The popular miniature gaming franchise Warhammer 40,000 has spawned a rich variety of products beyond its standard table top game. Despite franchise growth through books, a movie, and games like the Dawn of War series, a quality full fledged non-strategy game has been sorely missing.
Warhammer 40000: Space Marine, from developer Relic Entertainment and publisher THQ, promises a fun and proper Warhammer 40k game on the console and PC, combining both shooter and hack and slash elements. Does it deliver? Read on to find out.
Ultimately, despite some lackluster multiplayer options, Warhammer 40000: Space Marine delivers a fun and action packed gaming experience.
Space Marine is set in the forty-first millennium, placing players in the boots of a superhuman, power-armored soldier known as a Space Marine, the iconic warriors of the Warhammer 40,000 franchise. The protagonist and playable character, Titus, is a Captain in the Ultramarines and along with two other Space Marines (Leandros and Sidonus), is thrust into the Forge World Graia in the midst of an Ork invasion – to secure skyscraper-sized mechs known as War Titans.
The game does a good job of replicating some of the atmosphere of the franchise; everything is built in the gothic style, and not just the architecture. Immense artillery gun rounds are designed with the specific visual aesthetic, and the game appropriately depicts the entire world as one massive factory. Throughout the game, you can hear a woman’s voice extolling the virtues of work and serving the Emperor throughout the factories the player fights through. The factories themselves, responsible for producing the War Titans, are truly immense. As players walk and run, they’ll get a true sense of the size and scale of the Space Marines, helped by the clanking of Titus’ armor with each step. Surviving regular soldiers, known as the Imperial Guard, are dwarfed by the player character’s immense size, and are far less capable of fending off the Ork hordes compared to the player’s roster of companions.
While the environments and visuals of the titular Space Marines are well done, characterization is rather weak. There’s little reason provided in-game to actually care for the main character, outside of the fact that he is voiced to perfection by actor Mark Strong. The collectible Servo Skulls scattered about the game provide some measure of back story, telling the tale of the planet’s invasion from the perspective of several civilians and soldiers (think of the Skulls as scribes), but ultimately there isn’t much too them, and hence, little incentive to go out of your way to look for them – unless you’re an achievement/trophy completionist. The voice acting for the other main characters is good, but this cannot be said for the less impressive enemies. The Orks for instance, other than the Warboss, don’t really sound like Orks, and have only a few lines – which start to sound repetitive after a while.
Ultimately, the story and characters of Warhammer 40000: Space Marine are of secondary concern to the gameplay, and this is where Space Marine really shines. The game combines both shooter and hack-and-slash elements from a third-person perspective, and the transition between the two is seamless. Going from shooting at Orks with rocket launchers to cutting away through a horde of Boyz and back again is smooth and natural. There are several melee weapons, though only one can be carried at a time, and about a dozen ranged weapons, of which four can be carried simultaneously. Every weapon has a different feel and each is useful, so players will never be under-equipped.
Enemy AI is at times quite good, with an effective mix of ranged and melee forces arranged behind cover and fearlessly charging. Strangely, the late game Chaos forces offered less of a threat than the Orks players battle earlier. The encounters overall are quite fun, and some can be a bit of a challenge. The game seems to want to be fast-paced with less emphasis on cover, but depending on the player’s play style preference, they may find themselves taking their time, ducking in and out of cover to pop shots off against even the strongest of enemies.
Health is handled through two bars, an inner bar that doesn’t regenerate, and an outer ‘shield’ bar that regenerates after a few seconds of safety. There are no health packs to acquire, replaced by violence as players will have to first stun an opponent and then perform an execution to regenerate an actual health bar. The execution animations are quite good, varied depending on the foe and melee weapon of choice, and can involve throwing down an opponent and head stomping them, bashing them down with their own shield, or eviscerating them with the iconic chainsword. To add further challenge, during the execution animations, players are open to attack, forcing gamers to think twice about performing a tempting execution.
The single player campaign is, in simple terms, a lot of fun and fairly fast-paced. The environments are competent along with the sound, though enemy voice acting isn’t the greatest. The characters and story could have been fleshed out more to offer fans and newcomers to the franchise something less bland and uninteresting – and it’s a missed opportunity because of the pre-established, and immensely rich, universe. There were a couple of times when the game hiccupped as it loaded a new area, but these interruptions were fairly minor.
Warhammer 40000: Space Marine also ships with a multiplayer component but this will not be a selling point for most players. At first glance, the game seems to offer up a lot of options, with a fair level of customization for both the characters, and their loadouts, in addition to the three standard classes, but players won’t find it worthwhile to put a lot of time into multiplayer. Very similar to games like Call of Duty, there are a variety of general and weapon specific challenges, which, along with leveling up, unlock a greater variety of armor pieces, perks, and weapons. Armor color and decals can also be customized, allowing players to personalize their Space Marine.
While offering a good level of customization, Space Marine offers little in terms of maps or gameplay modes. Only two gameplay formats are available, Annihilation (team deathmatch) and Seize the Ground (team domination) that can be played over five maps. A third gameplay mode and two new maps will be available in October as free DLC, but that should have shipped with the game at launch as many players likely won’t be playing the standard multiplayer until that time. The new mode, titled Exterminatus, is a horde mode featuring up to four player co-op and sounds like it will be the best and most replayable mode.
Buyers beware. Warhammer 40000: Space Marine employs the Elite Pass system. Remember all the great customization options? Well, the vast majority of it is not available until passing level 5, something that players won’t be able to do until entering in an ‘Elite Pass’ code to unlock the ability to progress past that point. Codes are included with newly purchased retail copies of the game (on the back of the instruction manual), but for anyone who trades for the game, rents it, borrows it, or buys it used, they’re going to find themselves forced to shell out extra if they want to enjoy the regular multiplayer experience, not unlike EA’s Online Pass and what THQ previously employed with Homefront, and for this game, it may not be worth the price of admission for that multiplayer.
Warhammer 40000: Space Marine is now available on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.