I am almost completely unfamiliar with the Warhammer 40K franchise. I know that it’s a solid and respected tabletop role-playing game, with such a devout following that there have been a handful of video game spinoffs in recent years. While most of those video games continue along the RPG path, the latest game, Warhammer 40K: Space Marine, puts you smack dab in the middle of the action as a high-powered soldier on the frontlines of a planetary war. It would be easy to dismiss this game as nothing more than yet another military shooter, but there’s enough variation here from the standard path to make Space Marine stand out.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
Developed by Relic Entertainment
Published by THQ
Playing as Captain Titus, you’re called out to a planet under siege from the Ork menace. You and your small squadron of Space Marines are tasked with securing a highly powerful manufacturing plant that houses weapons capable of global scale destruction. You’ll see the war for control of the planet from the front, and can find even more out about the world and what’s happening thanks to audio diaries scattered about the planet. There isn’t anything genre-defining about Space Marine’s plot, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The events that take place in the game are both interesting for newcomers and longtime fans alike, and despite the plot’s summer blockbuster formulaicness, I was completely immersed in what was happening. Like so many other action first, story second video games, Space Marine succeeds in giving players the equivalent of a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced piece of entertainment. The beats may be similar, but the explosions and action sequences are top notch.
Most of the gunplay in Space Marine is very reminiscent of other third-person action games, such as Gears of War. It’s hard not to draw the comparison since the two titles share so many similarities when wielding firearms. Unfortunately, there is no cover system to speak of so prolonged firefights can be a bit of a hassle. Where the two games diverge quite a bit, though, is the melee combat. Space Marines have a wealth of tools at their disposal for eliminating anything that stands in their paths. That includes a healthy handful of close-quarters weaponry like the chainsword and a gigantic, two-handed hammer. Even though the combat system isn’t incredibly deep, the simple combinations provide the game with some much-welcome variety when battling hordes of oncoming enemies. The game even makes use of some brutal execution maneuvers that earn your Marine health, though you’ll continue to take damage while going through the animation. The executions can also cause your character to get glitched into walls, where he’ll be stuck until you reload your last save. That said, transitioning from shooting to melee is quick and easy. It can get to be a bit daunting and repetitive when you’re absolutely swarmed, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun for a large percentage of the time.
It wouldn’t be a shooter without some type of competitive multiplayer, and Space Marine will not leave you disappointed in that aspect. Though there are only two modes currently available (there’s a free cooperative multiplayer mode coming later), Team Deathmatch and a King of the Hill variant, there’s quite a lot to like about how they play. Despite the matchmaking being rather horrendous the first week or so out of launch, the online is fairly balanced thanks to the ability to steal the loadout of the person who just killed you. It helps tremendously when you’re on a team of low-level players who are taking on much more savvy veterans, and gives you just a taste of the powerful weapons and perks that await you when you level up enough. Players will be able to earn experience in a variety of ways, including holding capture points, killing enemies, assisting in killing enemies, saving teammates from being killed, and getting a revenge kill, just to name a few. In addition to getting better weapons, you’ll also be able to earn different armor sets, and a handful of perks that can turn even the most basic of loadouts into a powerful force. As with most multiplayer modes these days, the more you play and the better you get, the more you are rewarded. I thought just having two multiplayer modes would be boring, but both game types offer enough for me to enjoy playing for long clips at a time. That said, having cooperative multiplayer available at launch would have added more to the online experience.
For me though, the most impressive point of Warhammer 40K: Space Marine was the presentation. As someone who had only a passing knowledge of the universe, I was blown away by the design sense and graphics in this game. Sure, the game has its flaws like glitching into walls, or lack of facial expressions beyond stone-faced, but the great gothic steam-punk aesthetic really captured my interest. I loved the way the highly advanced and technical human side contrasted with the outdated and archaic Ork race. I loved the way almost all of the buildings in the game looked like huge cathedrals on the outside, yet house a multitude of engineering and electronic wonders once you get through the door. I don’t know if I’m going to go out and buy a whole bunch of Warhammer 40K tabletop stuff now, but I’m definitely much more interested in the world now that I’ve played Space Marine. On a minor note, I thought I would be more impressed by Mark Strong’s performance as Captain Titus, but his portrayal is so subdued, it’s almost like there’s no performance at all. That’s a shame too because I love Mark Strong, and the guy can flat out act like a badass.
I was actually surprised by how enjoyable Warhammer 40K: Space Marine really was. Not being familiar with the franchise, I didn’t have any expectations at all going into the game. Walking away from the experience though, I can see why so many people are fascinated with this universe. Despite the game’s by-the-numbers plot, there’s quite a bit to like about Space Marine. The multiplayer will certainly provide endless hours of carnage, and the combat provides a nice break from the standard routine. Will the game take down juggernauts like Gears of War 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean Space Marine isn’t a title that can stand on its own.