Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior PC and Playstation 2 (reviewed) Developed by Kuju Released in 2003
While variety has never been an issue when it comes to video game tie-ins to the popular Warhammer 40K tabletop wargame, we had yet to actually see a developer tackle the franchise in the form of a pure first-person shooter. While there have been hybrids that mixed some simplistic FPS fun with strategy, Fire Warrior is a more traditional take on the genre and let’s us play as one of my favorite factions in the 40K lore: The Tau.
Join the greater good, we have mechs!
In the game we play as Kais, a new recruit in the Tau army. Kais is a fire warrior, a member of the large fighting caste of Tau society, and his first action sees him taking on the Empire of Mankind. While the Tau had a peace with Mankind, space marines chose to attack a Tau planet and capture the ethereal Ko’vash, who is a leader of the Tau people, for reasons that are unknown.
As Kais you of course help free Ko’vash and take the fight to the imperium, with battles taking place on the surface of the planet and on board space ships. As seems to be the case in most Warhammer stories, there is of course a twist coming up that sees both factions unite for a time to defeat a greater enemy. Take a dice and roll it: 1-2 says Orks, 3-4 says Tyranids, 5-6 says Chaos.
While the game has a lot of dialogue for a first-person shooter, with you remaining in frequent contact with your superiors and listening in on enemy radio chatter, the story really isn’t that intriguing. Until the second act plot-twist where the bigger threat comes in, you are just getting ordered to move from area to area, blowing up any imperials that block your path. The characters are difficult to keep track off, with the exception of the badass space marine commander, so when betrayals were thrown around I wasn’t exactly sure of which people had just messed over who, only that I had new enemies to shoot.
I will say that a few lines had me giggling, like a bunch of troops deciding to leg it and leave the fight against me to the “bloody space marines”. Some downtime would have served to improve matters, I feel, and allow us to get a better grip on the characters involved.
Story score: 6/10
Screwing up the basics
Fire Warrior is not a good game, let me get that off my chest right away. Already in the tutorial I began to get a sinking feeling and though the opening stage carried some promise, after about an hour I gave in to the fact that this wasn’t going to be a very fun ride. The game controls like you’d expect with movement and aiming mapped to the control sticks, shooting, jumping and crouching to the shoulder buttons, with R2 providing an alternative fire mode, and the buttons on the right let you reload, swap weapons, or throw grenades.
The controls themselves are fine, but it is the weapons that form the center of the game’s issues. Weapons have no sense of impact and their effectiveness matches this, with the auto-aim doing very little to prevent bullets from spreading everywhere. I have seen rockets soaring off in directions that were literally, physically impossible and anything other than the sniper rifle is absolutely rubbish at any sort of decent range. The only viable tactic then is to rush enemies with fully automatic weapons, but foes take so much punishment before going down and your shields deplete fast. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have seen regular soldiers soak up more ammo than I can hold in a single clip, and that’s way before you even get to the tougher space marines…
Combat is just not very fun, as you desperately jump around trying to take down teams of enemies whose weapons seem to lose all effectiveness the moment you get your hands on them. There is a nice variety of enemies, though, with soldiers wielding various rifles, techpriests that generate defensive shields and fling magic, and bulky space marines that make your life a nightmare. I also like that you have a shield that depletes and regenerates, as well as actual health that depletes slower and can be refilled with first aid canisters.
Limiting you to two weapons, one of which has to be Tau-made, is a big problem however. Space marines only seem to be impressed by explosive weapons, which are rubbish against soldiers that don’t wield them either. It would be ideal to just drop your Tau weapon, since ammo for it is scarce, and bring a rifle you do find ammo for as well as a rocket launcher, but this you can not do. This leaves you either under-equipped when the marines come in or lugging a weapon around that isn’t very useful against regular enemies. Fortunately this problem got better over time, when later in the game tougher enemies become more numerable than the common soldier.
The level-design is absolute rubbish with progression making very little sense. The game is completely linear with a few side-paths yielding some health and ammo, but sometimes you have to stop running & gunning to look for a key to open doors. This results in absolute confusion however, because the levels liberally copy & paste entire segments, causing you to be turned around or get lost. I have sometimes spend upwards of twenty minutes walking in circles, only to realize the game wanted me to backtrack to a previous hallway where a key had mysteriously appeared.
The scripting in the game makes no sense, with you getting ambushed by enemies that come from rooms you cleared just seconds ago. The worst was a giant room with a big, glowing portal in it that the game lead me into, it being the only door that would open. I went inside, killed two enemies, then nothing happened at all. After five minutes of searching the room, I figured I had to enter the portal, but touching it killed me and send me back twenty minutes. Turns out that killing the enemies in the portal room opened a locked door in the previous one, with no indication that this happened and no explanation for why that door would be locked until I killed enemies somewhere completely else.
Another frustrating one had me find the captain of my ship, after which I was told enemies were on the way and I had to help repel them. I waited for half an hour, walked all around the room, nothing happened. The trigger to continue the scene was going into one of the side-rooms and stand in the corner on the far end, which I only found out by complete accident. Let me repeat that: you are told to stay close by a commanding officer and the only way to continue the game is to go as far away as possible, literally to the point that you are backed into a featureless corner, with not a single clue directing you to this conclusion.
Overall, I just also find that the gameplay lacks variety. It’s a string of unending gun fights that either repeatedly make you backtrack through the same area or string together clones of a handful of rooms. You fight the same groups of enemies for hours on end, applying the same tactics that work every time, and what passes for variety is mediocre. Early on in the game there are a handful of turret sections that only dare to spawn about four enemies, and later on the game tries to flex its stealth mechanics that it doesn’t have or make you play spot-the-snipers in the murkiest graphics the Playstation 2 can generate.
Gameplay score: 2/10
Speaking of which…
…this game looks like absolute trash. The visuals are so poor that it borders on the unplayable; over the course of the entire game there have been many times where I literally walked off a platform, fell into holes, or just walked into walls for several seconds, that I couldn’t see. The lighting is absurd in how absent it is and mixed with a color palette that prefers dark, rusty brown and grey colors, it’s insufferable to try and navigate your way through the game’s hallways. Even using the night vision goggles doesn’t help since that just makes everything dark green and black instead, and the options menu asks you to turn up the television’s contrast settings instead of just offering an in-game solution.
The choice of colors, or rather the lack thereof, also just means the game is dull to look at. As you make your way through cloned corridors there is nothing eye-catching to look at, no fun details or contrasting colors. The opening mission was okay to look at because at least it happened in daytime on the planet’s surface, but after that there is no such variety. Strangely, there are a scarce, few rooms that had lots of work put into them, like the one pictured above. It really makes me wonder if these were intended as a treat to break up the tedium or if they are remnants of a more ambitious phase in the development cycle of the game.
It’s also kind of hard to remember that you are playing a Warhammer 40,000 game. The enemies all look like generic soldier guys that could be in any first-person shooter and space marines are used sparingly. While this does fix itself post plot twist, considering the kind of gameplay you have to cope with and that one section where you have to sneak past cameras you can barely see, I wouldn’t blame anyone for ditching the game before they actually get there.
Presentation score: 2/10
I think the preceding few paragraphs may have already led you to this conclusion, but Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior does not walk away with a recommendation here. This may actually be the worst shooting mechanics I have ever encountered, with enemies taking too long to kill and weapons becoming utterly useless when firing from more than a meter away. Playing it feels like an endless slog through the same handful of hallways, and with too much time being allocated to samey gunfights instead of further developing the underlying potential in its story.