Space Marine is THQ’s latest wander into the grim darkness of the far future, the highly anticipated Warhammer 40,000 action game. In the past we’ve had mostly RTS’ and a foray into FPS territory which was met with mixed feelings, so I went into this game with mixed feelings – an action game set in the 41st millennium was something that was highly anticipated, but I could not help but wonder how effective the execution would be. But I was optimistic – THQ has a good track record of Games Workshop licensed games after all.
Story and Characters
The game’s single player campaign follows the exploits of Captain Titus of the 2nd Company of the Ultramarines. Which confused me since according to canon the current captain is Sicarus. So it’s set in canon history, fair enough. Titus is accompanied into combat by only two marines from his command squad: Sidonus, the gruff veteran; and Leandros, the most recently promoted member of the squad.
Ok, as a 40k fan, a Space Marine command squad is far larger than just three members. Which would have given us a wider range of characters. Instead we get the grizzled veteran, the fresh recruit (well relatively speaking) and the player character who falls between the two extremes of military stereotype. There’s nothing wrong with that of course – it’s just so basic and the characters aren’t developed much further than that.
The Ultramarines have been dispatched to Graia, an Imperial Forgeworld, essentially a planet of nothing but factories, to prevent the invading forces from seizing great war machines known as Titans. On the planet they swiftly encounter two other Imperial servants of note: 2nd Lieutenant Mira of the 203rd Cadian, and Inquisitor Drogan of the Ordo Xenos. Now these two characters are much more interesting, with Lieutenant Mira being a mere normal human in this horrific galaxy, and Drogan being part of the shadowy organization that casually wipes out entire planets without batting an eyelid.
Though in the main story these characters get little development, you can discover more about them (and the setting itself) by collecting servo skulls, which contain recorded messages. Though at first they seem fairly standard fare and most involve characters you never actually meet in-game (one set revolves around a pair of workers as they hear rumors of the invasion and then how they deal with it) they all eventually end up showing you just how grim this setting is.
This game is a third person action shooter, meaning you switch between ranged and melee combat on the fly, causing as much damage to the enemies of the Imperium as possible. Combat is nothing less than simple joy. Whilst there are only four or five combos per melee weapon, their visuals and ease of linking together with each other and ranged attacks more than makes up for it. As advertised, this isn’t your normal shooter. You tap square you hit someone with a melee attack, tap R1 and you shoot. You use the d-pad to switch between four ranged weapons, one of which is
your pistol, the second the bolter, and the other two you can equip however you want if you can find the gun you want.
You can’t take cover, since cover is for the weak! Instead, you are encouraged to charge headfirst into the enemy and annihilate them. Whilst your armor regenerates, your health does not, and there are no health packs. Instead you are expected to brutally execute your enemies, which is always a gory event, but it does make a nice change from other games – the lack of healing items makes it less like an action game, but the lack of regenerating health and cover makes it less like a shooter. Some enemies need to be stunned before you can execute them, and the kill animation can sometimes take a while, and since you are not invulnerable when performing executions, you can die before you are able to heal. Of course this is a minor issue, since most of the time you’ll shoot down most of your opponents and then leave a couple to execute.
Multiplayer has two main modes of play: a territory capture and a deathmatch mode. Both modes are team based, split between Imperial and Chaos forces. In Capture, your team has to gain control of three territories, all of which generate points. Once you have a certain number, you win. Of course, the opposing team is trying to do the same thing. Deathmatch is simple two teams trying to be the first to kill 41 opponenets. Both modes share the same maps, Health regenerates since according to the developers, executions would just have made people into easy targets, which is true. There is no co-op mode, however a free DLC called Exterminatus adds this feature in, so there’s a way to kill your foes with your friends!
Graphics and Sound
The music for this game was scored by Crhis Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan, whose credits include the God of War games, Starcraft 2, and Borderlands. Whilst you won’t notice the music that often, being busy with combat or marveling at the environment, it is very good when you take the time to listen to it, an epic score worthy of your time as a space marine.
As for the sound effects – they are on the same level of quality as the rest of the game: very high. Your enemies all have distinct vocals and sounds, from the throaty growl of bomb squigs to the cold malice of the Chaos Marines. The guns sounds heavy and devastating, as is proper, and there is something satisfying about the sound of your chainsword. It all comes together to enhance the game, the little details adding to the experience.
Whilst this game is fun, and the attention to detail is nothing less than fanservice, the single player campaign is just too short – I managed to finish it in eight hours on normal difficulty. Multiplayer provides more content, with a leveling system which gives you access to more weapons, and challenges which let you unlock more armor pieces to customize your marines. However, this system has a loophole of sorts – when you are killed by another player, you can immediately copy their load out for your next spawn.
The story also seems rushed in places- the inclusion of the Chaos forces for example is rather sudden, and I feel it could have been handled a bit better than it was. Nevertheless, DLC such as Exterminatus seem liable to lengthen the game’s lifespan, and so in conclusion: this is a great 40k action game. It looks brilliant, it plays easily, and is filled with little details that show how respectful THQ is of the license.