Review: Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team (Xbox Live Arcade)

Publishers will try all sorts of tricks to try and publicise their upcoming games. Adverts in magazines and on websites. Posters and billboards. TV adverts. Public betas. Flashy events, sometimes for the press, sometimes the public. Opening a shop in Soho. And, occasionally, tie-in games.

The Fable titles like this approach, releasing cheap mini-games before their release, the playing of which gives the player in-game benefits; Croteam, meanwhile, have been using the “Serious Sam Indie Series” to publicise the upcoming Serious Sam 3. Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team is unusual, however, in its positioning as a premium Xbox Live Arcade title: where the aforementioned titles are cheap mini-games and indie spin-offs, clearly distinguished as side-shows to the game they advertise, Kill Team could almost be a stand-alone product. Does it deserve to be treated as such?

First things first: Kill Team is a twin-stick shooter. The player chooses one of four character classes (Sternguard Veteran, Tech Marine, Librarian or Vanguard Veteran – imagine a sliding scale of weapon emphasis, with the Sternguard veteran being almost purely about shooting, and the Vanguard Veteran focussed on bashing things to death in melee), their chapter (which has no effect but for changing their colour scheme. Nevertheless, I was still tempted to give the game a gushing review purely for allowing you to opt for the Salamanders. I resisted the urge), and then jumps into the fight.

The game is unusually chunky and slow for a twin-stick shooter: which fits the theme. Space Marines are meant to be bioengineered giants in power armour, after all. You aren’t going to be outpacing the enemy – particularly while shooting at them, which slows you further – so you have to focus on taking out the largest threats quickly, while weathering the storm of fire and minor enemies that you can’t avoid. Helping you through the game are a variety of power-ups (only one of which can be active at a time), from limited-use grenades to timed regenerating health, and a chargeable special move. As the game starts throwing more and more enemies at you, your special attack charges faster and faster, and you’ll find yourself using it more and more frequently. Which is just as well, as you’ll need it.

In the later stages, the game begins to up the pressure – in particular by throwing some nasty boss fights at you. Fortunately, as you go through the game you constantly unlock a variety of weapons and ‘perks’ according to your total score. By the end of the game each character class has access to a choice of three different weapons (the Sternguard Veteran, for example, moving from a heavy bolter to a plasma cannon to a rapid-firing rocket launcher), and can equip two different perks. These perks take the form of percentage increases – 25% more health, 25% faster special attack charge time, and so on. By mixing and matching perks and character classes you can help define their role in battle: a Sternguard Veteran with boosted firepower and special attack effectiveness to punch holes in the enemy, or a Librarian with boosted health and melee damage to weather the enemy’s attacks as he rushes them down.

This is particularly valuable when playing co-operatively: the game offers a local, single-screen multiplayer, and this ability to specialise allows you to cover all bases – one player wading into the thick of the battle while the other lays down covering fire and picks off distant enemies. The game further encourages you to work together by allowing the sharing of power-ups – any marine that picks up a power-up will automatically share it with his ally assuming they stand close enough together: meaning that canny players can stack mutually beneficial power-ups like, say, quad-fire and rapid-fire.

The single-player experience obviously lacks this aspect, but still manages to offer a good challenge. Indeed, the feeling of being a single marine, wading through hordes and hordes of enemies (Orks and… well, I’ll leave the other race to your imagination) has its own appeal, allowing you to feel like an unstoppable killing machine. Well, up until the moment where you inevitably die, at least. It has to be said that single-player is also a lot easier as a character with ranged weapon focus than a melee combatant – particularly when facing bosses at the end who have weakpoints that can only be targeted with ranged weapons.

Which brings me to the one major problem with this game: the lack of a challenge. I’ve already mentioned that later levels add a lot of pressure, but what I didn’t mention was that this is subverted by the lack of any severe consequences of death. If you are killed, you restart from a checkpoint (with full health), which is rarely more than a few minutes away. While some of these checkpoints are irritatingly placed before unskippable cutscenes, I can’t help but wonder if the game wouldn’t be a bit more satisfying if it gave you limited lives, making the final levels a real challenge, instead of just a test of endurance.

It’d also have helped make the game feel better value for money – at only five levels long, and with infinite lives, the game is over in a few hours. There’s a survival mode bolted on, which adds a bit of longevity, and replaying the campaign with a different class can be fun, particularly if you try to pick up all the collectables (there are ten per level, and some of them are well hidden), but it still feels a little brief.

Nevertheless, this is a solid, fun shooter, and one which captures the essence of its theme well – if you’ve a few Microsoft Points burning a hole in your virtual pocket, this is worth a look.

WAAAAGH! out of Three

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