I used to play tabletop Warhammer games when I was younger. Somewhere in the depths of my parents’ house is a dusty, motionless Wood Elf army that I can’t bring myself to get rid of. Having grown up with what Games Workshop has on offer, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Warhammer universes; both fantasy and 40K versions.
There was something wildly thrilling in taking on the role of Captain Titus in THQ and Relic’s newest foray into the third-person action genre. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine has definitely managed to scratch an eighteen year old itch. Entire weekends spent rolling dice and measuring model movements in inches has been made into something more visceral, despite there being a few flaws.
If you’re expecting anything more than a symphony of gratuitously violent combat, then you’re going to be out of luck. If, however, you’ve gazed down on your Space Marine forces in Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War and dreamt about being in their little metal shoes, gutting enemies with Chainswords and curb-stomping stunned foes, then you’re going to have a blast with this game.
Combat is split between ranged and melee and you’ll seamlessly switch from one to the other. There is something utterly satisfying about unleashing a hail of bullets at a charging wave of three dozen Orks, only to charge at them yourself so that you can shoulder slam into the front ranks and unleash merry hell with your Thunder Hammer. It’s chaotic, visceral combat at its best and no other game since the original God of War has ever managed to make me feel this hardcore. Despite a ten to twelve hour long campaign in which the basic combat mechanic remains unchanged, I never found myself getting bored, but constantly found myself on the edge of my seat relishing the wanton bloodshed that was playing out on my screen.
The game does a good job of keeping you in combat as well; the only way to get health is to stun and execute enemies, and the only way you’ll do that is by getting up close and personal. While your Power Armour does have a shield that regenerates out of combat, your health will never regenerate unless you’re pulling off execution moves. It’s an extremely clever way of ensuring you play like an Ultramarine: no cowering behind cover; no retreating; only throwing yourself into the thick of it and advancing at all cost.
It’s all been good news so far and while there are more positives to point out (the constant trickle of weaponry and upgrades; the phenomenal sound effects; the jump pack sequences) there are some downsides as well.
You will hear Orks shout “SPACE MARINES!” about a gazillion times; it will piss you off. It will piss off anyone else in earshot of your game; my wife nearly went nuts. While we’re on the subject of repetition: characters and enemies have terrific detail, but the environments of the Forge World are too often lifeless and dull. You will traipse through miles of boring, generic corridors and factory settings devoid of targets, all of which seem as if they’re there to offer you a reprieve from combat or artificially increase the length of the campaign.
You have two squad mates with you (Leandros and Sidonus) and while they’re fairly well constructed characters, they’re dumber than mud and beyond useless in combat. They have a penchant for standing in front of your crosshair, blocking doorways and taking their time to enter a lift after you’ve hit the button. Clearly the two of them skimmed chapter 23 of the Codex Astartes; the one that says “pull your weight and don’t be a dumbass during particularly tense encounters”.
Finally, the game has some pretty crazy difficulty spikes. Certain enemy encounters actually force you to stick to cover, which completely goes against the game’s mantra of “cover is for the weak”. And just when you think you’re in for a monumental final boss encounter, the clash kind of fizzles into an anticlimax.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is a good game. It’s not going to win any Game of the Year awards but it will net itself a legion of fans and might spawn a sequel or two. The combat alone is enough to get excited about and the fact that it’s set in a universe as deep and hallowed as Warhammer 40K means that there’s definite substance behind the sizeable helping of violence. You might, however, find yourself wondering whether most of the production time and budget went into developing the combat, as other areas of the game seem to have been forgotten about.
The game features a robust multiplayer experience with two game modes: a standard 8-vs-8 team deathmatch and a team-based point control match. A third mode is coming soon as free DLC.
There are stacks of weapon unlocks, challenges to complete and character levels to gain in multiplayer. Of course the flipside to this is that you’ll find yourself horribly outmatched when you first start playing online. You’ll be running around with a knife and bolter gun while you’ll be facing players with jump packs, Chainswords and plasma cannons. Tough crowd.