Space Marine is a hack and slash third person shooter set in the popular sci-fi world of Warhammer 40,000. Right off the bat it’s obvious that this is a game created with fans of Warhammer 40K in mind as it spends no time or interest in explaining anything about the mind-bogglingly large setting it uses as the backdrop for the game.
The game opens with a digital info feed informing us that a Xenos invasion is happening in one of the Empire’s Forge Worlds, and because of the presence of a Warlord Titan on said world, the only suitable course of action is to send Space Marines to secure it. With that out of the way we open to a cut-scene of Captain Titus of the Ultramarines rocket-jumping with two of his marines into an Ork battleship.Gamers new to the setting will be scratching their heads at this point; what’s the Imperium? Why is a Warlord Titan so important? Who are these Orks? Who are these blokes with the smurf blue armor and pauldrons bigger than their heads? Why are they as big as two rugby players glued together? I know all of this because I’m a fan of the setting (and a proud Ultramarine player!) but others may be, initially, in the dark.
Not that this will matter after a few minutes. The game starts proper in a big fight against the Orks and it never really gives you a breather of more than a couple of minutes. Combat is intense, simple and brutal, and plays like a hybrid of God of War and Gears of War. You move around using a standard hack and slash game control pattern, which transform into a shooter control system when you hold down the aim button.
To keep things on the front-lines, and you taking the fight to the enemy, a cover system has not been included (besides the classic tried and true method of hiding behind something big) and while your armour has some self repair capabilities the only proper way or recovering health is to “execute” enemies mid-fight. This is accomplished by stunning them first, standard Orks just needing a good smack to become stunned, but bigger and badder enemies need a good combo to knock them off their feet.
Executions are what you expect, slow-mo, bloody, and savage. They are spectacular to watch, especially since, unlike most protagonists of a game like this, Captain Titus is cold and methodical, he doesn’t even flinch or grunt while he rips an Ork Nobb’s head off. However, as cool as these animations are, they are quite limited in number, and you’ll be soon tired of seeing the same execution over and over again, the pace of the game doesn’t really let you stop to complain though, but a few more per enemy and weapon would have been welcomed.
The major problem with executions however is that even though they slow down the rest of the battle, the action is still going, and enemies can hurt you and even kill you mid-execution, sometimes you’ll be desperate for a health recharge but actually stopping to execute an Ork could land you back at the last checkpoint. Tricky. You can also recharge via the use of Rage, but I’ll elaborate more on that later.
Even though the game is focused on brutal melee combat, there are moments where using your assortment of ranged weapons is necessary, these moments never disrupt the action, and it fits the concept of Space Marines being angels of death, switching between different deadly tools to get the job done mid-fight. The aforementioned ranged weapons are varied and true to the setting, from the standard but impressive Bolter, which works as an over-sized assault rifle, to the extremely satisfying meltagun which vaporizes anything within 10 meters of you.
As you go about dishing damage and taking it, you fill a “Rage” gauge that you can unleash when full to become a righteous killing machine, capable of executing anything without stunning it first and regenerating health as you smash your enemies to pieces. You can also enter “bullet time” while in Rage by pressing the aim button. This mechanic, whilst standard, is standard because it works and seeing Titus reducing dozens of enemies to bloody pulp while raging is satisfying indeed.
Every now and then Titus will come across a jump-pack that allows him to soar to the air and to do a devastating “ground pound” attack as he smashes down into the enemies. These sections feel more like a treat to the player than anything else, since, while they are incredibly fun, they are ridiculously easy , due to the sheer power of Titus’ jump-pack attack, it almost feels like cheating. However, as already mentioned, they are great fun and control quite well, so they are always a welcomed change of pace.
The boss fights are few and far between, probably with only two events in the game that could be so called, and while the first one is a proper boss fight (a final exam of the game till that point, if you will) the last one is, surprisingly, a series of quick-time events. This is really jarring since there’s no other event like this in the game, sure there is some button mashing involved in the executions, but not like this, having to time presses of specific buttons as prompted on-screen. It’s not a very difficult boss fight, and thus it’s not as bothersome as it could have been, but it leaves you scratching your head as too why such a deviation in gameplay style happens right at the last minute.
Story and character wise, the game is very formulaic and brings nothing new to the table, but hey, we’re here for the action! Having aid that some things about the story and characters of the game stand out, Titus for example, with his entirely straight-laced and calm military man demeanor, is a breath of fresh air for a game like this. He’s soft spoken without being cold, rational and calm even when in Rage, as his hits carry a methodical rhythm that’s hypnotic to watch, he’s also friendly without being heroic to the point of stupidity. He doesn’t stand out because he’s just another soldier fighting for the Imperium, one that happens to be more than two meters tall and genetically modified to the point of becoming an angel of death.
The other story highlight occurs when the forces of Chaos join the fray (this being a Warhammer 40K game, this is not really a spoiler, it’s more a question of “when” rather than “if” Chaos make an appearance!). When they appear the game seems to intensify and the characters actions seem to have more gravity to them, even if it’s still pretty formulaic.
Aesthetically speaking the game is also fairly generic; most of the game takes place in a Forge World, a brown and grey factory world with little colour or life to be found. That said however, THQ once again demonstrates that they love the setting of Warhammer 40K, because the gothic and impossibly large architecture of the Imperium is brought to life in the games environments, so big and expansive that they make the Space Marines, huge as they are, feel like mere ants on the general scheme of things.
Animations are fluid and combat never judders or feels artificial, though sometimes executions tend to produce strange clipping errors. The effects of weapons are bloody and satisfying, though some, like the Lascannon, feel a little “weak” compared to the available lore, but it’s not bad enough to ruin the fun.
Music is almost non-existent and the few tracks that play are muffled by the constant screams and explosions. Sounds on the other hand (like the aforementioned screams and explosions) are excellent and pop up just at the right time, blending themselves in such a way that they become part of the action.
Voice acting is good in general, with no character being grating but neither does anyone stand out, with the possible exception of Titus, who, whilst being a little “dry” due to his demeanor, has a very fitting and strong performance from Mark Strong (Frank D’Amico in Kick Ass, and Sinestro in Green Lantern). Enemy banter however gets old really fast, Orks repeating things over and over (some of them quite strange, like calling the marines “Space Marines” over and over, when Warhammer 40K Orks should probably call them “tin-can hummiez” or “big hummiez”) get old very fast, but that’s just another reason to carve their faces.
For Warhammer 40K fans, with a love for fast paced action games, this is an easy buy. For people who are not familiar with the setting, this might not be the best place to get familiar with it, but this will rarely be detrimental if you are just looking for good, sharp, mindless fun.
Graphics – 4/5: Top notch visuals, and fantastically represented Warhammer 40K aesthetic, though more environments would have been welcomed.
Sound – 4/5: Effective and fitting, not much to mention beyond Mark Strong’s suitably strong performance as Titus.
Gameplay – 4/5: Nothing original here, but the game is fun to play and keeps you glued to your gamepad, what more do you need?
Longevity – 3/5: The single player campaign is short but intense; to make up for this you have several modes of multiplayer that will prolong the game life, if that’s your thing. There were initially problems with the PS3 version’s multiplayer – basically it was impossible to get a game – but these appear to be resolved as of writing.
Overall: 4 out of 5
While Space Marine brings little new to the table, what it brings is well crafted, simple and fun to play. The game won’t feature in any “halls of fame” but, for what’s worth, it will keep you entertained from beginning to end.
FOR THE EMPEROR!!
- Jose Luis Pérez Zapata