Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine Review

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Publisher: THQ

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is a surprisingly apt title: you take control of a Space Marine who is stern, respectable, and badass, in a ruthless war, where you seemingly kill thousands of foes, occasionally devastating them up close with hammers, chainsaw blades, and axes. But more specifically, Space Marine is a third-person shooter that favors a variety of potent weaponry over involved tactics much unlike the tabletop and PC games, which prominently feature both. This change in perspective, from controlling an army to a single unit, emphasizes how lethal and durable the elite Space Marines are, but also shows that with great power comes greater repetition.

A computer screen displaying a conversation about a planet recently invaded by Orks, loaded with Warhammer jargon, serves as a poor introduction to a middling narrative. Characters act as vessels for plot progression, all of which prove unmemorable. Titus, the protagonist, and his fellow cohorts, only talk about their best options to advance. Seeing as they rarely yell at one another during combat, their comradery is implied but never defined. The lack of interesting characters makes the plot twists and cliffhanger ending less exciting and more procedural too.

By integrating simple hack ‘n slash melee mechanics within a third-person shooter, Space Marine’s combat remains consistently relentless throughout its entire campaign. Titus possesses the means to kill Orks and Chaos Space Marines from afar with a wide arsenal of weaponry, from sniper rifles, fire-blasting shotguns, recoilless machineguns, and plenty more. Enemies will frequently encroach on your position, forcing you to switch tactics and unsheathe whatever deadly two-handed weapon you have at the time. Alternating between the two is incredibly fluid because the face buttons control melee attacks and the shoulder buttons control your ranged weaponry.

The weight behind Titus’ attacks and movements during combat, coupled with brief moments of slow motion, make eviscerating Orks and the like a visceral treat. There are even three different finisher animations for each enemy type. However, these aesthetic flourishes are there to distract you from the overly simplistic hack ‘n slash mechanics. Mashing the hit button will kill the weaker enemies and for the stronger foes you just need to end a string of hits with a stun attack. Once an enemy is stunned, a single button tap will initiate a finisher. Rolling is your only defensive option, seeing as there is no block button, but when enemies surround you, your only escape is through mashing attacks. The lack of interesting options makes each skirmish feel identical.

Melee combat even proves to be more harmful than helpful. Performing delightfully barbaric finishers on weakened enemies restores lost health, but you still incur damage during the animation, which essentially negates any of its benefits. Enemies are also littered across the set pieces, so even if there are no baddies in your direct vicinity, chances are one, if not more, have their sights locked on you. Engaging in close-quarters combat frequently puts you in too much danger to be considered effective. The only time it is advantageous is when your Fury meter is full – when activated, your health slowly recovers and your melee attacks do significantly more damage.

There is no cover system within Space Marine, which makes for outdated and needlessly straightforward gunplay. Your shield regenerates when you have not taken damage for a brief period of time (a la Halo), which is done by hiding behind large walls that obscure your vision of the battlefield. While you may not know where enemies are when you jump out from behind a wall, your enemies certainly do, and they are probably already shooting at you. In fact, avoiding damage is impossible without a cover system in place, meaning your only method of evasion is through a pathetic rolling dodge. Minimizing damage is done through prioritizing targets. Sadly, this is the only strategy to be found in the game, and since every shooter requires this basic skill, Space Marine’s combat becomes repetitious far too quickly. Even tactics like flanking only occur during scripted portions.

Deliberate additions in the form of new weaponry and enemy types are steadily introduced throughout the proceedings that alleviate repetition. These additions go hand in hand – you are given a new weapon to deal with a new threat. For example, the Meltagun, a cooler shotgun, is for imposing close-range threats. These additions are the only things that affect the core gameplay, so they are milked to maximum effect – something new is introduced the moment the action turns really tedious from not as tedious. This needlessly bloats the campaign that makes its eight-hour length feel much lengthier.

Now that you play a more intimate role in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, it is all the more disappointing that the setting is as generic and uninteresting as it is. Space Marine is crammed with uninspired war-torn environments and unnecessarily long corridors set within stereotypical sci-fi factories, spaceships, and military bases. Worse yet, level designs are never inventive – each battle, while laid out differently, feel and play too similarly. The game relies heavily on its characters to exude personality. The Orks’ primitive yet brutal technology makes them an amusing enemy while the stoic and overly loyal Space Marines lack interesting character traits. These characters, along with the Chaos Space Marines, act and animate how you would expect them to, which is exciting for fans of the series. I just wish the settings they populated shared the same attention to style and detail.

The issues found within the campaign are less obtrusive in the multiplayer. Strategy is incorporated as you compete in your standard assortment of modes, along with a progression system much like Call of Duty’s, perks and all. It is also more class-based, as your loadout is less expansive than it is during single-player. And in the vein of the tabletop game, you can paint your online soldier with surprising detail. That said, there are dozens of better online multiplayer games to invest your time in.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine overly relies on its established lore, resulting in an uninspired and repetitive experience. The gameplay accurately replicates how the Space Marines fight their battles as to not offend its loyal fanbase, but this approach proves unsuccessful. While switching between the two styles of play is intuitive, they simply do not come together in a unified way. Instead the mechanics are glued to each other that make their shoddy melding feel contrived rather than organic. These two styles become repetitious entirely too quickly, where additional enemies and guns, directly referenced from the tabletop game, provide little variety. Adherence to lore over quality is Space Marine’s greatest misstep, and from which all of its issues reside.

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