For a universe that features giant guns, futuristic orks, tyrannic empires, and a bucketload of bloodshed, I always thought the world of Warhammer 40k never got the video games it deserved. Then I remember titles like Dawn of War and mutter some kind of excuse. But still, there’s are so many video game-friendly elements in 40k that there should be precisely one million decent titles available.
Unfortunately, while there are some very cool Warhammer games around, we also get stinkers like the recent not-at-all-an-advert-for-the-game-I'm-reviewing-right-now Kill Team. Happily, I can report that Space Marine is extremely solid. A few issues hold it back from being great, but if you’re into the 40k universe, you should read on.
There’s been a lot of talk about how much like Gears of War this game is. It’s a good place to start to give you an idea of what Space Marine is like — you’ll certainly be spending a lot of time mowing down enemies from a behind-the-shoulder viewpoint — but it’s not entirely true. Whereas Gears is all about cover-hopping, the marines in Space Marine are rather more direct. True to their role in the 40k universe, these 7ft tall, 700 pound behemoths soak up a ton of damage before charging directly into enemies. And when you’re running low on health, the most effective way to restore it is to perform brutal execution moves on your foes.
I’ll get back to that in a minute. First, you should know about the plot! Are you ready? Okay, so there’s a giant threat to the world, and you need to slaughter a ton of bad guys to save it. Then something goes even more wrong, and you need to slaughter some different bad guys to save the day, for real this time. I get the feeling I’ve played through this story before.
So yes, it’s generic as all hell, which is a shame for the aforementioned reason of being able to draw on such a rich universe. But then, the Warhammer worlds have always been about the macro rather than the micro — in the tabletop game you are, after all, commanding entire armies, not worrying about the internal conflict of a single soldier. So maybe in this case, the license actually made it harder to create a thoroughly engaging narrative. Whatever the reason, you’ve still got a game that is very true to the license, which fans will get a kick out of.
Back to the combat, which of course is the centrepiece of the game. Cool things include the melee weapons, which feel weighty and satisfying to use. The emphasis on close combat helped add a dash of God of War to the Gears of War mix (you know, a combination of GoW and GoW…), which ended up working quite well. Combat is brutal and intense, which is how it should be. Also, jetpacks. Soaring into the air, sighting a group of bad guys, and slamming yourself into them equals gleeful fun.
It’s not all sunshine and blood spatters, though. A general lack of enemy model variety as you progress doesn’t help the feeling of repetition that creeps over you. It’s a common complaint for action games — how do you pad out the gameplay without giving the player a distinct sense of deja vu? Worse, however, were the quick time event boss fights. At best, I’ve always found these moments to be… barely passable. Here, they’re just not that fun, and I ended up dreading them.
And as is the fashion right now, levels are very linear. Even when you’re outside, you’re always running through trenches or conveniently placed ruins that funnel you from A to B. C’mon developers, is it really that hard to open things up again, even slightly? Perhaps you just can’t argue with what’s hot right now.
As I said before, Space Marine is solid. Dependable. If intense combat carnage is your thing, you will enjoy this game. If you’re a fan of the 40k universe, you will enjoy this game even more. If you are into neither of these things… well, there’s always the demo to try out. It never reaches the heights of the top echelon of third-person action games, but it’s a good start. As things were left very much open for a sequel by the end, it’s going to be interesting to see what will be improved upon next time around.