A satisfying romp through the dark and gritty 40k universe
Relic Entertainment is known far and wide for its vast and superior knowledge in the realm of stratagem. With titles like Homeworld, Company of Heroes, and Dawn of War in their repertoire, few can argue the strength of their craft. However, when the studio revealed they would be crafting a third-person, combat-centric depiction of the bloodthirsty 40k Space Marine – you might see why Relic fans got a little nervous. Thankfully, Space Marine‘s departure from the standard strategy approach exceeds all expectations with an adrenaline-fueled, combat-savvy core that truly represents the dark and gritty universe of Warhammer 40,000.
Warhammer 40,000 isn’t a small, easily-understandable universe. If you know nothing about 40k, it will undoubtedly swallow you into its limitless abyss without further thought. That’s not to say that Games Workshop’s world isn’t incredibly addictive and fleshed out, but casual gamers and first-timers will have absolutely no idea what’s so special about a Space Marine or who the hell this ‘Emperor’ everyone keeps talking about is. The game is pretty lacking when it comes to explanation; but saying that, if you’re a 40k fan, you will absolutely adore the amount of detail Relic has poured into the game.
Whether you’re a 40k fan or not, the story behind Space Marine is incredibly reserved and all-in-all standard. You take control of Captain Titus of the Ultramarines, who are deployed on the planet Graia to prevent the Ork invasion force from capturing a Warlord-class Titan – a weapon of absolute strategic value. Throughout the course of the game, you’ll encounter various battle brothers and Imperial Guard, but there’s very little focus on compelling characters or dialog. The Space Marines converse every once in a while about the mission, but you can forget about getting to know the actual Marines themselves. Once again, this isn’t something the 40k universe is in need of, as the true story is told in combat, but it might put off those who are looking for something a bit deeper in the narrative department.
Guess who’s in charge here?
As far as appearance and aesthetic style, Space Marine is deceptively beautiful. The environments are torn asunder, facial features on every single model are immaculate, weapons look crazy, and, above all else, the intricacy of armour and the many details associated with it are astounding. I know the 40k universe is known for its variety and craftsmanship, but I’ve never poured this much over detail in a video game. The particle effects coming off of weapon hits, ranged weaponry shells, even the blast coming from a jump-pack as you’re taking off; it’s all unbelievable, and graphically pleasing. It also helps that the sounds your weapons make, the chink of bolter rounds off of desecrated armor, the weighted step of your marine, all the delightful noises of combat in their entirety, sound spot on. Relic has done a tremendous job replicating the tabletop phenomenon. Simply said, customization and detail don’t get much deeper than they do in this game.
Space Marine’s health mechanics are by far one of the most unique combat features that actually augment the gameplay. Like a true 40k Space Marine, these fellows rush into the midst of combat with a savage grace. To represent this, Relic has completely ditched the Gears of War-esque cover scheme and instead opted to give you health for brutally slaughtering foes. That’s right – curb stomp your enemies and it heals your wounds. On paper, this might sound contrived and stupid, but the melee combat is so sharp and the executions so satisfying, you’d be hard pressed not to look forward to your next wild charge into battle.
Hey man, that axe looks nice. Whatcha’ gonna do with...
Melee is an amalgamation of mechanics pulled from other games, and all of them are equally satisfying. The short combo system mimics that of the Dynasty Warriors series, but don’t be fooled; the targeting and overall combat movement is straight from the Asylum in Arkham. Within a split-second, you can roll away from an enemy’s attack, take a swipe at an adjacent target, move back into your first target’s face, and then execute the fool standing right next to him. Also, you can seamlessly bring your ranged weapon into the mix whenever you feel someone needs a righteous pop, or maybe that dude firing his gun at you is finally getting on your nerves. Fluid and easy as the combat is, enemy behaviour in this game doesn’t represent a flicker of the infamously awful AI from the Dynasty Warriors games. While there can be gaggles of enemies onscreen at once, these guys actually want you dead, and, unless you fight back with your health-restoring executions and evasion mechanics, you can expect to die – a lot. No mindless hack and slashing here.
Gory and fun as it may be, I did find Space Marine’s weapon selection to be a little on the sparse side. In total, there is a plethora of ranged weapons, but only four melee weapons you can choose from (three if you don’t count the knife). Every single melee weapon is good fun to use, and contain unique executions dependent on the enemy type, but they can grow tiresome. The same can be said of the very basic combo system, à la Dynasty Warriors. Each weapon has four different combos you’ll quickly get accustomed to, but you never unlock greater chains or anything else that could spice up the same drab combos. Being a 40k game, I find it hard to believe we couldn’t have seen a little more effort go into the melee combat variety. Where the hell are my Lightning Claws, and I have to pay to use a Power Sword? C’mon man.
Customization is truly a thing of beauty.
Space Marine’s online component is surprisingly addictive and easy to jump into. Chaos versus Space Marines and Annihilation or Seize Ground is the name of the game. Each game type is composed of two teams of eight; Annihilation is your standard team deathmatch (up to 41) and Seize Ground is a take-and-hold type. Unfortunately, there are only five maps to play on, but the gameplay itself might help raise your spirits. There are three classes in the game: Tactical, Devastator, and Assault (Chaos uses different titles). Each uses a very basic form of the Call of Duty perk system, as well as different weapons. While I’m a bit sick of the perk system being implemented into multiplayer games, this one – being more reserved – actually works well. You can unlock various perks and weapons by completing standard challenges (kill "X" amount of Orks) to further customize your soldier, but the actual customization is the true star here.
As I stated above, Space Marine’s attention to detail is immaculate, and that goes double for its online component. Not only can you fully customize your man, but you can colour and detail practically every single piece of armour on your body, and earn more through the challenges. This gives team appearances a healthy dose of variety, and puts an emphasis on making your soldier your own. Quite honestly, it’s refreshing to see this amount of customization in a multiplayer mode, as there aren’t twenty schmucks running around in gunmetal grey attire with hats. Sure, the multiplayer is not going to be your end-all answer to the heavy-hitting multiplayer juggernauts like Gears of War and Call of Duty, but it’s a nice substitute to pass the time.
Hey you! Yeah, you with the face!
40k vets will easily sink their putrid claws into the flesh of this supremely detailed game, but not everyone will understand the robust, yet convoluted, universe. Relic’s restless adventure will only take you around seven hours to beat, but couple that with a decent online component and the upcoming four-player co-op "Exterminatus," and you’ve got a very worthwhile title.