Warhammer 40000: Space Marine Review

They shall be my finest warriors, these men who give of themselves to me. Like clay I shall mould them, and in the furnace of war forge them. They will be of iron will and steely muscle. In great armour shall I clad them and with the mightiest guns will they be armed.

They are my bulwark against the Terror. They are the Defenders of Humanity. They are my Space Marines and they shall know no fear.

So said the Emperor of Mankind in Warhammer 40,000′s rich lore, and a concern I had going into Space Marine was that the game would fail to capture the epic feel of the titular soldiers in power armor armour – everyone in this game has a British accent.

Space Marine assuaged my concern before I could even learn the controls.

In this third-person action extravaganza, you take on the role of Captain Titus of the Ultramarines, a battle-hardened veteran who manages to harness both the suavity and sophistication of James Bond and the savagery of Conan the Barbarian. Space Marine doesn’t waste time warming up — the first level has you skydive through an aerial battlefield, dodging warring vessels and flaming debris, onto an Ork airship and singlehandedly destroy it and its crew. Some games start with a bang, then peter off. Not so with Space Marine — the first level sets the mood for the entire game: kick ass, take names, and be the biggest badass this side of Ultramar.

Warhammer 40000: Space Marine (PC [Reviewed], Playstation 3, Xbox 360)
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Publisher: THQ
Release Date: Sept. 6, 2011
MSRP: $49.99 (PC), $59.99 (console)

In case your status as a big shot ever comes into question, Imperial Guards are quick to remind you that you’re number one — they’re the “normal” soldiers in a universe full of steel-encased titans and green-skinned giants. As you approach, Imperial Guards will stand and salute, make awed comments such as, “At least I got to see a Space Marine before I die,” and generally act as though you’re the second coming of Jesus.

It’s difficult not to feel like a godly figure — especially when you come across the Thunder Hammer, an energy-infused maul so large that Thor would feel inadequate in comparison. Space Marines feel as epic as they should — the game even captures the weight of these behemoths by making the ground tremble under the mass of your ponderous footsteps and giving you the maneuverability of a Mechwarrior BattleMech.

As you progress through the game, you unlock an ever-expanding arsenal of weaponry with which to annihilate enemies of the Emperor in new and exciting ways, both in melee and at range. Space Marine ensures you get into the thick of brutal chainsword combat with its health system — you regain health by performing “executions” on stunned enemies, melee fatalities that play out in slow motion to let you savor every gory detail.

The enemies of the Emperor are many and diverse, and become progressively bigger and meaner as the plot moves forward. Different foes call for different weapons and different tactics, and the ability to pick the right tool for the job is developed through trial and error — or experience playing the tabletop game. You can pound away for minutes against certain baddies, wondering why they won’t die, then use a different weapon and clean through them in a fraction of the time.

While you’re the one doing most of the ass-kicking, two Ultramarine buddies accompany you throughout the greater part of the game, but they may as well be Storm Troopers — the Star Wars kind. In my experience, when they would actually shoot at anything, they barely did any damage, and while I had no issue with doing all the work myself, they had a habit of blocking my path. I would sometimes find myself trying to roll away from a swarm of brutish Orks, only to get stuck against Sergeant Fat-ass and promptly die. Either make yourself useful or get your giant Space Marine ass out of my Khorne-damned way.

For the most part, you can ignore your allies — because the enemies do as well. Opponents will preferentially target you, and turrets will completely ignore your Ultramarine brothers. It’s obvious your allies are with you only for story purposes.

The plot follows your standard Hollywood script formula. While it won’t win any awards, it’s straightforward and certainly doesn’t detract from the experience. Foreshadowing is put to excellent use throughout the plot, the most notable instance of which was a satisfying mid-game boss fight the story was building towards for four hours.

This failed to translate as well to the game’s anticlimactic final battle, which was played out entirely through quicktime events. Couple that with the denouement, and I was left feeling a little unsatisfied with the game’s conclusion. While I don’t ask that an ending must wrap up all plot points in a neat bow, Space Marine leaves a few too many questions unanswered. They may as well have slapped a big “To be continued…” onscreen before the credits rolled out.

Ending aside, the singleplayer campaign is a blast while it lasts — which, at approximately eight hours, isn’t very long. This isn’t a criticism by itself — because it’s short, the game never has a chance to get stale. However, the game offers little incentive to play through the campaign again. There are no alternate endings, branching morality choices, or even different character builds to try. Like a movie, the only reason you’d have for going through it again is because you enjoyed it so much the first time that you want to revisit the exact same experience.

What Space Marine does offer is a multiplayer mode, which, while appreciated, is lacking. With only two game modes and five maps, you can experience everything the game’s multiplayer has to offer in about an hour. Although a promised co-op mode will be freely available in the near future, I won’t award points for a hypothetical play experience.

The multiplayer gameplay itself is enjoyable; you play as one of three customizable classes in a Space Marine vs. Chaos Marine skirmish. However, whereas the singleplayer focuses on putting the “Ultra” in Ultramarine, in multiplayer, you feel like your armor is made of cardboard. Oh, it’s just as heavy — it simply seems to offer little protection, because you often go from full health to dead in a couple seconds.

Much of the replay value comes with leveling up and unlocking new perks, weapons, and, perhaps most importantly to diehard Warhammer fans, new armor appearances. This ties into one of the best features of multiplayer: the customizer, which allows you to show off your slick color scheme to your garishly-colored opponents.

While I played the PC version of Space Marine, a symptom of “consolitis” reared its ugly head when I first loaded the multiplayer mode: no server browser. Couple that with a lack of dedicated servers, and I question this game’s longevity on the PC. Sure, it will undoubtedly retain a niche fanbase of Warhammer loyalists, but without those two key features, Space Marine has precluded itself from the competitive scene.

Another sign that Space Marine was developed for consoles first and foremost came to my attention when I noticed my crosshair was horizontally squashed. Apparently, making a UI that can accommodate a 5:4 screen resolution was deemed unimportant in this age of widescreen TVs. A minor issue relative to the two aforementioned sins, but it’s a small piece of an overarching problem. Have you forsaken your loyal PC fanbase, Relic?

At the end of the day, Space Marine delivers. It’s not perfect, there are obvious features missing, but it’ll guarantee you at least eight hours of fun. Warhammer fans may be playing Space Marine for years, but to appease the public at large, Relic needs to quickly beef up the game’s multiplayer, or a year from now, the online scene will be a ghost town.


Pros:

  • Singleplayer campaign is engaging from start to finish
  • Varied arsenal of weapons
  • Seamlessly blended melee/ranged combat
  • Armor customization!


Cons:

  • No multiplayer server browser
  • No dedicated servers
  • Companion AI and its interactions with other AIs is inconsistent at best, bothersome at worst


Final Score: 85/100

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5 Comments on Warhammer 40000: Space Marine Review

Kevin

On September 9, 2011 at 11:16 am

I enjoyed the trial on XBox360 but decided after the huge wave of enemies near the elevator part; that the game would be more of this with different maps and would become stale quickly. Too bad; I love the Horus Heresy novels and played the tabletop game up to 16 years ago.

logan calhoun

On September 9, 2011 at 11:17 am

Unsure if multiplayer should have been sectioned, but I dont like they did that buy Kill Team and get a power sword because now every new player has one and over his mike he bought from mowing lawns can be heard oh man I kicked your ass bad, then calling me a basterd when I kill them lol, so im 50 50 on it

Max

On September 9, 2011 at 1:07 pm

T’be fair, Logan, the same can be said for *any* game in this day and age, where 13 year olds with squeaky voices and angry young men that are armchair bad-asses think they are they bees knees, mutts nuts and various other bits of wild anatomy.

I’ve yet to try Multiplayer, but the Single Player so far seems as solid as the Demo hinted at. I’m also one of those gamers who appreciates a decent story behind the game (helps that I’m an avid 40k fan I guess)
It’s really nice to see them get the Universe of 40k feel so *right*.
The Orks could have used a random-mob look generator to avoid the cop-paste feel of the hordes, where in actuality every Slugga and Shoota should be a hybrid mass of leather, ramshackle armour and someone elses teeth on a necklace. Other than that, they look, sound and act like Orks.
Explode like them, too…

Steve

On September 9, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Methinks Break needs to furbish a widescreen panel for CJ.

It’s 2011. Widescreen IS the standard. It’s not like widescreen displays are some new emerging technology that we’re still phasing into. They’ve been around for half a decade now. And by that, I mean affordable and easy to access.

Then again, I’ve always been a believer in using vector graphics for drawing 2D’ish things. HUDs are no exception. Sounds like Relic got lazy and went the standard texture overlay route.

CJ Miozzi

On September 9, 2011 at 2:49 pm

@Steve:

I know I have an ancient monitor — I didn’t take points off because of that nitpick about the 5:4 resolution being unsupported for the UI. It’s just that it’s such an easy fix — either Relic was lazy, as you said, or they didn’t care to check compatibility with what is not a completely phased-out PC resolution.

I remember Unreal Tournament 3 having the opposite problem in 2007 — widescreen monitors stretched the crosshair horizontally.