Warhammer 40k: Space Marine reviewed
Since its conception in the mid-1980s, the Warhammer 40,000 universe has continued to expand, becoming one of the most popular miniature-based tabletop games in history. Its video-gaming franchise, beginning in the mid-1990s with titles such as Dark Omen has become almost as large as the initial title itself, and continues to gain fans worldwide. The latest release from 40k veterans Relic Entertainment, creators of the famed Dawn of War series, is Space Marine; and a fine addition to the franchise, it is.
In Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, the player takes control of Captain Titus, battle-brother within the Ultramarines chapter and member of the Imperium’s elite fighting force. As Titus, you are dispatched to the Forgeworld Graia, which is under attack by the marauding Orkish horde, hellbent on destruction. Upon reaching the planet’s surface, however, we soon discover that a more sinister plot is unfolding, and must take up arms against the Xenos scourge that ravages the planet.
The opening segment of the game will likely have players addicted, right from the get-go. After a spot of brief introductory babble, Titus and his crack team of fellow ‘Marines don jump-packs and leap from the back of their Valkyrie dropship, landing atop an Ork-frigate with a means to taking it down mid-flight. Working as a sort of bonafide training section, we get our first taste of what it means to be one of the Emperor’s finest; and it feels good.
Gameplay works in a similar fashion to a number of other popular shoot-‘em-ups, in that we are tasked with storming a battlefield, zipping from-cover-to-cover, picking off as many enemies as we can in the process. Space Marine has two major differences from others of its ilk, however; the first being that there is no cover system, and the second being its advanced, seamless melee combat. Whilst other titles, such as Mass Effect and Gears of War have us pressing a button to crouch behind a box and take out enemies from there, Space Marine emphasizes the sheer size and durability of its lead characters, encouraging players to run head-on into throngs of enemies, laying waste to them in an instant and coming out unscathed. At the push of a button, players can switch from gun to chainsword, slicing-and-dicing our adversaries in some of the bloodiest combat that this gamer has seen, to-date. It might be fair to say that the sound, look and feel of the chainsword is even more fun than gutting an enemy with GoW’s famed Chainsaw Bayonet (yes, I said it; so sue me).
Anyone familiar with the 40k mythos will know that Space Marines insight dread and awe in many who lay eyes upon them, and Captain Titus is no exception; there’s something extremely satisfying about stomping across the battlefield, clad in armour that likely weighs as much as a tank in itself, armed to the teeth with badass weaponry, seeing the screen shake as we tap the ‘Sprint’ button to emphasise just how big these fellows really are, and stepping into the Marine’s ironclad size-10’s is an experience not to be missed.
Something else that sets ‘SM apart from the vast majority of other third-person shooters is its scale; hundreds of enemies swarm the screen at once, explosions light up the battlefield and bodies lay strewn across the land. Environments are huge, and not just horizontally, either – you’ll often find yourself strapping on a jump-pack and blasting skyward, encouraging players to think about a battlefield in three-dimensions, as well. The game deals extremely well with this, considering how beautiful its graphics are and how much can be happening on-screen at once; with almost no frame-rate or graphical issues to speak of, Space Marine’s visceral, brutal combat never slows.
Visually, Space Marine looks absolutely wonderful; textures are crisp, movements are smooth and slick, and the game’s graphic style lends itself well in creating moving replicas of the Warhammer 40,000 characters that we’ve all come to know and love. Somehow, seeing your favourite miniatures come to life and cover one-another in a torrent of blood and Ork-guts on-screen is satisfying, and will likely bring about a certain degree of nostalgia for those who spent countless hours holed-up in darkened rooms, surrounded by friends, smoke, and the stench of whiskey, immersed in the popular table-top war-game.
Multiplayer, as well, is worth a mention. As with the single player, we initially take up arms as an Ultramarine across a number of exciting maps and game-modes; earn enough experience, however, and you’ll unlock the game’s advanced customization mode. In this mode, we are able to pick one of three possible classes (basically a standard ‘Marine, jump-troop and heavy), kit them out with all manner of deadly weaponry, and don new unlockable armour kits and tweak their colour schemes to create our very own Space Marine chapter. Unfortunately, there are only two possible game modes currently available (essentially deathmatch and land-grab) across a small number of maps, but this looks to be increased in the near future. Duking it out amongst friends or non-friends can be extremely good fun, and the vast amounts of unlockable features, combined with the advanced customization and level-up systems make this one of the game’s most addictive features.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the game, at least from a former 40k-gamer’s perspective, is that it is rife with information regarding the universe from which its story is spawned. Warhammer 40,000 remains one of the most popular turn-based wargames in nerd-history, and its fans are spread across the globe. It’s understandable, then, that SM should contain some sort of treat for the people who have read all of the official novels, played all of the video game adaptations, and possibly even have their own regularly-updated fan-fiction blog. References to events such as the Horus Heresy, other ‘Marine chapters, and the infamous Hive Fleet Kraken are mentioned on occasion, and will have fan-girls and boys giddy with excitement.
At around ten hours, the length of Space Marine’s campaign mode is nothing to write home about, but the sheer enjoyment that players will get out of cutting up Orks and Chaos Demons or duking it out online with others from across the globe, not to mention the time it’ll take to pick your jaw up off the floor after seeing the game’s spectacular visuals and hearing its phenomenally-acted vocal sequences, will likely rack initial game-time up far beyond this. Space Marine, though steeped in 40k lore and backstory, is equally accessible for those with no interest in the tabletop game, and will coax a smile from even the most fervent of third-person fanatics. While it doesn’t really make any major steps towards revolutionizing the genre, when it looks this good, and plays this well, why should it?