Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
September 6th, 2011
Lots of roody poos are complaining, “Oh another shooter with space marines in it, just great.” Just to set things straight, Space Marine is based on a table top war game whose origins can be traced as far back as the late 70's back when it was called Laser Burn. Then one of the creators of that game moved over to what is now called Games Workshop to release it under a different iteration called Warhammer 40,000. These guys put “bad dudes in power armor” on the map and their version of space marines continue to be the go to guys for all that is badass. Luckily Relic didn't use the fanbase as a crutch even if the publisher did.
The story is as straightforward as can be. A forge world is being invaded by a rabid horde of orkz bent on looting and slapping everyone's stuff. What make's this planet so special is that it has a freaking Titan on it. A humongous war machine; to call it a mech would be an injustice. These things are so devastating they can wipe out a city block with a casual spray of ammunition. Letting an ork get his trigger-happy hands on a weapon of this magnitude is completely out of the question and this is where the Ultramarines step in. Along the way you rescue an Inquisitor who may very well hold the key to going Fist of the North Star on the orkz on a planetary scale. For those who don't get the reference; it makes their heads explode. You and your marines are also charged with protecting and delivering what might as well be a “nuclear reactor in a box.” Without revealing much more there are some turns in the story, maybe even what would be considered a twist but not on the level of a M. Night Shamwow movie. The near-ending was quite unrewarding because your characters go through so much and you never get a chance to experience let alone watch that Titan everyone is getting so crazy about go on a killing spree. Way to bungle it up Relic.
Gamers bored of brown and bloom will be disappointed. Sure you are fighting on an industrialized planet that has been shot and shelled to the point of being as unrecognizable as someone starring in a Behind the Music special, but maybe changing the setting to something a bit less drab looking every once in a while would be a welcome change of pace. Some of the environments are made up by bland geometric shapes. I mainly found this around the game's early points, later on things start to “shape up.” As bad as I make it sound, it's not rife with this sort of thing, just interspersed here and there. Maybe only a stuffy and snooty critic like myself would notice this since the constant flow of combat is enough to distract a discerning eye. Any bit of color you see is actually vibrant and the texture quality is pretty smooth. As for the characters themselves their faces were very well done and the character models were faithfully true to the tabletop original. Enemies also possess virtually the same level of detail. It's a shame that your main character's facial expression doesn't change while you are in the heat of battle.
The roar of your chainsword, the pew-pew of your plasma gun, the skull crunching sound as you beat the Emperor's fury into heretics and xenos, it all sounds awesome. My personal favorite is the thunder-like bang of a fired stalker bolter punctuated with an ork's death wail. Hearing your marine “rip and tear your guts” as he bowls his way through a horde of crazy orkz is almost as amusing as watching him do it. Relic didn't pull any punches when it came to the music. Composers Cris Velasco (God of War Series) and Sascha Dikiciyan (TRON: Evolution) come together to craft a compelling musical score that brings the heft, austerity, and wrath of the space marines to life. A symphony of war that if played alongside an RTS would give one a god complex.
A lasting first impression is made with Captain Titus leaping out of a gunship with a jump pack and making his descent toward the ground "Dragon Ball" style. All the while dodging the remains of the ships that are being gunned down all around him. Immediately you are thrown right into the heat of battle. Luckily you only have to contend with a handful of orkz and squishy little goblins as you are getting a feel for purging aliens in the Emperor's name.
The merge between melee and ranged fighting is very fluid. Switching between a stalker bolter to take out someone perched up on a ledge and a chainsword to make mincemeat out of any ork foolish enough to charge you has virtually no awkwardness to it. Ranged combat and rolling feels very familiar, in fact too familiar, as is the weapon selection. At first I was under the impression that Relic used the Unreal engine for this game since it plays VERY similar to Gears of War. To my surprise I found out that they actually built a new engine that they code named Phoenix, which is a modified version of what was used in the Darksiders game. Ranged combat is as solid as it can be with steady aiming. There is enough recoil to add an element of realism without ruining the experience with either an abundance or lack thereof. I had no difficulty getting my grenades where I wanted them to be and I usually suck at using 'nades. Melee combat just needed more combos. Once the enemy breaks past your field of fire your repertoire of attacks is limited to that of a rock-em sock-em robot. Not that hand-to-hand is a bore, far from it. In close combat space marines are juggernauts using bone crushing force and righteous fury to guide their blows. Kudos to Relic for staying true to such a concept. Most of your strikes have an earth shattering feel that drives home the concept of what these armored marines can do.
Although carving up orkz like a Thanksgiving turkey can lose it's appeal if your character maintains a detached "night shift manager at Costco overseeing his employees" poker face" Here's another one, "trying not to laugh at a dead baby joke around a hot chick you're trying to bang" face. I could just go on, so I will leave it up to you to come up with some new ones. "I swear if I see one more damn ork. . ." You will off enough orkz to populate an entire planet of those unruly fun loving anarchistic brutes before coming across new foes. The variety of different greenskins enemies to gut and blast help offset this.
I found the multiplayer experience to be enjoyable despite the occasional lag spikes and lack of maps. It feels like you are playing a gritty and hard hitting arena shooter and players looking for something different will mostly be pleased. Customizing your armor pieces and adding detailed paint job may seem like it's a rip from Halo Reach, but in actuality it's in keeping with the space marine models that you assemble and paint from the table top game. Campaign mode has little reason for a replay aside from being able to boast that you beat the game on a harder difficulty.
The table top game, Warhammer 40,000, is about war. Wars fought with physically modified space knights wearing dump trucks that charge headfirst into mind shattering monstrosities with chainswords and .75 caliber assault rifles with ammo that explode inside the enemy on impact. Imagine an eight foot muscle bound psychopath wearing a car as armor who is so jacked up on PCP that he thinks he is a vehicle in a demolition derby. Warhammer 40K appeals to that kid in class who would draw pictures of Highlander headbutting monsters to death while wailing on a guitar and to not include segments as awesome as that in this game is an injustice. Although Relic did a good job of importing the trademark features of the IP it could have done so much more. Even though you play a space marine captain from one of the more straight laced space marine chapters, they are still grim dark space knights who get so pumped up in battle they go from badass to angel of death. Rather than taking the somber route and humanizing the war from your sides perspective they should have shown the true face of the Imperium that the fans know and love, which is "The cruelest and most bloody regime imaginable" and the brave people who endure such a dystopian setting with such grim relish. Despite not taking complete advantage of what the 40K IP has to offer the combat is visceral enough to make up for it.