Warhammer 40k: Space Marine Review
Fluid, brutal combat paired with strong art direction pulled from the Warhammer 40K universe make Space Marine a game that franchise fans will love
If you are a fan of Warhammer 40k, or of Relic's acclaimed Dawn of War RTS series, you no doubt have been salivating at the prospect of getting up close and personal with a power-hammer and some squishy Orks. Relic has finally brought us a third-person shooter-hack-and-slash hybrid based on Warhammer 40K in the form of Space Marine. Those unsure of whether or not the formula that works so well as a strategy game will also work well as a third person action game can rest easy; Space Marine is great fun, and does a fantastic job of capturing the feel of the universe much in the same way as the Dawn of War games. Everything looks and feels just as you might expect it to, and the combat, controls and story work wonderfully from an over-the-shoulder perspective.
In Space Marine you place as Captain Titus of the Ultramarines, brought in to help repel an Ork invasion on one of the industrial planets in the 40K universe. Upon arrival you and two squad mates referred to as 'battle brothers' must come in and aid the Imperial Guard in defending the planet against the Orks. The story is fairly straight forward, but it works very well with the subject matter and there are a couple of good twists. The decision to keep the story fairly basic was a good one since it allows you to focus on the killing, and thanks to great pacing the 7-9 hour campaign is an absolute blast from beginning to end.
Rule 26 of the codex: smiling is forbidden as a Ultramarine
Most of your time in the campaign will be spent fighting off impossibly large numbers of Orks, and towards the end Chaos forces. While the recipe for repetitive game play is here, the fantastic combat and steady stream of new weapons and perks with the odd set-piece keeps things very entertaining from beginning to end. As a Space Marine you are a hulking 8-foot beast of a man wearing a fridge-sized set of power armour, and the game does a fantastic job of making you feel like the huge, powerful killing machine that you are. Unlike the majority of recent third person shooters Space Marine doesn't have a cover system because you are essentially cover. You look and feel like an absolute tank while fighting through the hordes of Orks, but thankfully the controls are tight and responsive. Still, there is an incredible sense of weight to the melee combat, and it feels fantastic to slice your way through a group of squishy greenskins with a chain-sword or power-axe in hand.
One thing that Space Marine does especially well is seamlessly blend ranged and melee combat. At any time you can switch between ranged and melee weapons, and for the most part the game lets you decide how you want to play. There are certain enemy types that you are encouraged to kill either in ranged or melee mode, but for the most part it is up to you. Fortunately both the ranged and melee combat is very good. The wide variety of absolutely awesome weapons, such as a shotgun that fires a blast of extreme heat or a super-charged thunder-hammer, all feel fantastic to use. You can see and hear each bolter round ripping into your foes, and the melee combat is fluid and absolutely brutal. You can chain together attacks to create combos with incredibly bloody results, and switching between weapons is fast and easy.
High-powered dentistry gone horribly wrong
Sadly the game rarely strays from this core combat, but the few times where you are doing something different are very well done. The Jump-Pack lets you rocket into the air and come crashing down on enemies, stunning or killing any close enough to where you land. When this device is paired with the thunder-hammer, a massive super-charged mallet that lets you smash through foes like squishy bowling pins, absolute glee ensues. Sadly there are only a few sections where you get to use this awesome device, and they are over all too quickly. Fortunately the core combat is so immensely enjoyable that you won't mind the endless waves of orks that the game throws at you during its first five hours.
The health system employed in the campaign is like a hybrid between Prototype and Halo; you have a health bar and a regenerating shield. If your shield is brought down due to high damage you will lose health, and this will not regenerate on its own. Instead, you must stun an enemy and then execute him. This system means that you have to become even more aggressive when you are closest to death and makes for some incredibly thrilling moments as you watch your health bar draining while attempting to stun an enemy. The only problem with this system is that you are vulnerable to enemy attacks while performing one of the lengthy execution animations, and since you only gain health at the end of the execution manoeuvre you will often die before it is finished. You can avoid this by waiting until the majority of a horde of enemies has died and cornering one of the few remaining foes, but this system could use some tweaking.
The architecture in Space Marine is distinctly Warhammer 40K
Once you are finished with the campaign you can head into the game's competitive multiplayer which has all of the levelling and unlocking features now standard in the multiplayer shooter market. There is fun to be had in the game's multiplayer, but sadly it does not support dedicated servers but instead uses a matchmaking system similar to Modern Warfare 2's. This can lead to some laggy matches which frustrates the already dodgy hit detection found in the multiplayer components. Also the fact that you can only play as the tougher Space Marines or Chaos removes the feeling of power that makes the Campaign so entertaining, so the gameplay isn't quite as satisfying as it is in singleplayer.
Regardless of these problems, the huge number of unlocks and customization options give you more than enough reason to keep playing. There is an interesting class system here that is more defined than in most modern shooters where you can choose between a tactical marine, a devastator marine or an assault marine. Tactical marines are standard infantry equipped with a bolter, sniper or plasma rifle. Devastators are heavy gunners who need to plant their weapons on the ground to achieve the best rate-of-fire and accuracy, making them great for defense in the game's primary mode which is essentially domination/conquest. The Assault marines are equipped with a jump pack and a powerful melee weapon, allowing for some rock-paper-scissor gameplay between the Devastators and Assault Marines. These classes give the multiplayer a fresh feel despite some lag and balance issues, and for the time being there are lots of people playing so it is definitely worth checking out.
Thunder Hammer meets Ork: The aftermath
The production values for Space Marine are rock solid across the board. The visuals are technically unimpressive with drab, low resolution textures, but the massive, imposing environments and good lighting and shadow effects means that it still looks great. The architecture found throughout the game is distinctly Warhammer 40K, and it looks very cool and very unique. The Space Marines themselves are extremely detailed and the combat animations are excellent. The game is fairly well optimized and has no stability issues, although there are only a handful of graphics options.
The audio is also very good with especially strong sound design; each footstep you take makes a resonating clomp reinforcing the idea that you are a heavy guy with heavy armour, and ranged weapons sound powerful and satisfying. The voice acting is of high quality with the Orks sounding appropriately WAAAAGH-ish, and the low-key orchestral score works very well with the setting. The strong audio and visual components give the game an atmosphere that is distinctly Warhammer 40K, and fans of the franchise will absolutely love it.
The heavy bolter makes bad guys disappear... literally
If you are a fan of Warhammer 40K you will get a real kick out of Space Marine as it does a fantastic job of bringing the universe into a third-person shooter. Even if you don't know a thing about Warhammer, if you are a fan of action games you will probably enjoy Space Marine thanks to its great combat and compelling setting. It's not very long and there isn't much reason to go back for a second play through, but despite this and thanks to the competent multiplayer Space Marine is definitely worth a look for fans of Third Person shooters and hack-and-slashers alike.