Space Marine muscles its way to success
*I wrote this review about a year ago so some game references are a little dated.
When developer Relic first announced they were taking their long running successful series War Hammer 40,0000 universe from an RTS to TPS many were very skeptical and disappointed. Developers will rarely stray away from their strengths and will not try to reinvent a successful franchise. However Space Marine has allowed Relic to break away from their comfort zone and flex their skills by expanding the War Hammer universe and delivering a surprisingly strong action packed single player and multiplayer game.
Now, if you are unfamiliar with the War Hammer universe, you are not alone. This exclusion will not confuse you with the main story as there are only minimial characters present and the plot is straightforward. War Hammer enthusiasts on the other hand will feel right at home with lore and references only they would understand. In Space Marine you play as Captain Titus of the Ultramarine's. Captain Titus not only possesses a cool name but also the hint a Russell Crowe accent. The Ultramarine's can be described as 7 foot tall super soldiers, leaders, saviors, and priests all rolled into one. It is clear from the start as you enter the battle soldier’s bow, salute and hope and excitement is heard in their voice as you walk past. Your mission, along with a few of your ultramarine brothers, is to hold back the ever growing orc armies on a strategic human world until reinforcements arrive. The main story is played out through cut scenes and radio communications which are done with excellent voice acting and cinematic style camera angles. It may be a cliché game story but again as someone not familiar with the War Hammer franchise I was totally drawn into this fight for survival and satisfied with the ending.
If you have played recent third person shooters such as GOW, Mass Effect, or Vanquish then you will have no problem with Space Marine’s game play and combat. Accompanied by 2 reliable AI controlled Ultramarines for a majority of Space Marine’s 8+ hour single player campaign, the game is a linear trek throughout the world where you will be battling, shooting, and mauling horde after horde of orcs in mostly large arenas. At your disposal is the normal shooter repertoire of short, long, heavy range weapons and grenades. The shooting is tight, fast and responsive and on par with some of the best shooters in the market. An added bonus is prior to each large fight a weapons cache is available where you can mix and match your own arsenal. This component allows encounters from becoming frustrating and repetitive.
Space Marine abides by the element that is becoming a trend among shooters which is the inclusion of a jet pack scenario. It’s used sparingly in only 2 missions but included some of the best moments I had in the game. These scenarios are short yet refreshing as they come at the perfect time after constant melee fighting. Beyond the cool look and feel the jet pack brings verticality to the game and slamming into a crowd of orcs, followed by a swing of the thunder hammer never gets old. Though brief in single player the jet pack is also included as a playable class in multiplayer.
While a lot of the combat and game play sound familiar it is the melee and the exclusion of cover that separates Space Marine from other shooters. The absence of cover puts you right in the middle of total chaos. Being swarmed by a dozen orcs is common but fortunately you are well equipped with melee weapons that include the chainsword, power axe and thunder hammer. How cool are those names? Along with these weapons you also have a furious stomp attack that shakes the ground knocking enemies on their backside. This gives you the opportunity to grab a stunned enemy and perform an execution move. This execution is pivotal for survival as it is the only way to regain health. I cant stress on how surprised and well done this particular mechanic works. It could easily have been frustrating, but I think due to Relics background in RTS they understand the importance of game play balance. It’s so refreshing for a game to be challenging while never putting you in areas that are unwindable for hours.
Visually Relic has successfully brought their War Hammer universe from the strategic air view down to the ground with Space Marine. The characters both human and orc are strongly detailed from the uniqueness of the armor to the noticeable scars on their faces. As I explained earlier Space Marines are huge, and they carry that size and weight throughout with their movement and actions. The world in which the battle is fought, though empty outside of enemies, is built with a gothic war torn dark aesthetic. The large interiors and exterior environments equal that of its Space Marine inhabitants with some nice attention to detail.
Space Marine also includes an addictive multiplayer component that includes your basic capture the flag, team death match, and other common online modes. It also includes a 4 player co op horde mode which I have found particular addictive. There are some minor bugs, and the inability to switch classes during a match is sometimes frustrating but those are minor complaints. As someone who has been slow to embrace online play, after 60 hours of matches I can honestly say that I have now been converted.
My 2 Cents:
- This complaint will anger War Hammer purists, but IMO a darker tone specifically excluding some of the humorous Orc dialect could be more welcoming.
- Where’s the Orcs? It is not uncommon to be running for stretches between large levels or chapters for minutes without encountering any enemies?
- Because of the numerous weapons and possible combinations this game screams for an RPG component. The multiplayer has this option but is not fully utilized to its potential.
- More multiplayer maps and the ability to change class during matches.
- Campaign co op
When I first heard and saw a preview of Space Marine I declared it to be no more than a budget title. Boy, were my initial impressions completely wrong. Space Marine comes with enough fresh new ideas and strong common game play mechanics and addictive multiplayer that make it easy to recommend. Relic gambled by taking their highly successful War Hammer franchise from RTS to TPS and its safe to say they hit jackpot.