The Warhammer universe, despite its rich and plentiful heritage, has been constrained to just one genre of games lately, offering players some real time strategy with which to wage a war that spans entire planets.
But the Space Marines have always been the poster boys of this burgeoning franchise, and this time, we get a chance to step into the power-armour of one of the Emperors chosen legions, taking the fight to the enemy, one chainsaw-sword gut-ripping combo at a time.
Set on one of the main manufacturing planets of the Human Empire, the planet has come under attack from an army of cockney-accented Orks, who busy ravaging the planet in an attempt to get their hands on some of the gigantic robots that are manufactured there.
Enter Ultra-Marine Captain Titus, and his two battle-brothers, who are there to put a stop to the situation. One man armies of incredible skill and daring, these specific Space Marines will have to not only save the planet, but put an end to a sinister plot that threatens to tilt the current war over to the forces of evil.
While the story is rich with terminology and facts that have been gleaned from the twenty plus years of Warhammer history, the majority of these plot points will only be accessible to fans of the franchise, while the rest of the audience will have to make do with the story on its own, which runs at a rather consistent pace in order to keep the action flowing.
Its a surprisingly epic tale that unfolds, with the main characters, despite being somewhat clichéd in their attitudes at occasional points, coming off as strong protagonists who are there to get a job done, cracking skulls instead of jokes, which makes for a welcome change in pace from most witty banter-heavy gaming heroes.
As a Space Marine, players are required to objectively assess a situation and respond accordingly, and that’s where the meat of the gameplay lies. You’ll often find yourself charging into hordes of enemies, guns blazing, only to quickly switch to a melee option to clear the field of anything with a pulse that surrounds you.
Its a seamless transition that works wonders, and caters to individual play-styles perfectly, and this is where Relic has really knocked the ball out of the park. Its one thing to play as a Space Marine, but what they’ve managed to do is make us feel like an elite soldier.
Everything from the armour, to the weapons, feels responsive and meaty, and the weight behind each swing of an axe or blast from a high-calibre machinegun feels,sounds and looks satisfying, creating an intense environment in which you can lose yourself.
The game gives players a variety of weapons early on in the game, with the majority of them being unlocked within the first two hours. You’ll get melee options such as a chainsaw-sword, power-axe and a mighty hammer that would give Thor himself a hard-on, while a variety of guns provides ample room for differing tactics as you fight on the move. Assault rifles, grenade launchers, sniper rifles and shotgun lasers are all there for the taking, and in between battles you’ll most likely find boxes of death-dealing kit with which to arm yourself.
But even with an entire Schwarzenegger armoury at your disposal, the game will present a challenge. Firing on enemies is only half the battle, and Space-Marines don’t believe in the concept of cover either, forcing you to get down and dirty into a mosh pit of ultra violence in order to win a battle.
Enemies are relentless, and you’ll quickly find yourself surrounded as the green and demonic berserkers swarm in on you while the cleverer species take pot-shots at you from a safe distance. Throw in a few heavy variants, and you’ve got battles that will require some skills and constant changing of tactics in order to survive.
Battle is also where Space Marines draw their strength from, something that Relic capitalises on. While players will have two health bars, a regenerative shield and a regular red one, that main indicator of being alive is going to steadily decrease as you get hacked and shot, and that’s where the brutal finishing moves come into play.
Stun an enemy, and finish him off with a variety of attacks such as an axe through a head or hammer shot through,well, anything, and you’ll recover some health. At the same time, you’re still open to attack, so these moves have to be implemented at the right time, or you’ll get a fading screen of death. Deal out enough damage however, and you’ll recharge your fury meter, a righteous explosion of anger that can be used to both heal yourself, and cause extra damage to enemies near you.
Jet pack sections, while few and far between, present some serious fun, despite it feeling like a rough addition to the core combat gameplay. Strap on some booster rockets, and you’ll soon be jumping through the air, crashing down on enemies like titanium-plated sumo wrestler, splattering everything in your path. Its ridiculously fun, but it could have done with a bit more polish, as you’ll often find yourself mistiming your jumps or miscalculating your landing spots.
Multiplayer comes off as a lukewarm addition however, with players only getting access to two modes, Team Deathmatch and Annihilation, which is kill-heavy mode that tasks players with being the first team to achieve 41 kills. Its solid and well thought out, although newcomers to that mode will have a hard time in the beginning due to the perks and bonuses available to veteran players.
Visually, Space Marine presents some above average graphics with a few rough spots mixed in. Characters seem capable of only two emotions, and smiling isn’t one of them, while the levels present a grandiose and industrial view that stretch for as far as the eye can see. Enemies, while annoyingly shouting “SPACE MARINE” every chance they get, are well-detailed, and finsihing one of them off shows little subtle bits of details, such as their faces in pure agony, that never gets tired or old.
Warhammer 40K: Space Marine, while not perfect, is a great first title in a new direction for the franchise, one that doesn’t rely on forming special squads and rationing supplies, but instead opens a floodgate of action that drowns you in blood and violence. While its easy to dismiss the title as a light action game with no real depth, its an unfair comparison, especially when it manages to successfully create its own formula and stick to it religiously.
Solid, precise and fun, just like a Space Marine. You’ll find your tactics evolving as you play, while the variety of tools from which you can maim opponents grows and modifies itself graciously throughout the storyline progression.
Design and Presentation: 8/10
Not the best looking title on the market, Space Marine still manages to at least put some effort into its visuals, while the controls are layed out wonderfully in order to keep the action flowing at a constant pace without any undue interruptions.
The campaign will last around 6-8 hours, and unless you’re planning on some multiplayer action afterwards, then the only thing left to do is go on a trophy hunt for all the hidden skulls and audio logs in the game.
If you’re a fan of solid, entertaining action games, then you cant go wrong with this title that brings a refreshing twist to the genre, one bloody battle at a time.
Warhammer 40K: Space Marine was reviewed by Darryn Bonthuys