Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine Review
As a Space Marine you're a genetically engineered, eight foot tall, armored warrior, fighting for the Emperor in a galaxy locked in a perpetual state of war. While this war is fought between numerous races and factions, your primary opponent in Space Marine will be the Orks. For the uninitiated, they're basically the same as the orcs with a "c" except that they wield futuristic weaponry and are spaceflight capable. And if you are uninitiated, you're not going to find much in the way of background information here – the game's opening cinematic is well-produced and introduces the game's storyline well enough, but that's about it. If you're already familiar with all things 40K, you'll appreciate the respect to the source material and will instantly recognize that your particular Space Marine is an Ultramarine while everyone else is left to wonder why the game bothered to license the Indianapolis Colts logo and colors for the Space Marines' armor.
As for the game's story, it's pretty much just there to give you an excuse to kill Orks (even though you don't really need one). One of the Space Marine's worlds is hit with a surprise Ork invasion, but this particular world is just enough out of the way that the Empire won't be able to arrive in force until it's too late and vital enough to the Empire that it can't afford to lose it. The solution is to send in the Space Marines to stop the Orks and that's where you come in.
The game's missions provide a number of different objectives, but invariably each one has you wading through hordes of Orks. Not that that's not fun, but for a game based on a tabletop miniatures game designed for the tactically-minded that spawned a whole series of PC strategy games it's a bit surprising. The level design doesn't give you much leeway in the tactical sense, either. Trenches, interiors, canyons, etc. all serve to keep the frontal assault as your only tactical option. On related and rather curious note, for a game with purely linear paths I found myself getting stuck a surprising number of times. Finding a side corridor or identifying something as a door to be opened is not always that easy to do in a game which relies heavily on industrial-style locations. The developers must have become aware of the issue relatively late in the development process because if the game eventually becomes cognicent of the fact that you're not quite sure where to go next it will pop up a little beacon to guide you. It helps in a pinch but I think I would have lost a lot less time if the game had included a waypoint compass.
While the game doesn't give you much room to test your tactical skills, it does do a fantastic job of making you feel like a Space Marine. You can feel the bulk of your armor as you move, but you can also take advantage of its powered features that turn you into a battering ram as you go charging into a group of Orks or as you drop and roll to avoid enemy fire. And then there's the jetpack that lets you make powered leaps and bounds as well as perform a power slam as you come down on the heads of your enemies. The Space Marine is a master of both ranged and melee weapons, and the game's controls let you quickly and smoothly switch between both modes of attack. Ranged weapons include your standard issue bolter which is a bit on the weak side but never runs out of ammo. You'll also be able to wield more powerful bolters, long range sniper rifles, and more exotic weapons with various forms of explosive projectiles. You can carry four ranged weapons at a time and switch between them on the fly with the D-pad.
Your melee weapon options aren't as varied (at least in the single player campaign) and you can only carry one at a time, but the chainsword is so much fun to wield you won't mind. For the uninitiated the chainsword is exactly what it sounds like, a heavy sword with a chainsaw forming one of its edges that is the hot knife to the warm butter of Ork flesh. The chainsword can be used to perform light ad heavy attacks, as well as to stun an enemy. This last feature is important because when an enemy is stunned a red "B" appears above his head indicating that you can perform a finishing move by pressing the B button. Doing so not only provides you with some great animation of your Space Marine disemboweling your unfortunate victim, but it also serves as the only way to restore your health (your armor regenerates when you stop taking fire, but your health doesn't). There are limited combos in the game as well, but there is an issue in that if you're not aligned with an enemy when you start a combo your Space Marine still goes through the full animation sequence even though he's swinging at air.
As you rack up the kills you will fill a rage meter. Once full you can enter rage mode by clicking R3 and L3 at the same time. If you use rage mode while taking aim with a ranged weapon, you'll slow time down and have the chance to chain together a number of headshots or take out that long range Ork sniper that's been giving you fits. If you're in rage mode while making melee attacks, you can make great swings with your chainsword, knocking back multiple enemies at once and scoring one-hit melee kills. The rage meter charges up slowly enough that you can't use it all of the time, but it can be a lifesaver if unleashed while you're in the middle of a mob.
Battles in the game can be a lot of fun – thinning the ranks of an Ork surge with your bolter and then seamlessly switching to melee and chopping up the ones that got through can be a blast. There is some variety to the combat in that you sometimes find yourself in set battles, such as holding off an Ork counterattack that comes at you from all directions or walking into an Ork trap led by a particularly nasty boss Ork, but there's an awful lot of mob hacking and slashing. I'm sure that some gamers will find this sort of thing a bit repetitive, but since the campaign was a bit on the short side and I found the chainsword to be a lot of fun it never got to the point where it was all too much for me.
Since the campaign is so linear, other than the desire to complete all of the game's achievements or find all of the tape recordings which serve as the game's hidden bonus items there's probably little to no motivation to work your way through it a second time. Once you've reached that point there's the game's multiplayer mode to keep you busy. Multiplayer games in Space Marine are always team-based, and feature the Space Marines squaring off against the Chaos Marines with up to eight players on a side. There are two games modes available for play, one of which is essentially team deathmatch mode and the other which is a battle to capture and hold the map's control points. The available game modes and maps are definitely a bit sparse by today's standards, but there are other factors that will keep you playing the multiplayer mode for a bit. First and foremost, there aren't a lot of games out there that can provide an experience like an all-out scrap between Space and Chaos Marines. There are three classes available – Assault, Devastator, and Tactical – the first of which has a jumppack and specializes in melee battle over ranged skill, the second of which is a heavy weapons and long-range specialist, and the last of which is a balance between the two. Jumping onto another player and then taking your chainsword or power hammer comes with a certain sense of satisfaction that you just can't get from a shooter with more of a modern warfare perspective, but the other classes are fun to play as well. The Devastator can turn his weapon into a fixed weapon, dramatically increasing firepower and range, and the Tactical's mobility and flexibility makes him pretty versatile on the battlefield.
As you play the multiplayer modes you gain experience for taking out other players, but there a number of challenge goals that you can accomplish in a match to gain bonus experience. Some of these goals include scoring a headshot after an enemy's shield is reduced to nothing, avenging a teammate's death, or saving a teammate from impending death. As you gain experience you also gain levels up to the game's level cap of 41. With new levels come new weapons and perks options, which you can use to customize your Marine to fit your play style. Unfortunately, this doesn't make things easy for beginners – the game auto-balances teams but that doesn't do you much good if you're a level two among level thirties. You'll still be able to get some kills, but you're at such a weapons and perks disadvantage that you'll be lucky if your name's not at the bottom of the final score page.
Once you reach level five you'll unlock the armor editor, and begin customizing your Marine's armor, paint, and logos. I can't really say why it's locked until level five because nothing screams noob more loudly than a guy running around the battlefield in a stock armor set. And noobs are at enough of a disadvantage already without broadcasting that fact to high level players looking for an easy kill. Anyway, the armor editor allows for some pretty extensive customization and you could easily lose a few hours creating several custom looks for both Space Marines and Chaos Marines. If you're a Warhammer 40K fan you'll love the fact that you can easily load the colors for an extensive list of Space and Chaos Marines units. Even if you can't tell your Blood Ravens from your Blood Angels, you can use the scheme you like the best without taking the time to customize or use one of them as a starting point for your own custom job. Armor parts are swappable at each component such as boots, arms, and helmet, and each can be colored with both a main and a secondary color.
The multiplayer mode is fun to play, but the limited modes and maps may mean that some players will begin to feel like they're repeating themselves after spending some time with it. You'll get some fun gameplay for your money but how far you go with it will depend a lot on how driven you are to reach level 41. Still, there aren't a lot of games out there that let you take a chainsword to your opponent and that alone makes the multiplayer game something special. Additional multiplayer support has been promised in the form of a co-op mode coming in October, but as this review is being written in September 2011 I can't comment on how much that mode adds to the game.
Overall I had a good time with Space Marine. It feels a bit short on content in both single and multiplayer modes, but few games give you the pure visceral pleasure of lifting an Ork into the air with a chainsword.
Final Rating: 82%. Warhammer 40K makes a good initial foray from strategy gaming into action gaming, and hopefully we'll see more epic Space Marine action in the future.