While third-person action games battle to out-do each other in complex cover systems, epic storylines, war-torn atmospheres and unbridled enthusiasm, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine chooses to crush the heretics using a giant hammer of thunder, lightning and simplicity. I found the most difficult part of the game was organising a time I could pick it up from the post office. The learning curve peaks at a slight incline, but predominantly holds the intensity of a relaxed stroll.
[img_big]center,5945,2011-03-18/ahiddenevil.jpg,Warhammer 40K: Space Marine[/img_big]
You play as Titus, the Space Marine. Titus has 3 melee attacks: Hit, stun and execute. Combos involve mashing HIT then pressing STUN when you’ve had enough. Successfully stunning your opponent lets you EXECUTE them. The execution animations are gruesome, violent and fun. As well as making you realise what a badass you are, they serve as the primary method to regain health. The animations change according to your weapon type and who you are fighting, so there’s a decent incentive to execute everything you can find.
All melee weapons are unlocked quite early in the game and, once unlocked, are casually left strewn about on crates as you move through areas. Titus starts with a combat knife, the crowbar of the 41st Millennium. It’s not long before long you’re given a permanent weapon upgrade in the form of a chainsword. As you’d expect from a chainsaw sword, it sounds excellent as you’re swinging through a combo and has a satisfying straining/tearing noise as it grinds through brutal executions. You also unlock a Power Axe and Thunder Hammer. The hammer is the only melee weapon that will change your gameplay via limited weapon options and significantly different attacks, though it still uses the HIT, HIT, HIT, STUN combo system.
In between the murderous sweeps of your Space Weapons, you can (and will) be hit by grenades, chaotic energy, choppas, exploding squigs, rockets, gunfire and actual guns as they are used to club you. Luckily, Space Marines have the advantage of wearing some of the best armour in the universe. Your armour has its own shield which must be overcome before the Orks can even think about getting at your squishy insides. Though small groups are no real match for you, the sheer weight of attackers and gunfire can knock the shield down at an alarming pace, leaving you prone to a twenty-ork pummelling. However, you are given a roll button for these situations, and can quickly escape combat or duck in behind a wreck to break ranged line of sight.
[img_big]center,5945,2010-12-08/spacemarine_chainswordgrind.jpg,Warhammer 40K: Space Marine[/img_big]
As is the style at the time, you have a fury mode. When activated, Titus changes from an armoured killbot to a regenerating, armoured death machine. Your health rapidly increases and your boosted melee attacks destroy all opponents till your meter o’ righteousness empties. You can also enter a ranged-fury/bullet time mode. Unfortunately, I found this mode to be a bit of a waste, due to the massive carnage I managed to wreak in melee in comparison to picking off a few Orks with my terrible aim.
Another argument against burning your precious fury in ranged mode is that mobs don’t require the extra time to line up shots. True to character, Orks are idiots. They stand behind cover with their heads sticking out. They stand next to clusters of explosive barrels, and follow the same movement patterns unless you are within melee range. Orks launch rockets in your general direction from higher areas, and though you could probably push your way there to engage in melee, Space Marine offers you a wide variety of guns for massacring the hordes.
Your arsenal contains the WH40K equivalents of sniper rifles, grenade launchers and machine guns. At most checkpoints you can restock ammunition and should you run out there is more than enough ammunition in non-looted weapon crates scattered around the Forge World. Apart from the odd action hero-esque bolter gun sprays the only ammo of significance I ran out of was lascannon rounds. Lascannons spit glowing, beamy death and can stop pretty much anything in the game to a point where it feels tedious.
[img_big]center,5945,2010-12-08/spacemarine_plasma.jpg,Warhammer 40K: Space Marine[/img_big]
In the same way you’re given opportunities to change out your melee weapons, you can change guns before you enter most areas. Unfortunately this severely detracts from the sense of survival that is so important in slashers/shooters because you never really feel the need to be cautious. Ammo is everywhere, you are near unstoppable in melee combat and the idiot mobs threaten you in delightful cockney accents, giving the Emperor’s Finest little reason to feel fear.
Space Marine is filled with various ‘mission objectives’ which you achieve to complete each chapter. Without a huge distinction in mission being achieved and the objective changing, it took me a while to realise it wasn’t one epic, long grind. The somewhat dragging feel of the game is exaggerated by its lack of ‘boss battles’. There’s simple combat, FOWSENDS OF ORKS, button-mashing struggles and all the trimmings of an enjoyable hack and slasher, bar the huge, bloody, over the top boss battles.
The focus on tactical, ranged combat, combined with the plethora of projectile weaponry gives Space Marine a third-person shooter feel. While this isn’t necessarily bad, it makes the game feel like a mish mash of two genres, taking elements of both and strapping them to itself in an attempt to make it stronger… much in the way the Orks do exactly the same to increase their power… Hmmm, is it possible the entire game is an overly elaborate representation the Orkish primitive culture and indeed a reflection on an all too possible future of mankind? Unlikely.
[img_big]center,5945,2010-11-20/boomheadshot_v02.jpg,Warhammer 40K: Space Marine[/img_big]
Space Marine tells a familiar story to anyone knowledgeable with the 40K mythos, but uses an ‘interesting’ way to tell it. You will understand the core of the storyline on a rushed, focused playthrough, but scattered around the area are recordings made by various characters which add a little more depth and layering to the unfolding plot. The recordings are usually easy enough to find, but in splintering them off the main track, I feel they really missed out on the opportunity to really flesh out the linear story with rich, descriptive detail usually associated with the 40K universe.
The rate that I unlocked weapons and abilities didn’t seem in line with the game’s difficulty progression and I never really felt challenged by the game. In their own respect, the melee combat and ranged combat were well done, but the ability to combine two very simple, very powerful systems between each made every situation easily manageable. Even in your most vulnerable moments, you have defensive manoeuvres, fury modes, executions, grenades and numerous opportunities squeeze off a round into nearby explosive barrels to pull it together and get yourself out of a mess. If you managed to die, the game auto-saves often and you respawn close by with full health and armour. Unfortunately, the game catered so much for the player it never really feels like a challenge.
You are given everything you need to get through the game, but no extras that add depth to make the game pull you in. The little extras that make you want to explore the world that’s been presented to you, to find everything and challenge you. Where other games may stomp you to the ground, kick you into the ground, then kick dirt into your face so they can stomp the ground into you, Space Marine helps you up and gives you a gun.