[Review] Warhammer 40k: Space Marine

Warhammer 40k is best known as a tabletop strategy game, and Relic Entertainment is best known for taking that tabletop game and converting it into a series of popular and excellent RTS games, called Dawn of War. With Space Marine, Relic stepped out of their comfort zone, as well as taking the franchise into the realm of its last dramatic video game failure, 2003′s first person shooter Warhammer 40k: Fire Warrior. How does Space Marine fare in the light of past failures and high expectations? Take comfort, brothers, for I bring the glorious light of the Emperor’s wisdom after the jump.

Warhammer 40k: Space Marine opens with a sequence that informs you of how the rest of the game will fare, and the level of action you’re going to see. Captain Titus, after a brief introduction, jetpacks down onto what is more or less a flying aircraft carrier, crawling with Orks, destroys it with its own guns after slashing and shooting his way through the greenskins all over it, and rides it to the ground hundreds of miles below, without a scratch. The game starts big and it stays big, keeping that tone of high action throughout the satisfying 8-10 hour campaign.

Against all appearances, this is not your bog-standard stick-to-cover third person shooter that we’ve been inundated with since the success of Gears of War. Rather, Space Marine seeks to blend the genres of third person shooter and action-brawler – taking good elements of each, solid gunplay and the use of tactics alongside brutal melee combos and execution moves – and merging them into a more complete whole than just the sum of its parts. Through the campaign, Captain Titus is offered several different melee and ranged options, some more useful that others, and after about the halfway point your chances to switch up your loadout are plentiful enough that no gun ever has to get stale.

Arguably, the thing that works the best in this game is the pacing. Never did I feel like I was just running down corridors, waiting for something to happen, nor was there so much going on at all times that I never had time to look around at the painstaking architectural work the developers put in or think about my next plan of attack. To say that Space Marine never has a dull moment is a lie, rather the downtime is dovetailed so perfectly with the action beats that the game maintains this tense, ready-to-pounce atmosphere where you literally cannot tell what is going to happen around the next corner.

What makes a single player campaign, for me at least, is the story, and Space Marine knocks it out of the park. It’s a classic tale of a simple story told well, as Titus and his men are tasked first with the halting of an Ork invasion on a tactically critical Forge World, and slowly uncover the dark tale bubbling under the surface; one of madness, ambition, power, and heresy. I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, but even as a fan of Warhammer 40k, there were twists and turns in the narrative that even I didn’t see coming, and even so it never strays from the structure Games Workshop and their subdivision in charge of storytelling, Black Library, has created around this mythos.

I’m a big fan of the Warhammer 40k universe, as you all probably saw from last week’s article, and I was amazed at how spot on the folks over at Relic can make the Warhammer universe feel every single time they produce a game in it. As you follow the adventures of Captain Titus, the atmosphere of the 41st millenium oozes out of every nook and cranny of the game. Space Marines stand head and shoulders above the average Imperial Guardsman, and wield weapons that make their simple, ineffective lasrifles seem like children’s toys. Architecture is gothic and ornate, with weapon upgrades housed in spired shrines and buildings seeming less like factories and more like grand cathedrals with flying buttresses and stained glass windows. Visually, the game is simply stunning, the character animations are fluid and organic, the actual models are all extremely well detailed, and the facial animations in particular are extremely well done, displaying the stoicism of the Marines, the quiet desperation of the Guardsmen like Lieutenant Mira, and the insidious shiftiness of the Inquisitor, Drogan.

It may seem like I’m doing nothing but heaping praise on this game, and frankly I find it hard to do anything but nitpick to find problems. I did notice some visual and graphical issues, specifically minor texture flickering in some of the cityscapes, as well as occasional AI pathing problems with your squadmates. There are also some wicked difficulty spikes later in the game, coming right around chapter 13 or so, but I’m not sure if my issue was that the game got too hard too fast, or if I was just not at my best. The single player’s difficulty never gets controller-throwing frustrating, even during those spikes it simply felt like I had to raise to a new challenge. Also, the final boss fight is a bit of an anticlimax, as it falls back on the quick time event, something I’ve come to abhor in video games. If you’re going to take control away from me, why not just show me a cutscene? I would also have liked to see some sort of RPG-like progression in the campaign, whether it be branching combos or simply new moves, but I also understand that they wanted to keep the combat simple and to the point to emphasize the brutality of each attack.

Now that we’ve discussed the single player, where would the third person shooter be without multiplayer. Normally I’m not a big fan of online multiplayer in shooters, but Space Marine is structured around a rough rock-paper-scissors with three distinct classes, each with its own speciality, weapons, and tactics, something I quite enjoy. At present there are some frankly unfair combinations of perks and weaponry, but I have no doubt that Relic will quickly sort that out, bringing us a competitive, balanced game. Arguably the best part about the multiplayer is the customization, as your character model for both the Space Marine and Chaos Marine sides are freely open for you to tweak and design however you like. You start off with a generic style for both sides, and as you progress you open up more and more options, such as colors, armor styles, and even full suits of unique armor for both sides, a reward for finishing the campaign. Relic also offers a full compliment of premade color sets for several of the the Space Marine chapters as well as the Chaos warbands, and forthcoming DLC (or preorder bonuses) will allow you to customize your characters even further, giving them specific armor styles and embellishments unique to specific chapters or warbands.

In closing, Space Marine was an amazing first outing for Relic in this genre. This is what comes from a company knowing the world they’re working in and doing it justice while still making a fun and exciting game. With how 40k action games have done in the past, I was hesitant at first to throw my full support behind Space Marine, but after having experienced it first hand I can only give this game my very strongest recommendation. Pick it up. Pick two up in case one breaks. This is not one to miss by any means.

Pros:

  • Engaging, fantastically crafted story.
  • Brutal, fast-paced combat.
  • Eye-numbingly impressive visuals.
  • Fun multiplayer with plenty of customization.

Cons:

  • Multi needs balancing.
  • Lack of character progression in campaign.

9.5

  1. A solid offering. Keep up the great work!

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