Relic has for the better part of a decade, made some really interesting RTS games based off of Games Workshop’s Warhammer franchise. Each of these games has translated much of the tabletop board game to the world of video games. But in 2011, Warhammer would be thrown into the world of action games. Space Marine brought the lore of Warhammer to a slew of players who may have never touched an RTS or a tabletop game.
PROS: Beautiful graphics, and atmosphere. Solid performance. Multiplayer.
CONS: The game can be repetitive. Limited customization options Multiplayer lowly populated.
WHAT?: You have to unlock classes, and customization options.
For the uninitiated, Warhammer 40K is a decades long running tabletop board game. Featuring figurines for players to customize, Warhammer is about strategy. Battles play out with dice rolls while players keep stats of their armies’ strengths, weaknesses, and supplies. This is admittedly a gross oversimplification of a deep strategy game. But it gives you an idea of what one can expect. Warhammer has such a cult following that it actually spawned several computer RTS games. When Relic took the reigns we saw titles that captured the spirit of the board game version with all off the micromanagement computer strategy gamers love. But with Space Marine, Relic attempted to bring the property to action gamers who may have loved the character design, but for whatever reason couldn’t get into strategy games. As well as the Warhammer buff who also happens to like a variety of action games.
Space Marine follows a single player story campaign in which players take on the role of Captain Titus. Titus is on a mission to save a planet from an impending Ork invasion. Throughout the campaign you will fight quite literally hundreds of enemies in huge firefights. Often reminiscent of games like Serious Sam, Painkiller, and Bulletstorm. However, the game also features a melee combat system. As you play through the missions you will find yourself constantly switching between various guns, and hand to hand armaments. Space Marine does this seamlessly, allowing you to dispatch four or five enemies at a time. With swords, knives, axes, or hammers while shooting other enemies. Shootouts also showcase some of the grittiest visuals the Xbox 360, and PS3 can muster.Enemies will lose limbs from taking a chainsword to the shoulder. Or a torso will explode in a shower of gibs in a hail of gunfire.
The game feels like a really well put together cross between aforementioned arcade shooters, and third person action slashers like Devil May Cry. There is also a health system that is neither quite the widely accepted “Hide behind a wall to regain health” or the classic “Find, and manage stimpacks wisely” systems of yesteryear. Instead, while you can hide behind walls for cover (and stop yourself from losing more health), the way you regain it is through killing. Sometimes this means stunning an enemy to perform a gruesome killing blow. Other times it means using the game’s fury meter. Similar to Alice: Madness Returns’ mechanic, Fury is a meter that will fill your health bar, while allowing for less damage to be taken. You fill the meter as you play. Once you activate it you have a limited time of reprieve before you need to start filling it again.
As the game progresses, you will find upgrades for your weapons, and watch in-game theatrics that further the story. I can’t compliment the graphics enough. Space Marine still looks beautiful, and runs at a smooth frame rate. Nowhere is this showcased better than in the real-time cut scenes. These scenes are accompanied by some really impressive performances. The game’s story goes for the same sort of action movie clichés a lot of other action games have over the past decade. But it still manages to engross you into the world of its source material. It manages to give off some background to newcomers without a lot of speeches. It follows the rule of “Show. Not say.” pretty decently. Even if it does use the tired method of finding audio logs to fill in some of the gaps. While the story is predictable at times, it is entertaining, and the final boss battle features just the right amount of challenge. That said, once you beat the campaign there is little reason to go back. The campaign does have a few drawbacks, that a handful of people will absolutely abhor. First off, the maps are VERY LINEAR. Aside from the rare alcove with a recorded message, levels are rife with models of rubble. These are placed in a way that blocks your every incentive to want to explore. This complaint can hardly be levied only at this game. Most of the single player action games over the last decade have gone down this path. But it would have been nice if Space Marine could have been one of the games to buck the trend. Especially since everything looks so good, and does capture the aesthetic of the board games so well.
The other issue some may have is how the game is structured. Most of the levels in the game follow a formula. You’ll find an ammo dump room, which leads to a skirmish room where you will fight hundreds of enemies. Then you will wander into another ammo dump room leading into a cut scene or story exposition. Then you will fight another 400 enemies before exiting the level. Now if you love old school arcade games, horde modes that force you to micromanage your ammunition, or games like Serious Sam you might not see this as a negative thing. But if you don’t, this can become tiresome. Especially since Space Marine’s campaign is 16 stages long. Some of which can take up to an hour to complete. To be fair the game does try to mix it up with an on rails shooter section or a boss segment. But some may find it isn’t enough to keep them wanting to play through it in one sitting.
Thankfully, the one place where Space Marine truly shines is in its multiplayer mode. Which is also sad because it isn’t populated much these days. The main two modes are a Team Deathmatch mode, and a Team Objective mode. But these are done very well. As in many other games there is a class system:
Tactical Marine: This is the most well-rounded class between speed, shooting, and melee.
Assault: This class allows for jump packs (Jet packs you can fly around with) and has an increased melee range for people who love knives, and chainswords.
Devastator: This is the tank class where you have reduced speed, but can take more damage, and have access to the more powerful guns, and explosives.
One novel feature is the ability to copy load outs. This is a great way for new players to close the gap on higher rank players. Because it lets you respawn with the weapons they killed you with. Do well enough with these, and you’ll level up even faster. Speaking of levelling up, the game also doesn’t dole out XP based only on kills. If you used two weapons on someone there’s a bonus. If you assisted someone else, there’s a bonus.
There is one gripe with the multiplayer, and that’s the fact that classes, and character customization have to be unlocked. You have to grind your way to level 3 to use the classes, and to level 4 to tweak your player model. It doesn’t take eons to do, but it is a nuisance. Also, it would have been nice if Orks, Eldar, and other franchise races were playable factions for multiplayer. There is DLC you can still find for the game that adds in a 4 player cooperative mode where you get to be the Chaos Space Marines. But that’s not really the same thing. But even in its basic state, multiplayer can be a fun alternative to the real world themed shooters out there. The major drawback to all of this however is the age of the game, coupled with the ownership of the developer changing hands. Unfortunately the multiplayer isn’t populated with a lot of random players these days. Many people moved on to newer games so you would mainly have to play the multiplayer option with friends. Things fare slightly better on the PC version but not by very much. The game also isn’t getting the support it once had. That’s because after the game came out, publisher THQ folded up, and the studio making the game was acquired by SEGA.
Should you buy Space Marine? That depends on your taste in games. For anyone looking for a frantic “Kill anything that moves” action game, you’ll have a lot of fun playing through the campaign. It certainly hits all of those notes. But if that isn’t your preferred gaming experience you’ll want to play it in bursts. The formula can become repetitive for those who don’t eat, sleep, and breathe spectacle fighters. Even if it does blend that style, with shooting really well. Multiplayer is going to be a crap shoot at this point. It’s one of the better takes on the competitive team shooters to have come out over the last five years. But it’s also old hat at this point, and people have moved onto other games. If you can still find nine people who are willing to play it with you, it is a lot of fun. But that’s probably a big “if” at this point. Still, it can be found fairly inexpensively, and is a great title for those who are curious about the Warhammer universe.
Final Score: 7 out of 10