Warhammer 40K Space Marine is one in a long line of gritty third person shooters with gratuitous amounts of gore. With the likes of Gears of War to compete with surely a franchise with a less than stellar shooter history (anyone remember Fire Warrior? No? Good) should just be swept aside and forgotten right? Surprisingly, no. While Space marine might lack the virtuosity of the Gears series it does deliver in some remarkable ways. The game is not truly great but well worth a look for both fans of the 40K universe and shooter fans in general.
The Warhammer 40K universe is nothing new, having just turned twenty five this year, and is a dark and grim take on a future where humanity is beset on all sides by enemies. This universe started as a table top strategy game but has since expanded to books, videogames and even a CG movie. The videogame history of Warhammer 40K has been rocky at best, ranging from the great Dawn of War series to the unmentionable Fire Warrior. Thankfully Space Marine was handled by Relic the creators of the Dawn of War series. For a first attempt at a shooter, it is surprisingly good. One of the game’s strongest aspects is the universe it resides in.
Having twenty five years to get it right, Space Marine picks up in the rich grim future that Games Workshop has created. In the game the player takes control of one of the super-human protectors of the Imperium of Man, a Space Marine named Captain Titus. Being superior to humans a Space Marine is capable of great feats, such as laying waste to hundreds of Orks in a matter of moments. Not only is this shown in the story but the soundtrack is also some of the best epic orchestration seen in titles like it. The music is awe-inspiring and sweeping, making the player feel like the savior of humanity. This game is over the top in a ridiculous fashion but makes the player feel like a god of gore. At least most of the time. Unfortunately here is one of the game’s flaws. The player only receives health by performing a special “execution move” that, while flashy and awesome to watch, leaves the player vulnerable. Often this turns into a race to see if the animation will finish and heal the player in time before the Orks kill them. This quirk can be aggravating and lead to many hours of shouting and rage worthy of Khorne but is a minor point if care is taken during the game. It also shows a place in which the game truly shines.
Space Marine sets out to do one thing, and does it very well. It tries to offer the visceral thrill of being an unstoppable killing machine and in this it is second to no other. Utilizing an over the shoulder camera the game allows players to either treat it as a normal 3rd person shooter, utilizing its limited but interesting gun set, or as a brawler or some combination thereof. Unlike most shooters like it, Space Marine allows the players to wield a melee weapon in addition to their firearms. This melee weapon is used in a simple, but violently fun, brawl style combat system. More than this Titus is sometimes given a Jump Pack, a super hard firing jetpack, which allows him to dash around the battlefield. The Jump Pack is the best implementation of a jet pack in videogames to date, allowing Titus to reach difficult enemies or smash apart hordes of foes with his ground pound. The ability to switch from rapid fire bolter to whirring chainsword in the midst of the swarm of enemies is a welcome change to the standard cover shooter mechanic that is so popular. Space Marine also tends to laugh at cover, not allowing any sort of system to even exist in the game. The idea that you are an unstoppable tank who needs no cover is tempting but the game punishes the foolish because Captain Titus is not nearly as invulnerable as he seems. The casual disregard the Marines show for Orks and other enemies makes the player feel like a god of combat.
The single player also tells a surprisingly interesting story. While it is not high literature and it might make some 40K fans scratch their heads or rage, Space Marine tells an amusing yarn. It does so while letting Titus slaughter his way through beautiful gothic architecture and sweeping vistas of a war torn world in need of saving. The game is fairly good as far as graphics are concerned, showing off every cartoonish spurt of blood to great effect, while still delivering on beautiful scenes straight from 40K source material. The enemies look like they’ve come straight from the table top and the Marines are just as grimly gorgeous, but not all is well in this world. Enemies occasionally clip through walls and floors, or sometimes during multiplayer a player will seem to randomly teleport across the map, but these concerns happen rarely enough to be forgivable.
Space Marine’s multiplayer also shines. While it lacks the simple perfection of Call of Duty or Halo it is unique and exciting. Players build their own space marine and paint him using the Citadel Paint range and then take him online to face off in a team deathmatch of Chaos Marines versus Space Marines. The inclusion of three classes and Jump Packs keeps the gameplay fresh and fun enough to come back to through it is not going to replace any of the multiplayer juggernauts. A limited selection of maps tends to stymie the replay ability but the wealth of customization options and the sheer joy of slicing an enemy marine in half with a power ax will keep players returning for many late nights.
- Final Grade: 4/5
All in all, Space Marine is a game with limited appeal but what it does it does very well. The feeling of being an unstoppable force is perfectly captured here like nowhere else and the whole package comes together to give a cheesy, gory mess of fun. A few problems with the combat being less refined and a limited amount of replay value hurts it but for fans of 40K it is not to be missed for any reason. Shooter fans in general should give it a try, they will find the dark and epic future that started it all, and enjoy ripping it into tiny little pieces. Space Marine was on the cusp but was tipped by its gloriously hyper-violent style into 4 Dragons out of 5.