September 7, 2011 by brennon
Relic Entertainment are no stranger to the world of Warhammer 40,000. The amazingly successful Dawn of War series proved that you could do the intellectual property of Games Workshop justice, satisfying fans of the table top game and bringing new people into the world of grim darkness and constant strife. The latest of their games, Space Marine landed this week and the real question is, does it do the seven foot tall warrior monks of the Imperium justice?
Space Marine puts you in the ceramite boots of Captain Titus of the Ultramarines, not a popular choice in terms of the table top fan base but as the poster boys of the 40k world it seemed inevitable. Called to a Forge World to save the Imperial forces from Ork invasion you and your team engage in Deathwatch level encounters with the enemy in an effort to save the Titan from Xenos hands. It’s a standard storyline for a 40k jaunt and the real test is whether or not that is enough to keep you playing onwards.
I can safely say it does. You start off hurtling towards the planet, engaging a huge Kill Kroozer before pretty much surfing the wreckage down to the planet. Its an explosive start and sets you up for what’s to follow. The narrative then twists and turns through the fortunes of the Imperial forces, helping Lieutenant Mira hold back the Ork forces before going on to secure your primary objective, the massive Titan locked within the Manufactorum. This is where things get interesting however, when the Marines find themselves answering a distress call from a trapped Inquisitor. Needless to say, with the Inquisition involved things were not going to be plain sailing and not wanting to give away the big twist in the narrative too much, the forces of Chaos are soon drawn to the planet and all hell breaks loose.
The story is powerful grim stuff and really does plunge you into the world of Warhammer 40,000. It can’t be said that Relic don’t know their lore and what makes an epic. Block Buster is a suitable word bandied around with this game because there really is no let up as more and more decisions land on Captain Titus’ admittedly massive shoulders. The ending is something many will be divided on I feel, but it made sense to me and didn’t come out of nowhere, really setting the game up for a sequel.
So the story is good, but what about the core part of why you’re here, to find out if it ‘feels’ like your playing a Space Marine. I can again categorically say it does. I played the game on the PC using an Xbox controller and it really did feel fluid and avoided the clunky feeling you can sometimes get with a game mixing melee and shooting gameplay. Seamlessly you can switch between your melee and ranged weapons to deal copious amounts of death to the Orks and Traitors around you.
Ranged combat comes in the form of the standard bolter and bolt pistol of course. Added to this is the plasma rifle, plasma pistol, portable las-cannon, melta gun, storm bolter and the new interesting addition, the vengeance launcher. Every single one of them feels like the weapon from the table top, with glorious feed back as they fire and turn enemies into red goo. Its good to finally have a bolter which sounds like it should, the thud of the explosive shells a welcome sound. Most interesting of the lot is the vengeance launcher which fires out a series of sticky explosives which can be detonated at will. It certainly helps thin out the crowds and despite it not being a weapon us table top fans are familiar with, there shouldn’t be too many complaints.
Oh and lets not forget the moments when you get to take charge of an auto cannon or heavy bolter. You really will feel like a God when your mowing through literally dozens of Orks in one press of the trigger.
Melee combat is equally as good. Equipped with combat knife, chainsword, power axe and even a thunder hammer you can lay waste to the foes in a orgy of combo induced justice. The button presses are responsive and its easy to get the hang of which is important. The up close and personal approach is also important because its the only way you can heal in the game, having to stun and execute an enemy to bring your health bar springing back to life. Its a novel system and keeps you moving through the games levels, constantly thinking about where to strike next and deciding how best to tackle a room. An added level of subtle strategy is always welcome in what could easily have just been a hack n’ slash.
With all these weapons at your command it would be assumed the game is a cake walk. On easy it can be, enemies simply peeling away from you in a tide of red gore but on normal or hard the game really is a challenge. If you don’t deal with the massive threat in a room you can easily be overwhelmed and battered. The two biggest foes to the health metre are the massive mini boss style Nobz and Chaos Champions who will shatter your shields in one two hits, and the mass of grenades that come flying your way. You really do have to pay attention to your dodge button at times like that as well as backing away for a breather before you dive back in to kill off your foe.
Some of the best moments of fun come when your hooked into a jet pack. These portions, scattered around the games levels allow you to take to the skies like the angel of death you are. Boosting is accurate and without fuss, and when you tap the ‘ground pound’ button all hell breaks loose. It might seem like a ‘win’ button as some have labelled it, but that’s why these sections are short and sweet allowing for moments of super powered glory. You still have to keep your wits about you however since one wrong move could still lead to you surrounded by enemies and shot to death my Ork rokkits for example.
The game certainly does look every inch part of the 40k universe. The forge world looks splendidly gothic and mechanical in all its ruined glory. Massive interiors are bedecked with pillars and statues, icons to the Emperor and Machine God all over the place. Even the tunnels below the Manufactorum feel 40k with the sense of Space Hulk as your trapped in narrow passage ways facing hordes of on-coming enemies. Thankfully the game shrugs off the grey look of most games of its ilk, and goes for a richer palette of colours to help boost the feeling of exaggeration in the 40k world. This doesn’t mean to say its gaudy, but it makes a nice change from the typical grey metallic look most games have fallen into of late.
Character models are also amazingly well rendered. The marines themselves look the right size when compared to their surroundings and the Imperial soldiers they meet along the way. Armour moves and fits together perfectly and you can tell a lot of love has gone into them. Facial expressions are also well animated with good voice sync and good facial expressions that don’t look ridiculous. Enemies too have a mass of character too them, with the Orks the best of all. They move and look the part and have fantastic looking open maws as they charge forwards yelling for a Waaaaagh! Chaos forces also look good, with the right kind of adornment to their power armour. The other weird traitors and machinations all work well from the lowliest guardsman to the weird flying gun turrets towards the end.
There are a few instances of clipping; enemies vanishing into the scenery and occasionally a bit of slow loading texture on the character models, but mostly the graphics hold up and the engine runs perfectly.
The game also supports a level based multiplayer game mode. Three modes in fact are open to play in the game. One is a Take and Hold style affair where Loyalists and Traitors face each across some massive maps in a territory control setting, all the carnage usually confined to those areas which is good if you want to avoid wandering around with nothing to do. The simple Deathmatch style game mode is also there which really opens up the arenas and I’m sure in no time at all the online community will have found their favourite spots in which to battle.
The levelling system is based of kill experience, adding bonuses for head shots and all kinds of other style kills. As you level you unlock more weapons to change your load out, and of course something all table top gamers want…a way to customise your marine or traitor. According to the developers the game boasts over a billion combinations and time will tell to see if that’s true. I can say that during my short time playing I did see a fair amount of different looking marines and its nice to know you can truly make your avatar look personal to you.
The third mutliplayer experience comes from the horde style co-op mode. Pitting you and a few friends against wave upon wave of Orks and Chaos forces you have to fight to stay the course. The game mode seems pretty much standard in games these days since Firefight was created for Halo: ODST but it is nice to have a good co-op mode to play though rather than just beating your friends into the dust. The Co-op mode will be free, and available in October.
The Bad Stuff?
There are bad things to the game, you can’t ignore it. The game feels over far too quickly and despite its fun and re-playability I was left wanting more, the obvious sequel set up at the end will make a few grumble. By no means is it anything like the unfinished tale at the end of Halo 2 but it still evoked the same feeling. There is a clear ending which is nice, but you wish in some ways the journey could have lasted a bit longer.
Another minor niggle for me is the levels themselves. Beautiful they are, but sometimes it really does feel like your in a nowhere space. Whole sections of the levels are devoid of enemies and pretty much leave you walking forwards, pressing a button to open a door and walking on to rinse and repeat the same thing. The great sections of blood and gore battling do lift you out of these bad moments but it would have been nice to fill these sections with possibly some better exposition or background fighting to make you hurry your progress.
The ending boss is also a bit of a gripe for me. Too often you are forced into underwhelming boss battles and this one felt like it had done the same. It amounts to not much more than battling a horde of enemies before entering a repetitive quick time event sequence. The boss battle against the Ork Warboss was a lot more fun and it was a shame that the game ended in such a way, admittedly though it was fairly cinematic.
If you’re a table top fan of the 40k universe you will enjoy this game no end. Sure there are moments you will pick up on and grumble that they are not canon, but the vast majority of things in the game will make you smirk with satisfaction as you remember them from some long gone rulebook. If you’re a fan of bloody 3rd person shooters come hack n’ slash games then you too will enjoy this game. It does what it says on the tin, putting you in the boots of a powerful marine and letting you go to town on your enemies through a well written block buster narrative. The faults are minor and it really is a great little game to help make our Warhammer 40,000 universe all the more popular.
Also look out for the really neat moments in the run up to the final encounter. Fans of Dawn of War will get a serious kick out of it, if you’re a fan of the Pious Black Templars you might feel yourself go a bit giddy too. A nice bit of fan service to finish of a great Relic game.