"A pretty good game."
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Release Date: September 6, 2011
Platform(s): PC, PS3 & X360 [reviewed]
Genre: Action, Shooter
This review will try not to make the usual references to other games, because Warhammer 40K: Space Marine is its own game. If links should have to be made, this visceral action game could compare the most to Devil May Cry or other hack and slash titles with added firepower. One thing is certain: Relic Entertainment knows the cyberpunk property of Games Workshop like no other. The franchise has never been seen from up this close or as impressive.
Seconds within Campaign mode, the grandeur of this game becomes apparent. Captain Titus is the head of his Ultramarines chapter; the elite of the Emperor’s prided army. Dazzling cutscenes with base-jumping off aircrafts aside, the universe displayed just bursts with ancient era decorum. The amount of details set the perfect tone in the offset between justice and chaos. The Marines, virtuous and true, lodge within gargantuan structures where the lighting, shadows and fog make everything look even more colossal. These buildings got desecrated by the war with the Orks, whom use every bit and piece of metal and rubble for makeshift cover, structures and even armor. The greenskins’ improvising mentality looks great, certainly when battling patchy airships. The only problem is that the entire universe has that monochrome smear all over it. Certainly in multiplayer, it sometimes feels like playing in black and white with colored men. Later elements offer a large variation of color details in lighting, but the textures themselves will never alter their post-apocalyptic feel. But at least they’ll get a nice purple haze now and then.
The class factor gets further enhanced by the brilliant audio in Space Marine. No cursing or unnecessary shock elements in this game; Marines work for Glory and they do so in style. This valiant sense of honor is constantly brought back, even in tense moments. Together with the soundtrack of war trumpets and bombastic scores, this perfects the decorum element.
In a third person perspective, players work their way against the ongoing threat on the forge world Graia. From mission to mission, Captain Titus and his trusted squad of invincible AI rescue souls, thwart enemy efforts and ultimately have to battle Chaos itself to rescue not only the planet, but the entire universe. To murder everything in sight, players can use either firepower or a brutal melee weapon; brutal being the key word of this game.
A set of 4 guns can be equipped, using the directional buttons, with each having an individual feel, from standard issue to sniper to murder cannon. The game also often switches scenarios to make each weapon relevant, by creating either claustrophobic encounters or more open spaces with multi-leveled fire. It also scatters ammo enough throughout for customizing a set of weapons that works for that situation and to make sure the most powerful weapon isn’t just spammed. But sometimes the waves of enemies will need to be taken on in melee. While a grenade might splatter one or two waves, Orks have always been known for numbers and just blowing a few hundred won’t cut it; but a chainsword will! With simple button-mash tactics, players can create combos and cut through many heads. This is where the blood and gore really starts flying.
By also including an original health system, players can first stun enemies and then execute them with a motion captured finishing blow, which restores health. A power armor can soak some blows, but regaining health will be mandatory, because Space Marine is a challenge. By lobbing a variation of enemies, from bombardiers to huge barbarians, players need to strategize their massacres. This action makes sure that the slaughter stays fresh when dispatching. In particular, executing large enemies is the most satisfying of all, with moves that make Titus literally tear heads off. This added risk versus reward health mechanic also further enhances the challenge, which never feels frustrating or cheap; a rare occurrence in games. Kratos might want to take a back seat from now on.
A safer option to regain health is using a Fury explosion, which is filled by killing. This murder-enabling tactic creates a short spurt of even more intense action, where Titus lashes out extreme damage to anything he touches or shoots. And if that wasn’t enough, even unarmed, the man can sprint and straight up lunge into a crowd and splatter blood all over his armor.
Space Marine also uses Jump Packs in certain missions or multiplayer, where players can make huge leaps, only to stomp back to the ground and crush any adjacent opposition. Together with the clanking sound of every slow footstep from the Marines, it oozes of bombastic heroism in every applicable game setting. The 6 to 10 hour campaign also gets concluded with an original end challenge and the most powerful, satisfying ending in ages. Where story-driven games like Bastion slightly disappointed in their ending, Space Marine’s pluck on the heart strings throughout the game gets delicious icing on the cake in this conclusion. The added nod towards deceased Relic developer Brian Wood in the credits is just the emotional finishing touch of class, which puts this game above and beyond expectations in total.
While the campaign in differing difficulties is challenging and satisfying enough for a purchase, the multiplayer also doesn’t disappoint, even if it doesn’t triumph. The possibilities to customize both factions of Space Marines, both in visual as tactical range, are fun. Players can then take on each other in two team-only modes. As Space Marine is all about team effort, it’s a good choice only to include team modes. The first is Seize Ground, which works like Battlefield modes of capturing control points and being the first to reach a set number of tokens. The second is Annihilation, where the goal is to be the first team with 41 kills. Especially with the added melee element, this mode is the most fun and can get quite hectic.
Among a few maps, players can pass challenges to level up and unlock more goods and perks for 3 classes, being the regular Marine, a heavy hitter and a swift melee unit with a Jump Pack. While it will get hard to find a support Marine character online, with the two latter classes being much more satisfying, the individual aspect is well done. Each character has its advantages and flaws and perks and tactical loadouts can create a variety of playing styles. Combined with the same level design expertise of the singleplayer, tactical points for all classes are present on each map. The only real downside about this game is that it requires an online pass, which is never good. New customers will however not need to fret.
Warhammer 40K: Space Marine is a nerd’s wet dream come true, with gory and brutal combat in both ranged and melee aspects that are intensely satisfying and clattered in style. A great campaign and added multiplayer bonus offer great variety in action and gameplay, with virtually no flaw in sight. And while Dawn of War is the ultimate fan tribute, but slightly less accessible, Space Marine shatters the boundaries of the lore, to create a high quality production for the masses. Gamers will be hard-pressed to find a better third person action game around. Hats off to Relic; this game is incredible.