Monday 6 February 2012

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

The Title Screen

GameViewWarhammer 40,000 Space Marine GameView

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is a third person, ranged/mêlée combat game by Relic Entertainment. Released in 2011 on Xbox, PlayStation and PC (Steampowered). It features a single player campaign and online modes. This review will be on the single player only.

I know very little about the Warhammer 40k universe, so this review is on the game's own merits, rather than any relation to a larger franchise.

Disclaimer: The game contains graphic fantasy-violence and may not be suitable for some.

The First Thing
An immediate annoyance was the strange way Space Marine handles configuration. 85% of the options can not be changed from inside the campaign; like controls and video settings. So, my initial 10 minutes were spent loading and exiting the first level to customise the game to suit me. Not a big negative, just unexpected in a modern big title.

Captain Titus and the Ultramarines

The Plot
The story takes place on the planet 'Graia'; a world used for producing military hardware. Graia is under invasion by Orks, and an Ultramarine squad is sent in to combat them; Captain Titus (you) with two space marines under his command. They must battle enemy hordes and protect a military experiment which threatens to damage the fabric of reality itself and unleash Chaos.

If you have knowledge of the Warhammer 40k universe, then the occasional references may mean something and provide some framework. There is nothing convoluted to's just there is no explanation of context and you are left to piece together the basics. The events on the planet are interesting, but without any setting, the player must accept "this is how things are". There is limited character depth or exploration. Character personalties are established early and remain essentially unchanged throughout. Twists and revelations are barely disguised, if at all, and are predictable.

The Ork horde

The Game
Space Marine is a linear combat game; no puzzles, no RPG elements etc. The core gameplay is the blend of ranged and mêlée combat and how the player must utilise both. Enemy tactics will vary: some will charge in a rampaging horde, some will come in small packs and others will hide far away and attack from ranged. Titus equips 1 mêlée weapon (out of a choice of 3), 4 ranged weapons (only 2 are changeable) and has grenades. Weapons perform in different ways to serve different purposes, i.e. a gun may have a scope for 'sniping' functionality. Ammunition and weapon selection is provided fairly frequently and the focus is on combat enjoyment, rather than realism.

Titus has a rechargeable energy shield, and health is recovered by performing 'executes', however the player is vulnerable during the execute animation so it must be used wisely. Successful damage, and kills, will fill the 'Fury' meter, and when full can be unleashed for more damage and health regeneration. There is no customisable upgrade system, the player is simply handed upgrades at specific points throughout the campaign.

Weapon select

The game is very linear and makes no attempt to disguise it. Set in a war torn city, the levels are mostly destroyed buildings or battlefields, and the player will find rubble often obscuring all paths but one. Enemies are met in scripted encounters and not a continuous flow. Players can therefore expect to encounter enemies usually in larger groups, although huge hordes are disappointingly rare. Occasionally Titus will be given a jet-pack that enables high jumps (not flying) and leads to minor platforming gameplay; as well as a new attack that lands on enemies.

The space marines are the elite warriors of the universe; feared by their enemies and revered by their allies. Space Marine works this into the gameplay everywhere and the player is left in no doubt that they are taking the role of a strong and unstoppable warrior.. Of course the player is not invincible, but almost every aspect of the gameplay encourages a feeling of power and capability. The Ultramarines are solid and detailed, and they walk with slow determination in heavy stomping footsteps; sometimes covered in the blood of their enemy. Slow-motion is used frequently to emphasise battle prowess. Allied NPCs kneel reverently and refer to them as "my lord", elevating them to an almost religious status. However space marines talk and act with a sense of duty and respect that makes them likeable and not just mindless killing machines; Titus in particular is the embodiment of wisdom and honour. Upon death, Titus will speak some space marine proverb which inevitably is honour and duty themed.

A space marine death proverb

I started playing with my 360 pad, but switched to Keyboard and mouse as it felt more intuitive. Mouse smoothing can be turned off and all keys can be rebound. The camera is good and swaps from 'over the shoulder' for shooting, to moveable for mêlée and executes. The player can move, toggle sprint and roll (no crouch or jump).

The sound effects are very solid and help provide weight to the combat, and the music is "battle and honour" themed. In my opinion, the voice acting falls flat. The script is fairly clichéd and there is a distinct lack of emotion in the dialogue, although as Titus is voiced by Mark Strong, the character certainly has gravitas. The enemies have clear, but unvaried, speech and it may get a little annoying after a while to hear "Get them space marines!" from every enemy, even if Titus is alone.

Wrap Up & Negatives
If you have no knowledge of the Warhammer 40k universe, the plot is thin and almost irrelevant. The clichéd script and unemotional voice acting coupled, with predictable dramatic twists, make it hard to identify with any characters.

The game is really linear; often only opening the way when it is time to proceed. Wandering off the main path is occasionally allowed, and can uncover secrets, but the player can never wander far. The campaign was fairly average in length and took me 9 hours on normal difficulty.

Chainsaw-sword mêlée combat

The combat is varied but the difficulty level is all over the place. Some sections are mindlessly easy and some are comparably very hard; particularly any section with enemies that use rockets. There is nothing bad about having hard sections but I felt this broke the flow of gameplay. The checkpoint system is also unforgiving and death will set the player back usually far at times.

Sections with no fighting get boring quickly - there is nothing else to do except travel to the next encounter. Over use of cutscenes does not help to draw interest. As the game progresses, large groups of easy enemies are replaced with smaller groups of harder enemies, and I found myself using mêlée attacks less in order to survive; leading me to feel I was missing out on some of the core gameplay.

The game also has fairly frequent pathing bugs. Allies and enemies can get stuck easily, as well as accidentally pushed through walls sometimes. Space Marine's VSync mysteriously locked my FPS  to 30 randomly, and I had to manually set the VSync outside the game to get a steady 60 FPS (once that was done the game was fine).

Chainsaw-Sword to the face...

I did enjoy it, but there is a lot that could added to the game - as well as some polish. The flat voice acting un-immersed me, and I did not have knowledge of the franchise to counter. However, a space marine is one of the more enjoyable characters I've played and for the most part the combat is fun and quite visceral (in a good way).

I do not recommend this game at a full price release just for the single player but I would on a decent sale. The combat is worth trying out.

A chainsaw-sword will just never get boring...

1 comment:

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