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The Emperor Protects
As someone who never really ventured into the expensive hobby and neckbeardom of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, I found, outside reading about the intangibly enormous and ridiculous universe Games Workshop have spent decades detailing, that I didn't have much interest in the videogame created about the expansive Warhammer universe. Although the Dawn of War games are very solid in nature, and the critically canned Fire Warrior FPS which came out a long time ago, there hasn't been any game to really satisfy my desire to take control of a single Space Marine and to wreak havoc with all of his amazing abilities. Relic games, the masters of the Dawn of War RTS series may have finally created the game I've always wanted to play.
As we take control of Captain Titus, an Ultramarine veteran with over 150 years of combat behind him and a mysterious connection to the damning influence of the Warp, we must guide our small 3 man contingent against an invading army of Orks who have decided to take control over one of the Imperiums Forge Worlds, a planet entirely dedicated to creating and supplying the loyal Space Marine chapters with weapons and munitions.
The story is rather thinly explained, someone who is familiar with the events and mechanics of the fictional Imperium, as someone who is experiencing the Warhammer universe for the first time many of the references, and the scope of the story will not have as much impact, or will not necessarily convey the plight of our heroes, however to put it simply, you are three Ultramarines who are on this planet to slow down its invasion until a contingent of marines can catch up to you and clear the planet of Orks, returning it to a stable condition. To really appreciate the entirety of the story however, it might be a good idea to pop over one of the Wiki's and read a bit about the universe to get some more understanding, the story is then much more entertaining as a result.
But story isn't the real reason to play Space Marine, the real reason to get this is to slaughter thousands and thousands of Orks in the goriest and most violent way possible, and by god does this game deliver that in spades.
For I am steel
This is a third person action shooter along similar lines of Gears of War. While Gears of War has great focus on small battle scenarios and crotch high walls to be used as cover, Space Marine does away with that and insists that you stand out in the open to rain hell upon anyone who comes your way. You have the ability to run and roll which is about as much mobility as you'll ever get which is both the high point of combat and the bane of your life.
Interpretive dance, the deadliest fighting style of them all
While having Power Armour will give you protection, and the overshield for extra resistance, the majority of the time you are going to take tremendous amounts of damage, and if you are not careful, you will be whittled down to zero health in a very short time. This is where the melee combat comes into play, as it will be your saving grace against death. By mashing the right button, you engage in a 4 hit combo with either a giant knife, a chainsword (you heard that right, a sword that is also a chainsaw), a power axe and the almighty Warhammer. When a group of Orks come your way, you can very effectively clear house with a few well timed swings, however if you hit the grab button, you can stun a single, or a group of enemies leaving them stunned and vulnerable.
This is where some problems arise. Performing an execution on a stunned enemy will trigger a canned animation sequence where Titus will brutally disintegrate whoever is in his sights, and for example could swing his chainsword into their midsection, then coming down with an overhead punch causing their heads to explode upon impact. This ultra-violent execution will then restore a section of health, and depending on the size of the enemy, could only do a small amount, or refill your entire health bar.
For I am doom
As satisfying as it is, you will still be vulnerable to all form of attacks, so while you may be successful in executing an enemy, a Chaos Marine could continue firing upon you, killing you before you have time to regenerate your health, and considering that health doesn't regenerate on its own unlike the overshield, it can be frustrating in fierce firefights to die without having much of a chance to get your health back, which could mean you having to constantly retreat, thus disconnecting you from the heat of battle which ultimately can be a little dull.
That being said, the combat is by no means badly designed, the controls to engage are incredibly tight, shooting ranged weapons such as the bolter gives you the direct impression that you are a Space Marine firing 1.0 calibre self propelled rounds which will cause an enemy's face to explode, dealing with recoil is a breeze and it is never hard focus on an enemy to continue fire. The melee is also incredibly easy to get a grip on, mashing the button and changing direction gives you the ability to attack anything around you, you are never locked into a straight line canned animation and it gives true meaning to freeflow combat.
Help me space jesus!
On the whole, the combat reminds me a great deal about PC games from the 90's, pretty simple in nature, very direct and intuitive which means you can spend more time focusing on the enjoyment of crushing your enemies, than arguing with the control scheme.
While the architecture of the environments remains impressive, and characters having strong resemblance to their colourful hobby models, the world in which you are fighting remains rather bland and at times really uninteresting. At times you will be fighting in trenches with explosions going off, invasions left right and centre, gunfire all around you and during the heat of battle it feels fantastic. However, there are plenty of times where that intensity will not be there, and you will spend a long time running through bland and empty environments, which can break up the flow of the game.
The other problem is that the game doesn't quite completely deliver the complete Warhammer experience, at times you will see the Titans, giant mechs capable of severe devastation and at times the story threatens to give you the opportunity to take control of one, as it gears you up in anticipation as you get closer, you find that a short cut scene will roll, and you are back to controlling Titus on the battlefield, not piloting these gargantuan beasts which was a real disappointment.
I march for Macragge!
I mentioned before about the characters bearing strong resemblance to the vibrant models, this design approach is really magnificent, while the environments are something to be desired, the incredible detail of the Power Armour of the Space and Chaos Marines, along with the mish mash look of the Orks all comes together and with the fantastic camera work, gives the appearance of a Warhammer diorama which has come to life.
Two for one at the sizzler brings out the worst of man
The sound work is equally fantastic, the roar of the chainsword, the thunderous explosions of the bolter, the satisfying squish as you cave in an Orks face are clear, concise and never an overbearing mess, despite the chaos on the screen. The vocal work is easily one of the games strengths, Titus and his followers dialogue and sound feel larger than life, and although Titus seems softly spoken, his voice actor has done a superb job in giving him the appearance of a veteran soldier who is confident in his abilities which really has a profound effect on the games narrative. The Orks are equally entertaining, their rag tag appearance and their British accents are simply amazing, especially the big boss Ork.
AND I SHALL KNOW NO FEAR!
Multiplayer is divided into three different modes, the two that ship with the game are either death match, first team to reach 41 kills, and a territory match, where you accumulate points for capturing areas of the map and to keep the other team at bay. Starting at level 0 you are only able to fight as a standard support marine, with a basic pistol and bolter, as you perform tasks on the field, such as x amount of headshots, revenge kills, melee, etc you gain XP points which unlocks more weapons and more loadouts, such as the devastator (heavy weapons guy) and the assault marine, which gives you a jetpack and a chainsword/axe/warhammer/powersword depending on your sill level. The closer you get to level 41, the better layouts you will have, and the more armour unlocks you have for either Space, or Chaos marine teams.
The two initial modes are very simple, but highly entertaining and welcoming of new players. When you are killed, you are given the option to copy the same layout as the last guy who killed you, which means that a level 1 player can run around with a level 41 players loadout until he dies next, this helps keep teams balanced and matches equal.
The third free downloadable mode is exterminatus, which is Space Marine's hoard mode. You and 3 other marines engage against 20 waves of enemies, be they Orks or Chaos marines depending on how far you go. As you choose one of three classes you will need to work together in order to survive, you all share the same pool of lives and must share the ammo drops on the battlefield. Once the match is over, you are all ranked and added onto leaderboards which will keep this mode competitive for the future.
"I looked at the trap Ray"
The best thing about the multiplayer is the ability to customise the look of your marine. With armour unlocks you can drastically change his look, but then you have complete control of colour variations, which means you can make your marine look like any of the legions in the universe, such as Iron Fists, Blood Ravens, Silver Scars, anything you want. Or you can make him pink and fabulous, the choice is yours. Despite its seemingly bare bones approach, the multiplayer is surprising great.
In its entirety, Space Marine is a game that does great service to the Warhammer 40,000 universe, it may be simple, but what it delivers is a very solid and enjoyable experience, albeit with a few shortcomings in design and scope. The campaign may be short, and the multiplayer fairly sparse, but this is a fantastic package by Relic games and one that anyone who has any interest in the Warhammer universe should explore, and for those who just want a violent, solid action shooter, it's pretty hard to go past Space Marine.
Reviewed on PC. Image gallery.