Going into Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior was something I did with a fair amount of trepidation. I like first-person shooters (FPS) as much as the next guy, but the idea of taking a table-top and miniatures strategy game like Warhammer and turning it into a run-and-gun fragfest didn't exactly inspire confidence in me. I mean, it's sort of like seeing Monopoly: The Role-Playing Game or Metal Gear Checkers (now with more stealth action!) sitting on the shelf at the local game emporium–it just seems wrong. To developer Kuju's credit, they've done a really nice job of taking the complicated Warhammer universe and translating it to an action game. Yes, many concessions are made in the process (like the fact that players can only be a Tau Warrior instead of any of the game's other factions) but the end result is a solid, albeit painfully traditional, first-person shooter.
I've little doubt that if we reviewed this game when it came out way back in 2003, it would have probably garnered an extra point or two in total score. Before the Holy Trinity of Halo 2, Half-Life 2, and Doom 3 hit, FPSs were a pretty stagnant genre. Warhammer straddles the conventions of the FPS without managing to do anything all that new or innovative. Unfortunately, in the wake of those three games, it looks a little antiquated in comparison. It's not entirely fair to review a game and compare it with the things that came after it, but let's face it, anyone who reads this and gives Warhammer a shot is inevitably going to be playing it in the wake of the big three FPS games. Life is cruel, and no one ever said it was fair.
Despite this, the game is sturdily constructed. Players will guide Tau Warrior Kais through 21 levels of fast-paced shooting action. The game's story isn't particularly deep, but it does a serviceable job of driving the game forward. Basically, it boils down to "Kais against the world" in a lot of instances, but the voice acting and the cutscenes manage to keep the player engaged and intrigued throughout. Sub-missions are simplistic at best, rarely rising above the level of "find Key X to open the locked door." This isn't a huge negative, though. I find most games in this genre are more fun when they focus on simply killing stuff rather than presenting puzzles to be solved.
Warhammer features a fairly robust selection of weapons, which makes it a shame players can only carry two at a time like they could in Halo. Compounding those problems is the fact that a lot of the guns don't seem to have much in the way of individuality. Occasionally certain guns will be better suited for a specific situation, but most of the time whatever's on hand will work. This eliminates pretty much any sort of strategic thinking on the player's part, which is disappointing since this is a licensed game based on a strategy title. Throw in the fact that the enemy artificial intelligence is about as clever as my dog, and well, there's not a whole lot of thinking required.
Continuing the theme of average-ness, the game's graphics look good. They're not going to blow anyone away with their detail or vibrant use of light and color, but they're not hideous, either. Textures are good, and the use of the HUD interface to point players in the right direction to complete an objective is a particularly welcome component. It's nice to see a game without any clipping issues or poly seams marring the presentation. And, I didn't encounter any glitches or bugs, which are becoming all too common in console games as of late. I did find one spot where the game suffers massive slowdown, but it was in that single area and only for a short time. The rest of the game runs smoothly.
Players with a multitap can partake in the game's meager multiplayer mode. There are only three options here (deathmatch, capture the flag, and team deathmatch) and an astounding total of four maps. All in all, pretty underwhelming.
I suspect that this was supposed to be countered by the title's online component, but the online portion of the game is a ghost town, so I wasn't able to check it out. This is something to definitely consider before buying the game–buying it today means you're buying it solely for the offline component. Players who want an online FPS will have to look elsewhere.
Warhammer doesn't feature much in the way of music, but the game's various sound effects are all good. The spoken dialogue is another matter entirely, as it's all but impossible to understand what anyone's saying. Luckily, the text is subtitled so players can actually follow the plot. When the sound of guns firing and things exploding gets old, just mute it and put on a CD. There's really not much to miss in the sound department.
Overall, this is an average game that's probably worth picking up for FPS fans on a tight budget. Anyone going into it expecting the bells and whistles of a Half-Life 2 is going to be sorely disappointed. Anyone going into it expecting it to play anything like the table-top strategy game will be even more letdown. However, anyone looking for some brainless running-and gunning on the cheap should definitely give this game a look. Viewed as an appetizer and not a main course, Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior manages to satisfy.
A film critic by trade, specializing in Euro-horror, cult exploitation, and Asian action cinema, Mike has written reviews for a diverse group of print and online publications. He covers horror news, movies, books, and games at TheHorrorGeek.com and Horrorsquad.com and spent two seasons as The Horror Geek on Comedy Central's pop-culture game show, Beat the Geeks.
Mike's childhood was spent playing videogames any time he got a chance. His parents had a Pong console and his grandmother had an Atari 2600, where Mike cultivated his skills by playing hour upon hour of games like Space Invaders, Berserk, and Asteroids. From those early experiences Mike learned one thing: he loved games.
In 1999, Mike became a staff reviewer at Cinescape Magazine's website where he spent a year learning the craft of game criticism. After internal changes led to Mike leaving Cinescape in late 2000, he joined up with RPGFan in 2001 and spent several years writing reviews for them. Happy, but looking for an opportunity to expound on a wider variety of titles, Mike joined GameCritics.com and hopes to help Chi, Dale, and the rest of the GC staff bring a higher level of respect to the field of game criticism.