Don’t be surprised if playing Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine causes a huge wave of Déjà vu to wash over you. Surly, grunting muscle men in huge armor with chainsaw melee attacks and big guns run down narrow corridors fighting off an invading alien horde in a 3rd person perspective. The sad reality of it is that Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40K invented many of the cornerstones that have come to define these games, but they’ve shown up rather late to the party. Even so, what it lacks in originality, Space Marine makes up for in dumb fun, tight gameplay and overall competence.
Above: At this range you're better off whipping out your chainsword getting bloody
It’d be a mistake not to mention the elephant in the room so we will. This game plays a lot like Gears of War. The major difference between the two is that Space Marine ditches the cover mechanic for a slightly more fleshed out melee system. You alternate between striking and stun attacks, stun the enemy and they can be executed with a cinematic takedown move. While your armor regenerates naturally, the only way you can replenish your health in Space Marine is by executing a stunned enemy, which makes occasionally tearing someone’s head off an important strategy.
Your Fury meter also builds as you get kills, giving you a huge Super Saiyan boost once it’s full that you can use to charge headlong into a group of enemies. Tearing through a large group of Orks with this is very gratifying given the gratuitous slow-mo and explosions of energy and gore. While the more aggressive focus makes the game a bit faster paced than Gears, some cracks in this theory appear later in the game.
Above: The Ork Warboss Grimskull is as tough as they come
Enemies in Space Marine tend to do one of two things: rush directly at you and attempt to beat your brains in, or lurk behind rubble 400 miles away and take pot shots at you with impressive accuracy. While this isn’t too much of a problem for the first 2/3rds of the game, the number of ranged enemies towards the end necessitate that you take cover and snipe them, or clear the waves of melee enemies behind cover so you don’t get sniped to death while swinging your chainsword. The game may not have a cover button, but expect to spend a lot of time behind cover regardless.
Despite its generic gameplay, Space Marine is very loyal to its source material, Orks, Gretchin, Chaos Lords and the Adeptus Astartes themselves are all lovingly rendered and play close to the source material in the codexes. The character customization in the multiplayer mode is also really in-depth; you can customize your Space Marine’s armor with special parts, insignias and even the color patterns of specific Space Marine/Chaos chapters. Relic has been making the Dawn of War series for years, and they’ve clearly mastered the brand. None of this however, changes the fact that even if the audio logs you’re collecting are called servo skulls, you’re still collecting audio logs like you haven in dozens of other games.
Above: The Jump Pack segments in the campaign are extremely fun, though they're exceptionally more annoying in the multiplayer
The plot and characters don’t really help much either, as the three titular Space Marines are generally uninteresting. The new guy, the veteran, and main character Captain Titus, endlessly charge forward, fighting back the Orks and then the forces of Chaos. Hey, at least the main character isn’t bald. The plot’s only interesting twist doesn’t really manifest itself until late in the game, and then goes nowhere as Space Marine infuriatingly ends with a QTE boss fight and an ending that might as well scream “GO PRE-ORDER THE SEQUEL RIGHT NOW YOU GIT.”
The voice work is all nicely done, and the heavy use of UK voice actors gives the game an interesting flavor; Nolan North was completely booked anyway. It’s a shame the game doesn’t incorporate more of 40K’s other races though, as it would have really helped it stand out from the crowd. 40K has a slew of great character designs to chose from, and hopefully we’ll see something a bit more diverse from the next game.
Above: Phew, I'm glad at least one of these Space Marines is bald.
Despite all my gripes about the game’s unoriginality, Space Marine is an undeniably well put together affair. It may hit all the familiar notes we’ve come to expect from this genre, but the gameplay and controls are exceptionally tight and there’s undeniable fun in dropping into a group of Orks with your jet pack and smashing them all with your Thunder Hammer. It sacrifices a lot of its character to focus on creating a solid core experience, but it’s good dumb fun that will easily keep you entertained all the way up to its anti-climactic end.
Sept 9, 2011