Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine Review
If you told me a month ago I'd be delighted to review a Warhammer 40,000 video game, I'd have thought you were nuts. I have zero experience with the tabletop RPG, and the entire universe is still somewhat a mystery to me. But last month, I was asked to review the downloadable semi-prequel to Space Marine, Warhammer 40,0000: Kill Team, a dual-stick shooter that sets up the events of the main game. I ended up really enjoying Kill Team (despite its warts), so I specifically asked for the opportunity to review Space Marine. I can hear THQ's P.R. team cheering that their work leading up to Space Marine's release did its job (Warhammer isn't exactly welcoming to the uninitiated). Anyway, pedigree notwithstanding, Space Marine is a rather brutal third-person shooter/beat 'em up that may not be perfect, but can be a ton of fun - while it lasts.
Even if it is an unorthodox place to start, I want to get right into Space Marine's weirdest issue - the graphics. I really don't know where to begin here, as the quality of the visuals jumps around so much. The opening sequence could have been pulled from a summer blockbuster and looks amazing, but as soon as you are switched to the in-game graphics engine things fall apart. There are tons of jagged edges and pop-in, and it can be tough to tell if the developers were going for a cel-shaded look or a more realistic one. The lack of polish can make Space Marine look like an early Xbox 360 game, but what becomes so vexing is that often times the in-game graphics look leaps and bounds better than the cutscenes rendered using the same engine! The quality skips around so much that you could be watching someone play, go to get a sandwich, come back and not be sure you are even watching the same game. Even with as visceral a thrill as Space Marine promises, the graphical scattershot can be a bit distracting.
There are a few other complaints that go with the presentation, so I'll get them out of the way now. First off, the voice acting is pretty good with one notable exception: No one in this game ever learned to pronounce the word "lieutenant" correctly. When the characters are talking about "the left-tenant," expect to be distracted enough to miss a plot point or two. My wife was in the Air Force and she confirmed it: Saying "left-tenant" is wrong and just plain weird. It bugged me enough to stick in my memory long after I'd finished the sequence, and even if it sounds minor, it needed to be included.
Lastly, we need to talk about how the game handles cutscenes and plot. Sometimes you'll be forced into the "slow walk" made famous by Gears of War, but most of the time, the action will inexplicably fade to black for a cutscene - even mid-battle! By the time you've seen this once or twice, you'll know why it was annoying enough to warrant it's own paragraph in this review.
Ok, now that is out of the way, let's get to brass tacks. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine puts players in the shoes of Captain Titus, a member of the ultramarine squad that are treated like a group of avenging angels by the troops already on the ground. That characterization isn't too far off, as Titus' 700 pound suit of armor and ability to cut through waves of enemies with ease makes the player feel that they are the deciding force on the battlefield. For this mission, the ultramarines are deployed to recapture and protect a key planet currently under siege by Ork (yup, thats how they spell it) forces. Things obviously get more complicated than just that, but I won't ruin the plot for you. Not that it matters, though; Space Marine's fun is all about the gameplay.
We all know what comes to mind when we think of Warhammer, but slow-paced tabletop RPG this is not. Space Marine is an action game in the vein of Vanquish or Red Faction and touts a melee/shooting mechanic that really makes things exciting. Switching between ranged and close quarters combat requires no real switch at all, and the symphony of gore it creates is something to be seen. Hacking up Orks only to pull back and bullseye any stragglers not only looks really cool, it's a breeze to pull off and, as the game progresses, totally necessary for survival.
What makes things even nicer is that every time you start to get sick of a current mechanic or enemy, the game changes things up. For example, the jet/jump pack sequences are a lot of fun and give an already overpowered character even more detractive power to wield in the form of ground pound attacks. This kind of gameplay switching is a double-edged sword, though, as some scripted events and sequences come off as forced and annoying. Remember the old "fade to cutscene" business from before? This is where it is at it's worst. There were a few times I found myself lost, just wandering until I found the "sweet spot" that would move the game forward. Though infrequent, these breaks can spotlight some rough areas in the game's construction and flow.
As much fun as it is (and probably always will be) to wade through the blood of Space Marine's enemy forces, the game just isn't very long. It took me about 10 hours to play through the single player on normal, and while satisfying, things do end abruptly. There are collectibles to go back for and trophies to earn, but for the most part, Space Marine won't warrant more than one complete playthrough on your own.
But that's what online is for, right? I imagine some folks will spend quite a bit of time online with this one, but the nature of the game's sometimes "button mashy" melee combat isn't too well suited for competitive multiplayer. The ranged combat works just fine, though, and the ability to choose a class and loadout will keep some coming back for weeks to come. Just don't expect Space Marine to innovate; all the standard online modes are present and accounted for, but apparently creativity took a vacation on this one. I certainly won't dock the game any points because of its bland online product; I'm not much of an online guy and the single player was plenty enough for my tastes.
Let's face it: Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine has its share of problems, mostly due to its inconsistent presentation. It also faces a tough release window, hitting store shelves the same week as Resistance 3, Star Fox 64 3DS and Dead Island. But the gamers that decide to go with this one will find a solid third-person action/shooter that appeals to the same part of us that is excited by Mortal Kombat's fatalities. Space Marine may not have convinced me to buy thousands of dollars worth of pewter figurines or tabletop maps, but it did provide some serious, bloody fun.
Final Rating: 81%.