September 14, 2011 by Paul Curtin
Gears of War, God of War, Warcraft, and War for Cybertron. What do all these games have in common besides the word “War” somewhere in the title? If you combine all four, you end up with THQ and Relic Games’ latest title, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. To their credit, while some gameplay elements and art styles might be copied from other previous games, many might not know that the Warhammer series has been around far longer as a table-top action figure series that was pitting Humans vs. Orcs way before Warcraft and starring futuristic super soldiers with chainsaw weapons and big bulky armor way before Gears and Starcraft. So does the series that helped inspire a lot of what we see in today’s games teach the new kids some new tricks, or does THQ’s Space Marine fail to equal the sum of its parts?
After releasing the arcade title Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team back in the summer to try and help bring in some new fans to the Warhammer series, Relic has finally released their bigger-budgeted game, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. Unlike Kill Team, which focused more on the different Marine classes than individual characters, in Space Marine you’ll play as Captain Titus, leader of a special division of space marines known as the Ultramarines. Like Marcus Fenix from Gears of War, Titus refuses to wear a helmet like those lower ranking marines around him despite donning a full suit of body armor that could be used to build a tank. Titus isn’t the most memorable leading character, but the game’s cutscenes allow for just enough character development to keep players interested.
Like the characters, the story itself is pretty generic: Orcs are attacking, and it’s your job as a super soldier to stop them. It’s not until well over the halfway point in the game that the story takes a slight twist, introducing a new enemy that dramatically improves the dull story. The graphics look good and are even better during cutscenes, but they still don’t compare to bigger and more well-established titles on the market today. The level design for each chapter feels dated with maps being very linear and a lot of areas looking the same, which can get tiring after a while. The game does slightly switch locations throughout the course of the story, but it’s not a big enough change to keep players on the edge of their seats. The “Space” Marine” name is quite deceiving when you spend almost the entire game on the ground of a boring desert-like planet or in even more boring lifeless underground sewers.
The gameplay is solid and has been compared to Gears of War; however, it plays more like Transformers: War for Cybertron, which used the same graphics engine as Gears but without cover mechanics. Like Gears and WFC, Space Marine uses a four-weapon-per-person inventory system with plenty of different weapons to keep gameplay from getting stale. There’s also a melee hack-and-slash element that gives the gameplay more diversity when you get tired of shooting things or when enemies get too close. The melee system works just as good if not smoother than the shooter mechanics and makes the gameplay feel like God of War with far less in terms of moves and combos. The melee combat is more rewarding than the gunplay as you can not only hack up your enemies into bits and pieces but can also stun and execute them in cool slow-motion sequences that result in restoring health when low.
While the singleplayer is somewhat enjoyable, it’s not worth anymore than a single playthrough if you can get through it once. Thankfully, there’s also multiplayer included with Space Marine that’s far more fun than the campaign. Online battles consist of two teams of eight that can battle in two different modes: Annihilation, which plays like classic deathmatch with teams racing to 41 kills, and Capture and Control, which requires teams to capture three different territories on each map and hold them until they reach the score limit. The gameplay can be a lot of fun, but only having two modes with a limited number of maps is multiplayer’s biggest flaw. There’s no way Space Marine‘s multiplayer can compete with other games online unless THQ releases some DLC quickly with new modes and maps to keep players’ interest.
Despite there not being a lot of unique modes, the character creation offers tons of customization, which is where the multiplayer really shines and promotes its action figure roots by allowing different marine classes to be selected with different focuses like melee, ranged combat, or a mix of both. There’s even a class with a jetpack that’s the most enjoyable and can make for some pretty hectic battles with marines crashing down from the sky into battles and stunning enemies. The level of weapon and ability customization is about the same you’ll find in any other online game; however, Relic has taken the physical appearance customization to the next level. Each piece of armor like the helmet, soldier pads, gloves, boots, and more can all be individually chosen from a ton of different styles, and each piece can even be painted with a different primary and secondary color to truly give each online player his own unique look.
Although Space Marine isn’t better than any of the games it takes elements from, the overall experience is still enjoyable. Online competitive multiplayer is where the most fun can be had, and it’s a shame that THQ felt the need to release the game at the start of this season packed with so many other heavy-hitting games because it could have been the perfect game to help gamers get through the summer drought a couple months ago instead of the far smaller Kill Team. Space Marine is a good start for the franchise’s jump to bigger-budgeted console games that both fans of the series and those just looking for a new game to play online can appreciate. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine gets 3 out of 5 stars (Good).
- Multiplayer is a lot of fun to play with tons of unique character customization
- Good looking graphics with a solid singleplayer story
- Controls work well and make combat enjoyable
- Story is something fans of the Warhammer 40k series can appreciate
- Story tends to drag and takes a while before getting good
- Levels are very linear and can make gameplay feel repetitive
- Multiplayer only features 2 competitive gameplay modes
- Requires a full copy of the game to be purchased in order to access everything online