Warhammer 40k Space Marine Review
|REVIEWS - VIDEOGAME REVIEWS|
The Emperor's loyal Space Marines get their finest outing yet...
Warhammer has always been a slightly tricky franchise. The table top game has been a long standing feature in many avid gamers lives, my own included, but we have never really been treated to a game that did the franchise the justice it deserved. Sure, there have been Warhammer games, from both the classic and the 40k universe, but with the possible exceptions of the Dawn Of War franchise, none have been really up to scratch (2003's Fire Warrior was hoped to bring new life to the franchise for the PS2, but received only lukewarm reviews). It is safe to say that none of the games to date have really given you the sense of strength and power that should come with controlling a Space Marine, a super human solider bred for the sole purpose of destroying the enemies of man.
But thankfully, Relic Entertainment and THQ seem to have taken notice of this discrepancy, and produced the simply titled Space Marine. The basic premise for the game is that Captain Titus of the Ultramarines chapter (the most well known and most publicised branch of the many different factions of Space Marines) and a select few of his battle brothers have landed on a Forge World, a whole planet dedicated to the construction of gigantic war machines, and they must repel a huge invasion of bloodthirsty Orks. The basic story is kept simple, but it is spiced up along the way with a few twists and turns, becoming involving and tense.
The first thing anyone is going to notice about the gameplay is how similar it feels to Gears of War, even when I was playing the game in my living room, anyone who entered was sure to mention the obvious comparison. Obviously, most of this could not be helped. Space Marine is a 3rd person shooter, with an oversized marine lugging himself around, shooting at muscle-clad feral hulks, this alone is enough to make it pretty similar to Gears. However, the similarities do run a little deeper into the way the game feels and plays, the weighty sensation of controlling the characters is very familiar, and when you press A to roll, well, you've done it a few times before, lets put it that way.
This is, of course, no bad thing, Gears is a comparison that I'm sure many developers would welcome. But it does take away a little bit of the games identity, I did find myself trying to roll into cover, or crouch behind a crate, only to remember that Space Marine doesn't have a cover system. Not that it needs one, it just feels a lot like a game that has one.
After the basic movement and shooting controls though, the Gears comparisons do end. The reason for Space Marine's lack of a cover system is that it is much more of an upfront, hack and slash game than a slow and tactical shooter. The majority of encounters begin with a tense exchange of bullets and projectiles, but quickly charge headlong into a bloody and fast-paced fight in close quarters. The face to face fighting is fast, bloody and intense. The controls are a little disappointing at first, with only one button to attack, one to stun and one to finish enemies off (more on that later), and you are often left smashing away at the X button for quite a while. The visuals keep it all together though, you won't really care too much about what button you are pressing while you watch dismembered Orks fly gracelessly through the air is a shower of gore and sparks.
The main downfall I found with the gameplay is the way they have chosen for you to regain your precious health. There are no health pick ups in Space Marine, and although your shield can regenerate, your health does not. The only way to replenish it is to perform an execution on a foe, the bigger the foe, the bigger the pay off. At first, the system works well, and serves as a good way of keeping you in the fight, as there is rarely anything to be gained from backing away from the enemy. The problem lies in the fact that when you perform an execution, the game plays a violent and entertaining animation, while these look excellent, they can also take quite some time to play through, leaving you very vulnerable to attack. Coupled with the fact that you don't receive the health from the kill until the very last second, and that in the later game you are being peppered with powerful rockets almost every time you stand still, the simple task of replenishing life can become very, very difficult.
The combat in the game is still very satisfying, the shooting feels especially well balanced and weighty, and a careful blend of controller vibration, muzzle flashes and blood splatter makes it all look very impressive and real. The close-quarters stuff can get a little repetitive, but this is balanced well with a variety of different types of enemies, all requiring a slightly different approach (more Gears comparisons here; there are brute-type enemies, long-range specialists, shield carrying enemies, close-quarters brutes and small, toothy creatures that explode when they get too close...). The overall intelligence of the enemies you face remains fairly low, but I suppose this is suited to them being Orks, even if 'real' Orks wouldn't get caught on quite so much of the scenery.
The weapons available to you in the game are varied and delivered to you frequently enough to keep the game fresh. Once you have acquired them all you are also given lots of opportunities to change around which ones you are carrying, allowing different players to progress with their own unique play styles. The close combat weapons are a little more similar to each other than the ranged ones, but even then they all posses their own flavour, strengths and weaknesses, and it's still damn good fun to tear your way through 40 Orks, no matter what you are swinging.
Space Marine is a good looking game, your character in particular looks polished and very real. The armour shines and sparkles in light, and after a bloody battle you will emerge soaked from head to toe in gore. The weighty feel of his movement is also translated visually, and watching the game you really get a sense of being a huge and powerful solider, far from invulnerable, but still much more than the average man.
The enemies and their vehicles and environments are also very well modelled, the Warhammer universe can look tacky and cheap if it isn't well executed, but THQ and Relic have really done the game and the fans proud with their portrayal of the world. Orks, Imperial Guard and the Space Marines are all recognisably modelled on existing units from within the game, and very few liberties at all have been taken with the material. Something that is sure to please many of the die hard fans.
The environments of the game are also very faithful representations of what fans will be familiar with, the forge world looks exactly as I felt it should, with huge Gothic architecture mixed with an industrial and bleak version of the future technologies of war. But while the environments look fantastic, many of them are a little too open, and a little too sparsely populated. More than once I entered a large and open room and prepared for an epic fight against an onslaught of enemies, only to find that I could exit the far side of the room without any sort of conflict at all. While this isn't too large of a criticism, I did find that it slowed the pacing quite a lot, and often left me a bit surprised as to why such a large space had been created, only to be rushed through in less than a few seconds. It could, on the other hand, be argued that these big, open areas lend a sense of scale to the game, making the interiors of buildings feel suitable large and grand, but why a few Orks couldn't have been thrown in to spice things up isn't really clear.
On the subject of the pacing of the game, the cut scenes also do quite a bit to slow it down. This isn't to say that they aren't welcome, as they definitely are. They are well animated and often violent and exciting, and provide some valuable insight into the 40k universe for those not familiar with it. The problem is their frequency, a lot of the time you are just left moving from cut scene to cut scene, why they couldn't have simply been travelling in one, longer scene is often a mystery. One cut scene in particular plays out an epic three way stand-off between yourself and two very powerful foes, not to give anything away, but I spent the whole encounter gripping my controller for the moment I would get to jump into the action, which never actually came.
The main flaws that you see when you are actually playing through the game are quite a bit of screen tearing and graphics lag, it's never too much, but it is definitely there. Enemies have a habit of clipping an awful long way into the environments too, making some of the execution cut scenes look a little ridiculous, but it certainly isn't a problem that gamers won't already be familiar with.
These days, a game can't be properly good if it doesn't have its replay value spiced up by an involving and consistent multiplayer mode. Space Marine doesn't let the side down here either, but it also isn't breaking much ground. The upgrades and unlockables are Call of Duty all over, with XP unlocking new weapons and load outs, but the real thrill is for the hardcore fans of the table top game. You can customise your marines armour to a number of different chapters of Space Marines, or even create your own unique one. Long time fans will be kept busy for quite a while perfecting the look of their marine, they could even customise them to match their army of miniatures, something I'm sure many of them were already thinking. The game modes are a little sparse, but the fast paced and frantic action keep it interesting, even if the lack of a lock-on makes close combat a bit of a swing-and-hope affair.
Space Marine is a good game, its story is involving enough to keep you interested until the end, and the enemies, weapons and combat all work well together. The only real downside to the game is the sense of familiarity it has. It seems like THQ and Relic have taken a lot of tried and tested mechanics and applied them to the Warhammer universe, and they do work well, it just stops the gameplay from feeling original or unique. Space Marine is a game you should definitely play, and that you will enjoy playing, but with it being so very similar in feel and style to the upcoming Gears 3, it might well be forgotten quite soon after its release...
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