one of the game's earlier levels, there's a good chance that he'll drop a weapon that's far more powerful than anything that his lower-ranked colleagues are armed with. You can, of course, pick it up and put it to good use, but since the weapon in question isn't readily available to the enemy forces, it's unlikely you'll find any extra ammunition for it once it's empty. This method of introducing you to more-powerful weapons early in the game works really well, and it ensures that when such weapons become commonplace later on in the game, you'll already have a pretty good idea of how they work and what they're capable of. The majority of the weapons in Fire Warrior have both primary and secondary fire modes, but for the most part this merely determines the rate of fire.

The PS2 version of Fire Warrior supports up to four players on a single screen.
The PS2 version of Fire Warrior supports up to four players on a single screen.

Also, like in Halo, your personal shield will regenerate whenever you get clear of enemy fire in Fire Warrior. This essentially ensures that no matter how much damage you've sustained, if you can make it past the next wave of enemies, you stand a chance of reaching the next available medical kit. It's a great system, and one that works well in the context of Fire Warrior, although the linear nature of many of the game's levels means that it can occasionally seem a little too easy to backtrack to previously cleared areas to allow your shield to recharge.

Heavy Metal

The artificial intelligence of the other characters in Fire Warrior is occasionally impressive, though more often than not the actions of both the enemies and your colleagues appear to be scripted rather than influenced by your own actions. Of course, the game isn't complete yet, but even in the preview version we played, we occasionally found ourselves wishing there were some way for us to direct them with at least a basic set of commands. For example, in one level, we cleared a room of enemies with a little help from two other Tau warriors and then had to go off and search for a colored key before returning to the same room to unlock a door. Rather than join our search, the other warriors decided that their time would be better spent guarding the locked door until our return. We proceeded to locate the colored key in question in a well-guarded Imperial library where the Tau warriors' help would have been appreciated, yet when we returned to the room, we found three enemies there, oblivious to the existence of our comrades. Frustratingly, the Tau warriors seemed to become interested in moving from their positions only once the danger was past and the door had been unlocked. In all fairness, the warriors proved incredibly helpful in the next encounter, but their actions and eventual demises seemed rehearsed in a way that made our own efforts to save them feel pointless. We were assured that the Tau allies in this particular level will be much more active in the final version of the game, though the game still seems like it would benefit from at least a basic command system for your teammates.

Even Chaos-infected weapons can be put to good use if you find them.
Even Chaos-infected weapons can be put to good use if you find them.

Later in the same level we had our first encounter with a space marine, and, once past him, we were confronted by an area that represented a real shift in the pace of the gameplay. We were basically required to reach the end of a winding corridor furnished with surveillance cameras and ceiling-mounted minigun turrets using nothing but stealth. For the first time in the game, we found ourselves in an environment where big guns and masses of ammo were going to be no help whatsoever. Failure to reach the door at the end of the corridor unnoticed would cause nearby turrets to begin firing, and the only way to reset them would be to head back to the beginning of the corridor to use the security reset switch. Even though the cameras had laser sights that indicated the direction they were facing and their range, this level proved quite challenging and provided a very different experience from the straightforward shooting levels.

The other levels we got to play as part of our preview were taken from the latter stages of the single-player campaign and pitted us against the forces of Chaos. In one of these levels, we revisited a large Imperial ship from earlier in the game that had subsequently become infected. These levels were made more difficult by the fact that Chaos-infected marines made up a significant number of the enemies we faced and the fact that many areas of the ship were either in total darkness or covered in a red Chaos slime that's fatal to the touch. While the Chaos-infected areas simply required a few well-placed jumps to bypass, the areas in darkness proved quite challenging because of the limited battery life of the Tau night-vision gear. The battery recharges in the same way that the shield does, but since a full battery can provide only 15-20 seconds of continuous night vision before it must be recharged, we eventually found ourselves taking fire from unseen enemies at certain points. Then again, the night vision is incredibly effective when it's switched on--although your surrounding area can be a little difficult to make out at times, your enemies show up as black silhouettes against the bright green of their surroundings, which makes them sitting ducks.

In addition to the single-player campaign, Fire Warrior will feature multiplayer support for four players on a single screen or eight players online (16 online in the PC version). We got to try out a couple of the game's multiplayer maps against three other players, and, aside from coming away thinking that the Tau rail rifle was a little too deadly, we're pleased to report that the game offered some truly enjoyable Quake-style deathmatch and capture-the-flag gameplay.

Previously visited areas look quite different once they're infected by Chaos.
Previously visited areas look quite different once they're infected by Chaos.

Based on what we've seen, Fire Warrior may have real potential if the developer can address the issues we've noted. Specifically, if the AI of the enemies and friendly Tau warriors in the game is improved and made a little less predictable, it may help the game provide a satisfying experience for Warhammer 40,000 enthusiasts and first-person shooter fans alike.

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