theuselessgod's Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine (Xbox 360) review

I swear, if they say "Space Marine" one more time...

The Short

Pros

- Violent, bloody fun as a badass Space Marine from the Warhammer 40k universe

- Strange mix of third person shooting and a heavy emphasis on melee combat actually works

- Lack of a cover system or regenerating health (you have to execute enemies in cool ways to "heal") is a neat concept and keeps you in the action

- Lots and lots and lots and lots of Space Orks for you to dismember

- Multiplayer is surprisingly good, with the elements from the single player moving over nicely

- Excellent game to relieve stress; makes you feel way too powerful for you own good, ala The Darkness II.

- Looks and sounds fantastic

- Very loyal to the Warhammer 40k mythology and universe

Cons

- Single player drags on about an hour longer than it should

- You only fight Orks and (spoiler?) Chaos. There's like 80 jillion races in the Warhammer 40k universe, guys.

- While I enjoyed the repetitive slashing/bashing/shooting, there are some who will find it boring quickly

- Despite having a reverence for the lore, the story itself doesn't use it to its full potential

- The "execute enemies to heal" works great until you realize you can never heal with ranged weapons, and some parts of the game require you to use ranged weapons only

- Final "boss" is an underwhelming set of quick-time events

- If I hear anybody say "Space Marine!" one more time, I might have to punch something

Suffer not a space ork beastie to live.

The Long

As mentioned in my Dawn of War: Dark Crusade review, I have a weird affinity for the Warhammer 40k universe without actually investing any time in it aside from playing the Dawn of War games. So when Relic (the same dudes that made Dawn of War) said they were making a third-person action game set in the world, I figured...how could they possibly screw this up? It's going to be a third person shooter like Gears of War, right? But against Warhammer stuff? I'm down.

Well the game came out and guess what: I was right. It was pretty awesome. For exactly the reasons I thought it would be. Space Marine (another winner of the "Imaginatively Titled Game" contest) is a bloody awesome good time, and fans of action games, shooters, or just the Warhammer 40k universe should check it out.

It's also kind of bloody.

The story is unfortunately one of the weakest points of the game. You follow Captain Titus of the Ultramarines who go down to some forge world I already forgot the name of because the stupid Orks showed up to wreck shop. So after your ship gets shot down but you just sort of jump from it to an Ork ship because it ain't no thang if you are a Space Marine, blowing up that ship and crash landing it, you get in on the action. And by action I mean killing thousands of Orks (I think I killed 3,000 enemies in the Single Player alone).

And that's pretty much most of the plot. There's a run-in with Chaos Space Marines at the end (not a huge spoiler; there's a Daemon on the box if you look close enough) with a "twist" and a traitor that is so predictable I now label Captain Titus as dense as the Jedi Council in the Star Wars prequels for being able to detect corruption among his ranks. Anyway, nothing a chainsaw-sword can't handle, and even with another weird "twist" at the end the story doesn't really go anywhere. You show up, kill a bunch of guys, kill some more guys, game ends. Alright. Way to draw deep from that extensive Warhammer 40k well, Relic. Even your RTS games had more plot than this.

Captain Titus does not like Orks

Luckily the game doesn't need much of a story, because 99% of it is spent carving up enemies, with the remaining 1% being running to the next scene where you cut up more enemies. The gameplay in Space Marine is surprisingly unique; if you were like me and thought it would be heavy on third-person shooting (like Gears of War) with a splash of melee, you'll be in for a surprise. Space Marine actually strikes a decent balance between ranged and melee combat, with melee being far more powerful and much more useful (in most cases) than shooting. It's kind of like Dynasty Warriors meets Gears of War, but in a Warhammer 40k universe against legions and legions of Orks. Which is pretty cool.

The big mechanic is the fact that you are a badass, and since cover is for non-badasses, there is no cover system in this game. You have a regenerating shield, but should they punch through that your only way to get health back is via violent execution moves. Essentially these chain off your melee attacks. "X" will do a quick, straight-damage melee which can chain into a powerful area smash. But if you throw a "Y" in there it'll stun the enemy (or enemies, depending on where in combat you mash it), allowing you to execute them with a finisher. These a violent, crazy, and don't get as repetitive as you might think. Killing enemies this way restores health (and you are given a slight damage reduction while executing should your health be low, but you can still die mid-regen) and is the only way to restore health. So the game highly encourages you to get in and get your hands dirty, which I'm all for.

Seriously, he kills 'em without prejudice.

You might worry that it gets repetitive and...it does, a bit. Luckily the game encourages you to mix up your combat, with ranged weapons doing high amounts of damage and headshots coming easy (and being immensely satisfying). You also fight through boatloads and boatloads of stupid Orks (for about 75% of the game that's all you fight) which means you could potentially get tired of it. I, however, found it as great stress relief. Playing as an insanely overpowered Space Marine just smashing everything to bits (you get a Storm Hammer that literally is the most overly powerful thing ever) is amusingly satisfying, and the absurdly over-the-top kills only amplify the experience.

It isn't perfect, though. Aside from repetition, there is no way to gain health via shooting (you'd think headshots would give you a touch of health back, but I guess not), and there are many points where you are battling against ranged-only enemies. In this instance getting life back can be well-nigh impossible, and can result in some cheap deaths.

Chaos sucks.

The ending bits are also too long on the single player, mostly because fighting Chaos just isn't fun. They all have heavy ranged weapons (the problem with this mentioned above) but also are super tough; going toe-to-toe with them in melee combat can be a near thing every time, and they are bullet sponges to boot. After playing a whole game feeling powerful and confident, having that stripped away rather quickly changes the entire feel of the game (and I was actually taking cover. Gasp!) and not for the better. The last quarter of the game is not nearly as fun as the first quarter, and it was also when I started thinking the game was unfair.

Aside from that, however, the majority of Space Marine's single player is certainly worth experiencing. As a unique blend of third person shooting, melee combat, and visceral executions it is quite fun to play, even if the last sections are a bit grueling. Also, why Chaos? What about the fifty thousand other races in the Warhammer 40k universe? Why are we only fighting Orks and Chaos Marines over this whole game? You had like eleven races by the time Dawn of War ended; get with the program!

Titus leaves only sadness and death in his wake.

The multiplayer is, surprisingly, excellent and unique. You get to pick from three classes: a balanced soldier-esque class that uses fast firing pistols, a heavy weapons clunker with high damage and slow movement, or the jump-pack melee expert (you also get a jet-pack in single player, which is some of the best parts in the game). The more you play the more gear you unlock, allowing you to create custom mixes of weapons, though you are still limited to the three basic classes. The emphasis on mixing up both melee and ranged combat (and the lack of cover whatsoever) makes battles fast, furious, and bloody. If you are ranged your goal is to keep everybody at a distance, while the jump-pack people will be bombarding you from above in an attempt to get close. It's totally bananas and really fun, and the handful of traditional modes (capture the flag, team deathmatch, etc.) do well with Space Marine's unique system.

It also has a free DLC "Horde" mode, Exterminatus. This is essentially 20 waves (with a bonus 21st wave if you clear them all) battling legions of Orks as a four player team, which again works very well with the systems at play. It is pretty buggy, though, especially on the final wave (we had enemies getting stuck in geometry frequently) but playing with friends is a rush, though I wish they'd included more maps (you can buy more but...nah. I'm good.)

Not kidding; you kill a lot of Orks.

Graphically the game looks fantastic. It's very loyal to the Warhammer 40k mythology, down to the dialogue, terms, and the way everything looks. That does mean that guns and characters look a bit like toys (since Warhammer 40k is primarily minifigs) but it's easy enough to overlook for all the zanyness that's going on. The only exception for things that don't look good are the character's faces. They never emote, ever, and their tones are bland and impassive. I get that these are hardened warriors who just sort of shrug off killing a bajillion guys or any problems they encounter, but it makes for uninteresting characters and boring cutscenes. Spice it up!

You can also color and make your own Space Marine in multiplayer, which is pretty neat!

Despite it's rather poor final act and a bit of repetition, I had a great time playing Space Marine. Maybe it's because I have that weird love for the source material, but I found it to be a rush from beginning to end, and the surprisingly solid multiplayer was just icing on the cake. Considering I got it for $10 from a Gamefly sale (which included the online code! Bonus!) I'd say that's a perfectly reasonable price to grab it at and have a great time slashing up "xenos" (which I'm guessing is Space Marine talk for "beasties").

Four out of five stars.

Just droppin' from space, not giving a crap...

More at http://nathanvsvideogames.blogspot.com

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