Space Marines Are Manly
THQ has been churning out Warhammer 40K titles at the rate of one per year since 2003. And even though many of these titles were well received by the community, nearly all of them have been relegated to the RTS genre. But with Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, THQ has broken from their RTS rut and produced a third-person shooter that draws heavily from the beloved 40K universe without alienating newcomers. The result is a game that’s stylistically equal parts Star Wars, Lord of The Rings, and Gears of War.
Players find themselves in the role of Titus, a Captain in the Space Marines from the Ultramarine chapter. In the 40K universe, Space Marines are idolized like the gods of Greek mythology. So, when Titus walks into a bar, everyone stops drinking and takes a knee. Titus is constantly flattered for his strength and heroism, but he somehow manages to stay humble through all of this hero worship. He’s a simple man, with simple values. And a chainsaw-sword.
The entire storyline is told through a series of cutscenes spliced between the game’s action sequences. Now, I wouldn’t say the story is going to win any awards, but it is better than any Jason Statham movie I’ve seen in the last few years. At some points, it’s even pretty enjoyable.
Titus has been tasked with contesting an Ork invasion of a planet with strategic importance. The humans have been unable to ward off the attacks alone, and the planet has become overrun with the ugly green monsters.
After taking out an Orkan airship and riding burning wreckage all the way into the ground, Titus meets up with a couple of other Space Marines and they begin systematically taking out key strongholds around the planet. These missions give way to a little bit of character development and add a, sort of, disjointed personal touch to the whole experience.
For over 15 years, fans of the Warhammer 40K series have been pointing an accusatory finger at Blizzard Entertainment for kidnapping generous portions of the 40K universe for use in their own Warcraft and StarCraft titles. And, after playing Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, I can’t really blame them.
The universe definitely looks like Relic took two scoops of StarCraft and two Scoops of World of Warcraft, put them in a blender with a sprinkling of Star Wars: Battlefront and Gears of War, and hit the purée button. None of these games is a perfect comparison, but all of them represent elements from the tangled Space Marine universe.
I was actually pleasantly surprised by the controls in Space Marine. Relic Entertainment, the developer behind the project, has landed on an incredibly intuitive system for balancing the melee game and the ranged game. Essentially, the short-range melee attacks are controlled much like a button-mashing fighter, while the long-range gun-game is controlled more like standard third-person shooter. It’s a surprisingly natural experience (well, as natural as chain-sawing a dozen little green men should be). And when you consider that this is only the second console-based title that relic has produced (ever), the fact that they’ve nailed the controls is even more impressive.
Melee attacks are combo-based and work perfectly for the button-masher in your household, but there’s also a certain depth to the controls. For instance, with the right combination of buttons, players can execute their enemies in a way that gives their character a health boost. This maneuver can be incredibly frustrating (and often dangerous) to pull off, but it’s helpful if you can land it—plus it looks cool.
Actually, the melee attacks in Space Marine are probably the most important element of the game. While some games might reward stealthy behavior (like Deus Ex) and others might have a cover-based gameplay system (like Gears of War), Space Marine seems to think that taking cover and/or sneaking around is for pansies. This means that Titus spends most of his time carving up a large number of Orks simultaneously with a chainsword. And when that doesn’t work, he carries around a cache of other weapons (including a sniper rifle, grenade launcher, and a couple of machine guns) to take out enemies at a distance.
Melee attacks also fuel your fury meter. The fury meter, once full, gives players a sudden burst of Ork-killing strength. It also allows players incorporate a Max Payne-style bullet time into their assaults.
The A.I. in Space Marine is slightly inadequate, but passable. The pair of friendly Space Marines that follow you around don’t really offer much support, but they always seem to come through when you need them. And the enemy NPCs have a horribly simplistic way of moving, but this isn’t actually a complaint – more of an observation. In fact, it probably could be argued that these low-IQ Orks are more realistic that way.
Actually, the movement of the enemy units is reminiscent of Croteam’s Serious Sam titles. Essentially, most of the units run directly at you, while the ranged units stay back, fire a few shots, and jump from side to side. (I’m not sure if THQ would necessarily take this observation as a compliment, but I mean it as one.)
Even with all of this game’s strengths, it does have a few major drawbacks. First off, it can be extremely unstable. Even during normal gameplay, it’s not unusual for a texture to disappear or reappear, and during major graphical events, the game can stall automatically. I did manage to crash the game once when I was mashing buttons.
The cinematic cutscenes are also fairly problematic. Don’t get me wrong, I actually love a good cutscene, but Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine has managed to overdo it a little. The cutscenes often seem to load at odd times, sometimes showing up within a few seconds of the previous one. The process breaks up the action in a way that seems to suggest that the players are secondary to the overall story—even though these cutscenes look amazing.
My last complaint is regarding the repetitive nature of the game. Essentially, a player finds a group of Orks, slices them up, finds another group of Orks, slices, and so on. Even though the action is fairly heavy, the suspense becomes somewhat muted when the game repeats elements over and over.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is definitely not the best third-person shooter on the market today, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not enjoyable. In fact, it’s an incredibly entertaining game, a welcome addition to the third-person genre.
Space Marine doesn’t break any rules or push any boundaries, but Warhammer fans across the globe might finally have the non-RTS Warhammer game that we’ve been waiting for.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
The game looks great, but has a few graphical bugs. 4.5 Control
Very intuitive controls 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Appropriate, but not spectacular. 3.0 Play Value
Enjoyable enough the first time through, but doesn’t have much replay value. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best