GAME NAME: Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
PLATFORM(S): PS3, PC, XBox 360
GENRE(S): Third-Person action
RELEASE DATE(S): 9/6/11
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine seems like the video game that was always destined to be made. The 40K Space Marines are the template for countless imitators, from Marcus Fenix’s neckless frame to Master Chief’s armor and shield combination. Relic’s other Warhammer 40K games, the Dawn of War series, are outstanding examples of brilliant asymmetrical real-time strategy gameplay that probes the depths of the various factions in the grim future the Warhammer universe depicts. But as a third-person shooter, Space Marine falls far short of the legacy that it’s canon has laid out for it.
Space Marine takes place on a Forge World, a planet devoted entirely to industry. Orks, the cockney greenskinned antagonists, have assaulted the planet and it’s your job as Titus, leader of a small squad of Ultramarines, to end the invasion and get to the bottom of it all. The narrative in the game touches on some of the intricacies of the 40K universe, but leaves massive holes that could’ve been filled by so much that it almost feels incomplete. For example, the game touches on Chaos Marines, but only in the slightest facet. And, while this may expose my Warhammer 40K nerdiness, the truth is that nobody likes the Ultramarines. They’re your first starting squad in the tabletop version – the very definition of vanilla gaming. Relic took the least interesting squad of the least interesting faction and built an entire game around it. No Eldar, no Necrons, no Khorne or Nurgle or Tzneetch.
The game plays out as a standard third-person shooter, albeit without a cover system. In context of being a Space Marine, this makes sense – you don’t take cover, you rush forward while discharging your bolter. And then when you run out of ammo, you’ve got your chainsword. Translated into the game, you’ll get attacked by waves of melee orks, followed by ranged attackers, then more melee. Damage is doled out to your recharging shield first, then your actual health, which is then replenished by gory executions. To be sure, this is a very cool mechanic – but it’s hampered by the fact that you still take damage while healing. If you haven’t taken care of all your ranged opponents, healing will just get you killed even quicker. Although it’s very cinematic and great to watch, it’s far easier to do the very un-Space Marine-like thing and fall back to wait for your shield to recharge.
Cinematic is the thing here for the graphics. Movie-style panoramics and zooms frame the slow-motion 300-like murders you’ll be doling out as Titus chainsaws orks in half. Lines are clear and distinct, and the sharp textures keep everything from getting muddled. The score is appropriately swelling, with a sort of cathedral/orchestral feel that fits well with the concept of being a zealot in power armor. Voicechat works well online, which is nice – since the rest of the online service is pretty bad.
For multiplayer, of course there’s team deathmatch and CTF, as well as the free update Exterminatus mode, which is a horde mode-style match with 3 other players. You’ve got your fairly standard heavy guy, jetpack guy, and all-rounder trooper. This stuff is all standard, but it usually works so well in other games that it’s easy to say “this is fine” and enjoy some shooting. But 40k does online so poorly, it’s absolutely infuriating. For instance, you’ll choose the map you want to play, but it seems like the game just takes this as a suggestion of what you’d like to play, then decides what map you’ll be on. This matches your games quicker, but why even bother choosing a map if you game will just decide for you? Online matches will also migrate hosts to whoever has a better connection, but this will happen multiple times in every match. And each time it happens, action grinds to a halt while everyone waits.
There’s also some online DLC available, as well. Normally I wouldn’t write much about the DLC, but 40K feels like a special case. For $10 you can get the Chaos pack, which adds 4 maps in one linked-together campaign, and a reskinning of your online avatar. For another $10, you can get the Dreadnought pack, which lets you play as the Big Daddy from Bioshock 2’s multiplayer mode back in February 2010. I could write a dozen paragraphs on the awesomeness of playing as Chaos or a Dreadnought, but these packs feel like cash-ins for people who love 40k, but were snowed by the intro-level game they bought.
And that’s what hurts about this game – it is completely scattershot about who its target audience is. The beginner Ultramarines against the beginner orks, with only slight interference with Chaos. But the DLC is targeted squarely at people who already know about the expanded universe of 40k. It’s definitely fun in parts, but there’s such a disparity in quality that you’d probably be better off with Dawn of War 2.