Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine Review
Drawing From Such A Successful Franchise, There Was Huge Pressure On Relic To Create A Game That Has A Compelling Story At Its Heart, And To Most Extends They Succeeded.
When I first saw the trailer for Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, I knew I had to have it. As a long time fan of the Games Workshop franchise I had always imagined what it would be like to be in the midst of galactic war, fighting off aliens and demons with nothing more than a bolter and a hulking suit of power armour. Thankfully, Space Marine not only fulfilled that dream, but pushed it out to many new fans who, like me, now possess a deep passion for this amazing and creative franchise.
For those of you who have still not heard of Warhammer 40,000, allow me to very briefly fill you in. Originating from the table-top wargame produced by Games Workshop, the Warhammer 40,000 franchise is set in a universe gripped by total war, as several galactic races relentlessly fight it out in the depths of space and planetary systems within it. The central faction at the heart of this story is the Imperium - humanity’s empire established by their almost-deified Emperor which expands across billions of worlds. Understandably, the extent of the Imperium ensures it is constantly threatened on all sides by aliens, demons, and traitors within - and thus is in need of its vast Imperial Army and Space Marine Chapters - genetically engineered and armoured soldiers built only for war.
Space Marine follows the attempts of Captain Titus of the Ultramarines Chapter to repel an Ork invasion on the Forge World Graia; a world dedicated to building Titans - huge piloted machines with unmatched firepower. Such is the importance of Graia that the Imperium has dispatched its finest soldiers, the Space Marines, to secure the Titan and cripple the Ork invasion at any cost.
Set it a universe dominated by war, it was no surprise that Space Marine chose to be a game dominated by combat, and developer Relic Entertainment evidently pulls out all the stops to deliver the long-hoped-for gory spectacular. As a typical third-person action-shooter, Captain Titus is equipped with up to four ranged weapons, a single close combat weapon and grenades, which are upgraded as the game progresses. On form as always, Relic have clearly done their research and provided nothing short of an armoury of weaponry to choose from throughout the game. Ranging from chainswords to two-handed thunder-hammers (take that Thor!) and Bolt Pistols to Plasma Cannons, Space Marine certainly caters to every player preference, whilst also fuelling its replayability potential with tie-in achievements for using particular weapon combinations.
At a glance, the game’s shooting mechanic seems a relatively straightforward concept in this game; you aim and shoot at your enemy until they fall down or their head/ other limbs explode (usually more of the latter). However, when in the thick of combat fighting off hordes of charging Orks, or dodging the devastating bombardment of Plasma Canons, ranged combat becomes an art form more than anything else. Therefore, in each encounter, tactics become incredibly important, and each player must think hard about what weapons they wish to equip for the fights ahead - Vengeance Launchers (a triggered detonation grenade launcher) are amazing at crowd control, whilst Plasma Guns can fire a charged shot to weaken that Chaos Champion just before he pastes your face into the ground. This tactical style of play perfectly captures Space Marine’s table-top origins, and undoubtedly succeeds in promoting that origin for new fans as well as it does bringing it to life for its established fans.
As you would expect, though, it is up close and personal that Space Marine demonstrates what it truly means to be a genetically engineered god of war. With the ability to quick-draw your close-combat weapon, the game ensures that you are always prepared for any ranged encounter to become an ugly close-encounter; a fact that is relentlessly emphasized from the very beginning of the game to the grueling end. As they progress through the game, players will slowly be introduced to each new close combat weapon, allowing the player to try each and choose their favourite. Also, as expected, each weapon has its pros and cons, and generally the more powerful the weapon the slower it is to wield, which can be critical in any encounter. The combat mechanic is also brutally straightforward; players can either button-slash their way through enemies, or use stuns at a crucial moment, in order to trigger a killing blow attack - an in-game button-bashing scene showing Titus and his opponent struggle in a manner similar to the Lancer chain-saw duels of Gears of War - thankfully with equally graphic endings.
If the prospect of decapitating enemies doesn’t have players charging into swathes of enemies, the game provides distinct bonuses for doing so. As well as gaining back health, each killing blow will charge up Titus’ “Fury Meter” which, when triggered, temporarily grants him massively improved close-combat attacks, slow-motion shooting, and constantly replenishing health. However, despite the gory visuals, the killing blow mechanic suffers from a vital flaw - namely that Titus is not immune to damage while performing them. This may not seem a problem to some, but coupled with the game’s tendency to throw small axe-wielding armies at you every five minutes, it can often feel rather ruthless. However, despite this flaw, the “Fury Meter” concept does much to illustrate the Space Marine ethic to players; Space Marine’s live for war, and if you want to fight like one you better charge up that chain-sword!
Drawing from such a successful franchise, there was huge pressure on Relic to create a game that has a compelling story at its heart, and to most extends they succeeded. The Forge World Graia serves as a perfect stage to convey much of the lore of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, as well as to show off the technologies that fuel the galactic war that grips it. The narrative is of that formulaic style many will be familiar with having played Relic’s first Dawn of War game, but is revitalized by its ability to capture so many aspects of its source material - the loyalty of the Imperial Army, the steadfast strength of the Space Marines, the brutality of the Orks, and the corruption that stems from Chaos and its promise of power. Significantly, it is characterization which acts a vessel for much of the story, and the dialogue between characters does much to condense an incredibly complex, and easily confusing background into what is only relevant for the player. That said, the characters themselves are somewhat predictable, and fit very much into the familiar archetypes - the loyal hero, the sturdy veteran, the doubter, and so on. As a result some of the plot twists are easily spotted many chapters in advance, negating a lot of the narrative’s intended power and suspense. Overall, though, the characters themselves are compelling, and each serves to reveal a new dynamic of Titus and Space Marines in general; ensuring that the game’s title certainly proves a fitting one.
Graphically, Space Marine is an impressive feat. With its epic landscapes, often filled with distant warfare and spectacular skylines, players always feel like they are part of a war rather than a minute riot. In-game models are also intricately detailed, right down to the individual bolts on Space Marine Power Armour, ensuring that the game is a spectacle to watch as well as to play. Furthermore, as all pre-rendered scenes are made using in-game graphics, Space Marine ensures that its spectacular graphics are never overshadowed, but rather complemented in a blend that enhances a smooth gameplay experience. Unfortunately, as well as not-so-good lip syncing in-game, Space Marine has a habit of washing over its graphical insecurities (i.e. killing blow attacks) with excessive blood and gore spray. Whilst a clever tactic, and in some regards a welcome one, it nevertheless seems a lazy attempt on the part of a developer who has clearly put so much effort into the other aspects of the game graphically. This, however, is a small issue, and otherwise Relic undoubtedly succeed in translating a vibrant lore into an exceedingly vibrant world.
Once you have completed the twelve to fifteen hour campaign, you’re ready for the intense action found in multiplayer. With “Annihilation”, “Capture the Flag”, “Control Points”, “Exterminatus” (Horde Mode), and most recently “Dreadnought Assault”, Space Marine’s online experience caters to all. In any of the modes, which sees a Space Marine vs. Chaos Marine pitched battle, players can choose from three classes to use; Tactical, Devastator or Assault Marine, and all of which have distinct equipment and styles of play. Perhaps taking a leaf from the FPS genre, Space Marine provides an online leveling system going up to level forty-one (why the extra one I don’t know), which unlocks new weaponry and perks as players progress. As a result, gameplay rarely feels repetitive and by mixing up perks and equipment Relic succeeds in really bringing Warhammer 40,000’s diverse and tactical table-top experience into a console/ PC environment. Unfortunately, the game’s claims to ease players into online play are somewhat exaggerated - don’t be surprised if you’re first twenty seconds of online play sees you get stomped by a level thirty-five with a thunder hammer - but with time players easily adapt thanks to a balanced team organizing system.
Undoubtedly, though, the cherry on multiplayer cake for even the most ardent Warhammer 40,000 fans is “The Customizer”; a system allows you to tailor your online Space Marine and Chaos Marine’s armoured appearance. New armour is unlocked for completing achievements in game (usually killing enemies in certain ways), and the result is an almost unmatched feeling of enjoyment as you stomp around the battlefield in your own chapter colours whilst simultaneously advertising how awesome you are at the game. With this totally adaptable style of online play; the trailer boasts of 1.8 billion (yes, billion!!) combinations of armour configuration and colours alone, Space Marine’s multiplayer easily becomes a game of its own, and a testament to the fantastic community and franchise at its heart.
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