Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team is the latest in what seems to be a growing trend of promotional downloadable games. Dead Rising: Case 0 came out to hype Dead Rising 2, Dead Space: Ignition came out to hype Dead Space 2, Red Faction: Battlegrounds came out to hype Red Faction: Armageddon, and from the same developer as that latter game comes Kill Team, meant to hype the upcoming Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine game. Usually this type of promo game acts as a prologue for the “main” game while offering some unlockable bonus content. With a plot that barely even qualifies as paper thin and only a single bonus item, Kill Team isn’t a very good promotional game. Thankfully, it’s still a good game.
Kill Team plays like a dual joystick shooter but with a cinematic camera that always tries to frame the action from dramatic angles like in God of War. Additionally, unlike most dual joystick shooters the game features semi-open and varied environments. Your objectives can range from something as simple as fighting through a hallway to something more open-ended like destroying X number of important objects within a large area. The environmental variety helps keep the game interesting. Even though it all takes place on a rusty metal ship, the changing size of your arena — from open areas with lots of explosive barrels to tight hallways to moving platforms — never lets the game look repetitive.
The gameplay is also surprisingly varied with four classes of Space Marine: one melee focused, one range focused, and two in between. Each Marine can be customized with two perk slots, giving you more grenades, more gun damage, more sword damage, more health, etc. Naturally, you’ll unlock better perks as you fight. The game has a nice sense of progression. You’re clearly more powerful by the end than in the beginning, but even by the end, you won’t have unlocked all the perks, so there’s room to grow and it’s worth it to keep playing. Thankfully, the unlockable perks are not tied to a single class, so it never feels like you have to grind a class for progress. However, it’s also worth replaying a level with a different class just to see how different the game can get. Go in with a ranged Space Marine and Kill Team feels like a shooter. Go in with a strong melee Space Marine and the game feels more like a hack-and-slash RPG — just without the loot.
With such a good focus on progression, it’s strange that you can’t actually see your current progress on the unlockables. Occasionally a meter pops up during gameplay to let you know how close you are to unlocking something new, but that meter appears nowhere else. There’s no progression menu, so I have no idea exactly how I unlock the perks, whether it’s just by amount of kills or points or specific actions. This confusion puts a serious damper on one of the more compelling aspects of the game.
Another damper is that this is clearly meant to be a cooperative game, but it has no online co-op. So if you don’t have anyone you can call over to game with on the couch, this is essentially a single-player game.
As a single-player game, it can be annoying at times because some areas feel designed around a specific class of Space Marine, either ranged or melee. In one section you’re tasked with destroying mechanical pillars bobbing up and down, and you can’t hit it with a melee attack. If you happen to be playing as a melee class at this point, using a weak gun on these targets slows everything down and completing the objective takes far longer than it should. And all the while you’re being attacked by Orks with guns, further necessitating the need for ranged firepower.
But if you play as a ranged Space Marine, there are still sections that feel designed to hamper you. One level has you fighting the Tyranids, an insect-like species that attacks in large swarms. If you can kill them before they get to you you’ll be fine, but the further you get in the level the stronger the Tyranids get until you’re constantly being surrounded and clawed by beasts twice your size.
Those latter moments wouldn’t be quite as frustrating if you had a dodge button or a roll or some kind of action that would quickly get you out of harm’s way. But there’s no such button, which makes the action feel uncomfortably slow. You never move as fast you want to, especially during large fights. There’s a sprint button, but it’s a temporary sprint and doesn’t refill very quickly. These deficiencies make Kill Team feel like a hampered action game. There’s also one particularly bad moment that’s simply unacceptable in a modern game. It’s a chase scene that can insta-kill you that is preceded by an unskippable cut scene and is followed by a big battle against more swarming enemies. Die anytime and you start over from the beginning.
Despite its uncomfortably slow pace at times, Kill Team is never boring. There’s enough variety and customization to keep you interested until the end and beyond. It’s not a great game, but it’s a fine way to kill a weekend. Maybe two if you can find a friend to play with.