Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine Review

By Adam Ma on September 11, 2011

With all the drama that was surrounding the initial development of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, it's important to debunk a popular opinion coming from players who watched the initial demos or early gameplay videos. Space Marine is absolutely nothing like Gears of War.

Sure, the two games are based around a massive hulking armored man who also integrates chainsaws into day-to-day combat, but beyond that, and a third-person perspective, Relic was careful and creative enough to design a title that actually stands out on its own. Fans of the franchise may not realize it, but crafting a 40k game means adhering to an existing world where the sheer scope and scale of warfare is realized on a planetary level. Up until now developers have largely stayed away from such a granular title for the franchise just because it's harder to translate such a scale to a single perspective (not that it hasn't been tried in the past), but with players finally being given access to the full might of the legendary Space Marines things may be just a little different.

Thankfully those unfamiliar with the 40k franchise have nothing to worry about as Space Marine tries hard to work players into the universe and lore as smoothly as possible. Taking control of Captain Titus you'll start the game by leaping from a damaged warship, expertly landing on an enemy Ork battle barge only to take it out of the sky single handledly. You'll then proceed to using it to crash into the ground for a much 'safer' landing. Needless to say, this is only the beginning for Captain Titus and his over-the-top action sequences that have players opposing hordes of enemy forces often times alone or with minimal assistance. Quick time events need not apply.

Those familiar with the 40k lore will know that a Space Marine isn't simply a soldier, but a force of nature. And being the man-sized equivalent of a tank will enable you to overcome odds that would normally be impossible for a conventional human. Of course, this is helped by support weaponry designed to pulp reinforced armor and lay waste to a wide variety of enemy troop types. In order to give players a feel for what controlling this kind of force would be like Relic has intelligently given players a third-person view of the action which enables relatively free-flowing combat, minus the ability to attach yourself to any kind of cover. This is critical, because it turns Space Marine from being a game where holding a single choke point will overcome any obstacle, into a violent strategy of balancing ranged and melee combat.

Players get access to four ranged weapons, a pistol and a standard 'machine gun' in addition to the option to customize two other selections that have short and long range variations. Naturally all of the weapons that fulfil said roles are taken straight from the 40k setting, so while fans of the series may look forward to getting access to a Kraken Bolter or Vengeance Launcher, typical shooter-genre types can take comfort in knowing that the standard roles of assault rifle and grenade launcher are at least filled in some respect. Additionally Captain Titus gets access to a selection of melee weapons, each with its own set damage and attack combos that may fit a specific play style better. Each weapon also comes with its own unique 'finishing moves', which both instantly kill a weakened enemy but also restore a significant amount of health.Customizing a weapon selection to your liking is important because you will never be in a position to use ranged over melee attacks consistently, and you'll have to come to terms with the fact that succeeding against the potentially overwhelming odds that Space Marine presents means mastering both styles of combat, and quickly.

While it's fair to say that most shooter titles these days have a player fighting a mass of faceless enemy forces, Space Marine is all about immersing oneself in the power of being one of the most deadly fighting machines in existence. It's not enough to kill an Ork, you've got to kill him while at the same time fighting anywhere from 10-30 other Orks who happen to be standing right there too. It can be a little difficult to adjust to at first since most titles these days encourage a more wait-and-see approach, but once you get into it the combat is highly addictive. What Space Marine lacks in melee variety it makes up for in encounters, which use both a wide variety of enemies and some unique terrain to keep the action interesting. Sometimes you'll be simply clearing an area of enemies, while at other times, you will have hold a particular location while a wave of unlimited enemy forces pour in. Surviving such events requires good timing and fast thinking, and more often than not you should be looking forward to the next section to see what challenge awaits.

Unfortunately this sort of pacing does have its drawbacks, as the same things that make playing as a Space Marine feel like being an amazing badass can easily fumble or drop the ball, laying complete waste to the mood Space Marine tries so hard to achieve. Graphical bugs where grabbing an opponent takes players into a wall or nearby landscape won't stop players from completing their execution, but will often times disorient you a bit (as well as leave them more vulnerable to enemy attacks) as there's no intelligent form of landscape detection for these finishing moves. This carries over into the level design as well, in which the terrain looks so good that often times you'll think that you can access more of the world than is really possible. Invisible walls, a lack of jumping, and the famous 'impossible to scale slight incline' make players feel like they're more on a predetermined ride than traversing the ruins of a planet under siege. Equally frustrating is attempting to dodge roll over a tiny piece of debris that could be easily scaled by an infant, but for some reason manages to thwart your one ton metal body.

When it comes to the single player side of things it's the atmosphere that reigns supreme, and giving players the feeling of an elite walking tank isn't something that's come across often in this genre. Multiplayer however, things change a little bit. No longer are players simply fighting Orks, but instead they're testing their meddle against Chaos Marines to keep an even playing field for balance purposes. Both marines share the same class layout which is broken down into an all-purpose Tactical Marine/Chaos Space Marine (which gets access to a wide variety of weaponry, suffers no movement hindrance, and has a few key support features), Devastator Marine/Chaos Havoc (a slow heavy weapons class oriented around defense) or the Assault Marine/Chaos Raptor (who can use the jump pack to move into melee range quickly to brutal effect).The three classes are fair balanced with a little more of an edge being put on the melee class simply due to the amount of pain they can unleash while having quite a few escape routes. And online is more often than not broken down into fights that have players taking advantage of the ridiculous mobility offered by the class. Only two game modes are present at this time, Annihilation being a typical deathmatch and the Seize Ground focusing on controlling key points to rack up a higher score before the enemy team. It's a solid first step for Relic into shooter territory, but it's hard not to feel that their inexperience in the genre holds back the multiplayer a little bit.

Classes for instance, all gain access to weaponry, perks, and customization options based upon the level you are, but being a lower level really just means being unforgivably laid to waste by better equipped opponents. On one hand it's possible to argue this is the case in just about any game, but for the most part the gap is so large that until players reach around level 10 it feels like each map can be an uphill battle if not put against opponents on equal footing.

After that point though, the action feels just as fluid as the single player with exception that executions are completely absent. Universal ammo is dropped from every enemy killed, and the game does a great job of providing each class with its own niche role on the battlefield. Much like single player it's not the deepest experience, but it's a satisfying one that holds quite a bit of promise for any future iterations in the franchise.

As ambiance is a massive part of Space Marine's design, you'd expect the sound quality to be just as detailed as the art and level design. It is. Each footstep pounds hard into the ground with a weight that is isn't suggested by the relatively quick movements of the character, and weapons are expertly handled in the same fashion. Relic has clearly taken all of their experience from RTS design and applied it quite solidly over to their first major shooter, the quality shows in their sound effects and world design. Fans of the 40k franchise will be absolutely overjoyed at the scale shown here, while newcomers will be immersed in an iconic setting that has more or less endured the tabletop test of time.

Final Thoughts

Overall Space Marine has its faults, but those faults are for the most part either ignorable or mild fluff considering that the action provided in single player is truly a unique experience. A short campaign length and lack of overall depth make it hard to say anyone will be running through the game a second time, but multiplayer does give players the opportunity to use that same force of nature they became so familiar with in the main story on a much larger level, and more importantly against other players.

At the very least Relic's first step into new territory is a solid one, and with additional modes/feature already planned for the future we can at least be satisfied that continuous support for the game will occur after launch. Space Marine isn't a game that will change the industry, but it's certainly one that leave us interested in the what Relic has to offer for the future. If only there was just a little more of that implemented now, it might be easier to recommend this to a wider group of players, but that's not to say that enemies of the Imperium wont have something to fear from a sequel. At least, that's what I'm hoping for.

What's there of the multiplayer is solid.
You will feel like a walking battle tank.
Lore is accurately portrayed - great for fans.
There are lots of little annoyances with the design.
Campaign feels a bit underwhelming
More of what's planned for the future should be in the game now.
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