Warhammer 40k: Space Marine Review

Title   Warhammer 40k: Space Marine
Developer  Relic Entertainment
Publisher  THQ
Platform  Xbox 360 (version reviewed), Playstation 3, PC
Genre  Third Person Shooter
Release Date  9th September 2011

Relic Entertainment are no strangers to the Warhammer 40k universe, having already created the highly successful RTS series Dawn of War, so when it was announced that they were developing a third person shooter / action game it certainly raised a few eyebrows as to whether or not the predominately strategy-based studio could pull it off. We sat down with the game back in June at this year’s E3 and were left wanting more, but the time has finally come where we can equip our Terminator Armour, sharpen our Power Swords and wade into the thick of it.

The single player campaign is everything you could expect from a Warhammer 40K title: over the top exuberance on every level.  You play as Captain Titus (voiced by the rather excellent Mark Strong), a decorated veteran of the Ultramarines who finds himself sent to the Forge World Graia to help defend it from a major invasion of Orks who, if left to their own devices, will easily overrun the limited defences of the local Imperial Guard and have free range to the industrial world’s spoils, which include a Warlord class battle Titan – a mechanical war machine of epic scale and proportions.

As an Ultramarine you go about your job serving the Imperium of Man, wading into battle with a sort of swagger that simply screams “come get some” and it’s something the game manages to capture perfectly. The Imperial Guard, who play the role of a standard military force, look upon you with such high reverence that it’s hard to not be overcome with a certain level of ego and it doesn’t take long at all to get that total badass feeling… which is exactly what you want when you consider you’re wearing the equivalent of a small jeep on each shoulder and the ground trembles with every step you take.

The campaign is a relatively linear affair with the ability to explore limited to just the occasional side room. It’s a shame because the world itself is inviting enough to make you want to explore; the sheer scale and industrial beauty of it all results in you wanting to see what is around the corner, or up the ramp. Sadly though, you’re more often than not greeted by an invisible wall, which you can do nothing about as the enticement of exploration is dangled in front of you like a carrot on a stick.

What makes the world so inviting is how it looks; the blue of your armour clashing with the industrial browns and metals of the forge world. It’s often the case that shooters are plagued with a palette of too much brown, but Space Marine seems to have hit just the right balance. While the world itself is a largely dull and void affair, it’s the characters that bring it to life: the green from the Ork horde, the purple hues of the forces of Chaos and, of course, the spatter of blood. Graphically it does a reasonable job and, while it won’t win any awards for pushing the console tech to a new level, it’s by no means a bad looking game and performs rather well considering the amount of enemies on a screen at any given moment in time.

At the core of Space Marine is the combat, with both melee and ranged variants being served up.  There’s just something about sprinting into a mass of Orks and letting rip with your melee weapon, slashing and crunching anything with a hint of green in its skin that is so blood curdlingly satisfying.  It’s the executions, however, that provide the icing on the cake as you perform one of a number of set pieces which not only serve as a way of replenishing health, but look damn cool at the same time.

Kicking an Ork to the floor and stomping on his head with the full weight of an Ultramarine; knocking over a Chaos Marine only to bring down your Thunder Hammer with furious vengeance; crushing your foe in the name of the Emperor; embedding your Power Axe into skulls; thrusting your Chainsword into an exposed belly… whichever way you choose to put an end to your enemy the end result is always the same: glorious satisfaction.

It’s certainly an interesting way to replenish your health, and with the absence of any traditional health kits there are times when you feel forced into having to perform an execution when perhaps you’d rather keep swinging with a blade or firing from range. This fault is only a minor one, however, and can easily be overlooked by the enormous sense of satisfaction it brings to the overall experience.

Melee combat definitely gives you the impression that you’re some sort of god clad in blue armour plating, but it’s also complemented by a solid performance from its ranged counterpart. Not only is ranged combat extremely fluid but, much like melee, it’s also good fun – something that is a seemingly  recurring element within the game. Ranged combat and its success owe a lot to the weaponry you wield, from the generic heavy machine gun and sniper rifle to the more exotic Vengeance Launcher that can fire up to five grenades which can then be remote detonated as and when you deem fit.

It’s the more exotic weaponry that provides the variety which ensures you always have a secondary option if your primary weapon is proving ineffective. The likes of the Melta Gun, which has the capacity to turn anyone caught in its range into molten slag, and the Lascannon, which provides an alternative to the sniper rifle as its energy beam rips through even the most heavily armoured enemy, dealing extortionate amounts of damage at a cost of slow reload times and limited ammo capacity, both have that bit of flavour to them that never leaves you regretting the need to call upon them.

It’s safe to say then that combat is extremely fun, the smooth, effortless transition between ranged and melee being one of its greatest assets. Sadly though, despite everything that it does well, it just falls short of being an amazing experience due to its repetitive nature. It’s all well and good it being exceptionally enjoyable, but without that little extra variety you will often find yourself with a case of déjà vu. When the variety is there it’s breathtaking and there’s one particular section towards the end of the game that was simply astounding – a marvellous set piece of game design – but, sadly, moments like this were few and far between.

It’s not as if the combat ever tries to be anything that it isn’t, it never tries to over complicate things, it just does exactly what it says on the tin.  Not only is that its biggest asset but, at times, it’s also Space Marine’s greatest foe. It’s a shame then that the campaign can be finished in around six hours which, although relatively short, does feel just about right. Any longer and you’ll no doubt be experiencing burnout from the somewhat repetitive nature of the game so, in all, its length can’t be faulted too much. It would have been nice to have had a couple of extra hours with Captain Titus, and I was certainly left wanting more when it had ended, so one can only presume that eyes will now be turned to any future DLC.

It’s said that the shooter genre is made by its online multiplayer, but it’s perhaps the lack of co-operative play out of the box that is the biggest omission here. It’s one of those games that lends itself well to possible co-op with a friend and, while the feature is due to arrive in the form of free DLC sometime in the future, it’s a shame that it wasn’t available from the start as it’s certainly an experience that I look forward to sharing with a mate.

Multiplayer allows you to take control of either the Space Marines or the Chaos Marines which, after a campaign of mostly killing Orks, can feel a little weird at first but it doesn’t take long to get in to the swing of things. Space Marine follows in the footsteps of many other shooters, whereby the more you play and the more successful you are, the quicker you level up and subsequently unlock things such as weaponry. The premise is solid but it’s the execution that feels just a little bit off target with it resulting in a race to level up and unlock things instead of it being an added bonus.

One of the best features is the ability to instantly switch to the gear setup of the person who just killed you which, when you’re starting out and only have access to the most basic of equipment, is an exceptionally welcome addition. If anything it allows you to get a taste of the bigger, better weaponry and equipment (such as jetpacks) within the multiplayer arena, thus providing you with the motivation to further level up to unlock the spoils of war for yourself.

There are two different modes on offer: Annihilation serving up the game’s version of team deathmatch and Seize Ground, where your team has to capture various control points throughout the map. There is an argument that it does suffer from a lack of variety, but the biggest problem with the multiplayer is that it rarely feels like a team effort; instead it’s everyone for themselves in a race to level up and unlock. With that said, the fundamentals are handled correctly and not only is the multiplayer a decent enough experience, but it is also a solid foundation to be improved upon as time goes by. Online systems are notoriously difficult to get right, let alone on your first outing of a brand new IP, but with a few tweaks here and there Space Marine is looking a well-rounded online experience.

  • Combat is extremely good fun
  • Feels like a Warhammer 40k experience
  • Strong narrative
  • Awesome weaponry
  • Captures that badass/godlike feeling down to a tee
  • Voice acting is done well
  • Refreshing to play a new IP
  • Repetitive nature at times.
  • Sometimes feels too linear
  • Multiplayer needs a little work

Space Marine delivers a solid all round performance that has the ability to provide the player with a great deal of enjoyment through its highly engaging combat system. The single player campaign does enough to keep you interested, but suffers from the occasional level of repetition, while moments of brilliance leave you with a huge craving for more.

Multiplayer will see you going back to the game once the single player is completed but, while it does offer a decent enough gameplay experience, it lacks the polish and refinement established titles already have. The addition of cooperative play through some free downloadable content will be enough of a reason to keep the game on your shelf for the time being, but there is argument to as to why it wasn’t an out of the box feature at launch.

A Warhammer 40k game that feels exactly how it should, putting you straight into the heart of combat and cutting you loose to create as much havoc and widespread bloodshed as possible.

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  1. Mark Mark_S says:

    Nice one Ben. Agree with this review a bajillion percent.

    It delivers a solid 40K experience, its brutal, the world is pretty rich in the lore and you do feel like a badass (unless like me you suck and die every two seconds). And yeah it, like most button bashers, is a tad repetitive but I don’t feel it was that terrible. Also the audio recordings really filled in the gaps in the story, hearing the background of the Inquisitor or how some of the workers as they deal with the Ork invasion kept the story moving along at a nice pace for me.

    Not sure what the set peice was you were talking about (you will need to let me know) but there was a point where I left a bunker and a guardsman is talking shouting about a gun not working and not being able to find a techpriest that made me smile.

    Good job as always man.

  2. Richie rich says:

    No sale!

    Gears of Orcs has no place in my collection!

    Good review though, chap!

  3. Chris Toffer says:

    Really want to pick this up but will likely wait to rent it because of the lack of cash. Great review Ben. Really looking forward to playing it!

  4. Ben Ben says:

    @Mark_S – I think the interaction between the NPCs was delivered excellently, especially with some of the more recurring characters such as 2nd Lieutenant Mira, whom as far as females in games go was likely one of the strongest I’ve seen for a very long time. Usually NPC’s just get in your way but I actually cared about what happened to them, testament to the team at Relic.

    @Rich – Try the demo if you hadn’t, have a feeling this may be a game that falls into your “lemon” category.

    @Toffer – The Co Op DLC is out next month (is free too!) so hopefully if you pick it up around then we’ll have to smash some Ork heads.

  5. Miguel says:

    Honestly, looking negatively at a game because of similarities to another game is really ignorant. Don’t ignore a possibly good game because certain bits and pieces of it remind you of another gaming experience. At times Space Marine did feel like Gears of War, however it does have its own flair. Where Gears was more along the lines of a gritty cover shooter, Space Marine is an in your (or rather Orcs or Chaos Marines) face and beat you down with a chainsaw sword (yes it is similar to the lancer, but in the end Warhammer 40K had the chainsword before Gears came out)

  6. Brother Elijah says:

    Those who link this game to GoW and claim W40K is a rip-off are horribly mistaken. Warhammer 40,000 has been around far longer.

  7. Mark Mark_S says:

    Orks… not orcs.

  8. Edward Edward says:

    Good review, Mr Ben :) I’ll have to give this one a look sometime!

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