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Warhammer 40,000 seems pretty cool. Space Marines, Orks, Chaos Daemons, Genestealers, guns, explosions, melee combat – yeah, I’m interested. I’ve never gotten into any tabletop games but Warhammer has always appealed to me simply because it looks cool. I think I would enjoy setting up the figures more than playing the game, though. However, the Warhammer video games are a different story. The first one I ever played was Space Marine. I beat it on 360 twice and it took me forever to get it on Steam. I think it was one of those games that never went on Sale or never dropped below fifteen dollars. I don’t remember so I could be wrong but that’s usually why I hold out. Developed by Relic Entertainment and published by THQ, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine was released for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 in September, 2011. For this review, I played the PC version. I remember enjoying my time with it when I played it on 360 and just felt like playing it again.
The story follows a squad of Ultramarines, led by the protagonist, Captain Titus on the Forge World Graia which has been invaded by Orks. Their mission is to secure the Titan Invictus which is a giant war machine. Along the way, they assist the Imperial Guard as they try fend off the invading Orks and eventually learn of a weapon which they are led to believe will wipe out the Orks. But they learn the hard way that it actually opens a Warp gate to the realm of Chaos. The plot is alright and the voice acting is solid. Most of the character’s didn’t really stand out to me but I do like Captain Titus and the major antagonists.
Space Marine is a third-person action game. You and your squad members run around the environments and kill enemies. You can walk, run, dive, and use your melee and ranged weapons to defeat your foes. You can hold one melee weapon and four ranged weapons. You do have to keep an eye on your health and armor because while armor will regenerate, health will not. You have to execute enemies to replenish health. In order to do that, you have to stun them first. This health system encourages you to utilize both your ranged and melee weapons. The game strikes a good balance between melee and ranged combat. Whether your gunning down enemies or chopping them up, the combat looks and feels brutal. It’s awesome. The only thing I don’t like about the melee combat is that there’s no way to really defend yourself. You can’t block, parry, or counter. You can dive out of the way but that’s about it. Also, when you’re in the middle of an execution, you can still take damage and you can’t cancel execution. You’re always outnumbered so it’s not always easy to avoid taking damage and it becomes more of an issue later in the game when you’re up against tougher enemy types. But the melee combat can be so much fun that the good outweighs the bad and dying just gives you another reason to do it all over again and it never gets old.
The combat is really the highlight of Space Marine. The fact that the both the melee and ranged combat feel equally satisfying makes the gameplay extremely enjoyable. My only issue with the ranged combat is that there is no cover system. Enemies can be pretty accurate and I know the game really wants you to engage enemies from afar and up close but there are a few scenarios where you’re just better off hanging back and picking them off. The friendly AI isn’t spectacular but they will kill a few foes here and there. At least they don’t get in your way. As you progress through the campaign, you’ll come across what I think are pods which house weapons, equipment, and purity seals. Some of the weapons you find are more or less weapon upgrades or upgraded variants of your current weapons. Equipment includes items like Jump Packs and the Iron Halo. Unfortunately, you can only use the Jump Pack for a limited time but these segments are a lot of fun. You can jump high in the air and then slam down on the ground, killing or stunning any nearby enemies. The Iron Halo generates a personal energy shield around you. Then there’s the purity seals which effect your Fury. The first seal grants you Fury Mode. Once your Fury meter is full you can enter Fury Mode, where your melee attacks are enhanced and you regain health until the meter is drained. The other seals you find will basically grant you fury enhancements. There’s one that lets you slow down time by aiming or zooming, allowing you to pick off enemies easier. Another that causes your Fury to drain significantly slower. And another that lets you gain Fury at an increased speed. The pacing in this game is great and just when you think you’ve seen everything it has to offer, something new is thrown at you.
You’ll get your hands on a decent variety of weapons. You’ll start with basic weapons like the bolt pistol and combat knife but soon you’ll be blowing enemies away with a bolter and decimating them with a chainsword. I find that each weapon is useful. The pistols are great fallback weapons because they have infinite ammo. The bolter is great in almost any situation. And the Lascannon is easily my favorite long-range weapon in the game. I love this thing. It can take down the big tough baddies quickly. The Melta Gun is great for crowd control and the Vengeance Launcher is like a grenade launcher, letting you fire sticky explosive charges and detonate them manually. There’s four melee weapons in the campaign. The combat knife, chainsword, power axe, and thunder hammer. Aesthetically speaking, I think the chainsword is the coolest one but I found myself using the power axe the most. It’s great against most threats and while the thunder hammer is the most powerful, it’s slow to swing and you can only use two ranged weapons when wielding it.
The enemies aren’t super intelligent but they are accurate with ranged weapons. Standing out in the open will often result in you losing health quickly. You can stand behind objects and then run out to attack but there’s no traditional cover system as mentioned earlier. Many Orks will just rush you. Others run around, take cover behind objects, shoot at you, and throw grenades. Pretty standard stuff. However, I have seen them get stuck behind objects and at one point, there was a group of Orks that were oblivious to my presence. There’s all kinds of Orks and it’s the heavily armored ones that are usually the biggest threat. When the sniping and rocket launcher Orks are introduced, that’s when the gameplay starts to become noticeably more difficult. Projectiles are everywhere, every Ork is gunning for you, Bomb Squigs come rushing you ready to explode, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, the forces of Chaos are introduced. Daemon’s are quick, Psykers can unleash a devastating ranged attack and they hold open Warp rifts that other enemies come pouring through, and Chaos Space Marines and Renegade Militia will be shooting at you from everywhere. There are some boss battles but they’re not very difficult. And the final boss battle is just disappointing.
The environments are pretty linear but there are some branching paths, many of which lead to dead ends or Servo Skulls which are the audio logs and only form of collectibles in the campaign. Weapons, ammo, and grenades are scattered around and are usually always found before and after battles. You’re going to be traversing through a lot of war-torn looking areas and the environments are diverse for the most part. You’ll battle enemies on an Ork Ship, through an industrial zone, on a battering ram, and through the Titan Manufactorum facilities among other locations. Most objectives have you going from point A to B but some times you have to defend an area or allies. You basically go from battle to battle. Other than the enemies, the only other dangers you need to watch out for are turrets and explosive barrels. Every now and then you’ll get the opportunity to gun down enemies using a mounted weapon and there is a neat set piece where you’re in a Valkyrie trying to defend the fleet by shooting down flying Orks.
Space Marine is a pretty good looking game. At least for it’s time. It still doesn’t look bad. The architecture of buildings and structures looks great and the environments are filled with plenty of detail. Buildings and structures will appear visibly destroyed with rubble all over the place, dead bodies are scattered around, skulls or skull insignias can be seen everywhere, blood will appear on Titus’ armor during battles, and the gore effects are phenomenal. You can turn enemies into gibs, blow off their limbs, there’s a satisfying explosion of blood when you kill an Ork, and blood splatters everywhere. The executions are glorious. You’ll witness Titus stomp on an enemy’s head, rip their heads open or off, he’ll shove his chainsword into enemies, and you can take an Ork’s shield and beat him to death with it. The audio work is excellent for the most part. Weapons fire and explosions sound great and enemies shout and groan when taking damage and dying. The music, on the other hand, is pretty forgettable. I can’t think of one stand out tune and I don’t even think I noticed the soundtrack until well after the halfway point. The music that is present is just uninspired. From a technical standpoint, I didn’t encounter any issues. The game ran great.
I had a blast with Space Marine. It’s a great action game. My gripes with some of the mechanics or the lack thereof are just minor issues that don’t really hinder the gameplay. They would just be welcome additions. This is the kind of game that shows how gameplay can really carry the experience. The story is alright but it’s obvious the gameplay was the major focus and it absolutely succeeds in that category. Killing enemies in brutal ways is what this is really all about and it’s easily the best part of the game. If the combat was anything less, this would be a very average third-person shooter. Space Marine is always throwing something new at you which keeps the experience from becoming stale and you always have satisfying weapons at your fingertips. Every death means you have to repeat a battle again but I never got frustrated because the battles are just so much fun. Enemies running around everywhere, projectiles flying every which way, you can be surrounded by explosions, you’re splattering Ork brains all over the place – it’s fantastic. Not only is Space Marine fun to play, it also offers a pretty lengthy campaign. There is a multiplayer component which I didn’t get the chance to try but I know there’s plenty of DLC and a co-op mode.
I would absolutely recommend Space Marine to fans of action games. I think this is the kind of game you can enjoy even if you’re not a fan or have very little knowledge of the Warhammer universe. It’s just so enjoyable to actually play. The combat is satisfying, the action will always keep you on your toes, the pacing is excellent, and it offers a decent challenge. There’s a lot of linear third-person shooters out there and while there’s nothing here that makes Space Marine groundbreaking or innovative, it’s still levels above being a generic shooter. And that’s because the developers took the typical third-person shooter action and made sure it was enjoyable from beginning to end. Definitely check it out.