Space Marine (PS3) Review

Overview

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.

Gameplay

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

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.

Conclusion

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.

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The Anvil of Innovation

What follows is a breakdown of my team for an upcoming campaign of Inquisitor run by a friend of mine we shall dub Valnir. It is set aboard a space hulk known as the Sin of Logic, being thoroughly investigated by Imperial forces to ascertain the exact threat it poses to nearby systems. Expecting a few renegades and aliens, they are completely unprepared for what they find: a hundred factions aboard the vessel battling each other, trying to gain the upper hand and finally seize control of the hulk.

One of these factions is the Forge of Logic, the domain of Warpsmith Kobol. Details are sketchy at best, but recently there was an accident at one of the minor forges in his domain. An Adept was blamed for being lax in his duties, and rather than face his punishment, he fled with a few followers. This adept was named Sark, and he haunts the hallways of the Sin of Logic still…

Warpsmith Adept Sark (398pts)

WS: 83  BS: 80  S: 210 without armor, otherwise 252  T: 155  I: 88  Wp: 80  Sg: 85  Nv: 96  Ld: 80

Special Abilities: Ambidextrous, Nerves of Steel, Spit Acid, Marine Awareness, Leader, Gunfighter, Fast Draw.

Equipment: Pre-Heresy Power Armour (mkIII), Power Armour Helmet (incorporating Auto-senses [advanced eyes & ears]; Range-finder gunsight & Infrascope; Bio-scanner Auspex [Arm 8]), Servo-Arm (MIU – Advanced Bionic Arm [Str 70] with implant Power Fist [Reach 2]), Bolter (belt feed), 2 Inferno Pistol Digital Weapons, 2 Knives, 2 Bolt Pistols (loaded with Kraken rounds), Mechandendrites.

Details: Sark was always somewhat of an eccnetric within his forge, though one readily welcomed. Warpsmith Kobol is a firm believer in new approaches and experimentation, though always with an eye on safety. In a space hulk, one must be careful with their tampering. Space is at a premium, so precious little can be lost to errant technologies ripping apart reality or flooding corridors. So when one of Sark’s latest ideas went haywire and blew up a foundry, the Adept fled before judgement could fall upon him. He know has set up his own small forge in a forgotten part of the hulk, and continues his experiments, determined to earn his place back in the Forge with something truly extraordinary.

Garrus of the Bonewalkers (269 pts)

WS: 72  BS: 56  S: 65  T: 71  I: 78  Wp: 68  Sg: 56  Nv: 90  Ld: 71

Special Abilities: Blademaster, Acrobatic, Furious Assault, Hunger, Catfall, First Strike, Stealth.

Equipment: Laspistol, Revolver, 10 Throwing Knives, 5 Bolas, Crossbow (with 3 reloads), Kroot Long Rifle (incorporating Range-finder, Infrascope & a Motion Tracker gunsights), 2 Knives, 2 Smoke Grenades, Reflective Mesh Armour (all locations), Gas Mask.

Details: The Bonewalkers are a Kroot Warband that originally hails from the Koronus Expanse, before being lost amidst the nightmare that is the Screaming Vortex where Kobol found them. They proved themselves adept at navigating and mapping out parts of the hulk for the Warpsmith, making him truly the master of his small domain, with every last part heavily guarded and trapped against potential intruders. Garrus was named in honor of the leader of the Bonewalkers, a shaper called Garruk. During Sark’s escape from the Forge, he hired Garrus as a guide to the deep, secret places in between the mapped corridors.

Servitor Theta-8H (192 pts)

WS: 59  BS: 26  S: 140  T: 83  I: 43  Wp: 94  Sg: 13  Nv: 170  Ld: 22

Special Abilities: Ambidextrous, Furious Assault, Fearsome, Force of Will.

Equipment: 2 Advanced Bionic Arms [Str 70] with implant Chainsword, Combat Stimm Injector (with 50 doses of each of the following: ‘Slaught, Reflex, Spook & Spur), Bionic Head [Armour 5], Flak Robe (chest, abdomen, groin & legs)

Details: Many Imperial and Mechanicus ships carry murder servitors to deal with boarding actions. It is of no surprise then that the Forge of Logic was able to find caches of the lethal machines in the space hulk, reprogramming them for their own use. Many were f inferior quality, utilizing many biological parts, being barely true servitors at all. Still, each warpsmith has his own batch to act as his guardians. Sark only managed to bring along one servitor from his group in the confusion of the destroyed foundry.

Karl Jaeger (139 pts)

WS: 72  BS: 59  S: 56  T: 53  I: 54  Wp: 63  Sg: 62  Nv: 72  Ld: 59

Special Abilities: Medic.

Equipment: Autogun, Autopistol, Knife, Flak Armour (all locations, except head), Open Helm, Gas Mask, Auspex (Bio-Scanner), Medipack, Advanced Bionic Lungs, 1 Hallucinogen Gas Grenade, 1 Bloodfire Gas Grenade.

Details: Karl comes from the small human settlement aboard the Sin of Logic, formed from a crashed Rogue Trader vessel that strayed too close to the hulk. Life was hard but the humans endured. Now they live under the protection of the Forge, in return providing it with a tithe of workers and soldiers to aid the Warpsmith’s schemes.

An Issue of Faith: A Critical Perspective on Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s “The First Heretic”

First published in 2010, The First Heretic is Book 14 in the Horus Heresy Series. One of the best selling series’ published by Black Library, the Horus Heresy is a science fiction epic of galactic scale, dealing with a civil war that tears apart the human Imperium. This war provides the backdrop for stories exploring the notion of loyalty, betrayal, brotherhood and duty.

The First Heretic deals with such issues in a much more contained way than other books in the series. The main plot of the novel follows the experiences of the Word Bearers Legion of the Adeptus Astartes – an army of superhuman warriors bioengineered by the Emperor of Mankind with the goal of conquering the galaxy. Yet they are more than mere tools of war, and this is exemplified in the characters Argel Tal and Lorgar, Primarch of the Legion, “the one soul in twenty who’d never wished to be a soldier.”

The novel primarily deals with the core notion of faith and it’s importance in society, even opening with a quote from Niccolò Machiavelli – that “There is no surer sign of decay in a country than to see the rites of religion held in contempt.”In the setting of the book, where religion is outlawed as superstition and science is viewed as infallible, this quote seems somewhat apt in it’s surface meaning, with the Imperium of Man being a xenophobic organization that does not even attempt diplomacy with other species, immediately moving to genocide and slaughter. Almost a definitive fascist regime, and one full of hypocrisy – the Emperor of Mankind is viewed by many as a god, being an ageless being, a powerful warlord and sorcerer. Yet he continually refuses to adopt the mantle of godhood, to become an icon or beacon for his people. Throughout the novels, religion is derided as the tool of despots and those seeking to subvert meaning, and not once are any positive aspects mentioned in character (such as unity and a sense of belonging).

This is portrayed in Lorgar, an openly religious servant and son of the Emperor, who is reprimanded by his father for his beliefs and left “looking for something else to worship.” The search for meaning and purpose, to reaffirm their faith, is what leads Lorgar and his soldiers to fall, much in the way of Lucifer in Paradise Lost. Both are eminent in the eyes of their father figures, and both feel slighted by the reprimand they receive. This is what drives them to rebel, and accept the ideology of “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.” Yet whilst Lorgar is quite Luciferian in his quest for meaning, treading a road to damnation in a pilgrimage to what essentially passes for Hell in the setting, his faith is never twisted wholly beyond recognition. His need to be loyal to a greater cause is fulfilled by dark beings which revel in his attentions, and proceed to show him another perspective of the galaxy as opposed to the one he grew up with.

Though Lorgar is the grand architect in his fall from grace, it is Argel Tal who provides a more personal insight into the struggles of faith. Having been chosen from war at a young age (through flashbacks we learn that he underwent the extensive biosurgery to become a supersoldier as “a boy still shy of his eleventh birthday”) he has followed the teachings of Lorgar, taking comfort in being something greater than himself, a holy crusade to elevate humanity to a dominant position in the galaxy. But when he and his brothers in arms are forced to question their beliefs after being humiliated by the Emperor, “you see them make mistake after mistake in an attempt to belong to something,”a feeling that many people can relate to.

That the Emperor subverts their own beliefs is merely the final straw that makes Lorgar Legion turn away from the supposed enlightenment of the Imperium. As part of their chastisement, he forces them to kneel with his sorcery – “This was not fealty, not worship, not service. This was slavery” reveals Argel Tal as the truth of the Imperium is revealed to him – obedience to the Emperor’s decrees regardless of will or idea, or even interpretation. This casting aside of their beliefs makes Lorgar and his warriros question their fealty and faith – why worship a god who does not reward their loyalty to him? Such a questioning of their core beliefs mirrors the ideas put forward by Percy Bysshe Shelley in The Necessity of Atheism:

“If he is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him?
If he is infinitely wise, why should we have doubts concerning our future?
If he knows all, why warn him of our needs and fatigue him with our prayers?
If he is everywhere, why erect temples to him?
If he is just, why fear that he will punish the creatures that he has filled with weaknesses?”

Of course, it is often argued how there are many other things one can place their faith in, not just some spiritual being – like an ideal. The First Heretic pre-empts these points by pointing out how divided Lorgar’s family is, and how different each of the brothers are from one another. Whereas one could normally seek solace and support from such relations, Lorgar and his kin are meant to be above such things, the children of an embodied god. Being more a scholar than soldier, to exist beyond his nature, is what results in Lorgar being something of an outcast among his kin, who are all tacticians, warrior-kings and conquerors. His approach to his position in life is almost Machiavellian, following the tenants outlined in The Prince surprisingly closely.

Departing on a great pilgrimage, he finds an alternate truth to that offered by the Emperor, but does not immediately reveal it – after all, “all armed prophets succeed whereas unarmed ones fail.” The character of Argel Tal sets up Lorgar as an armed prophet when he says “…we are a populous Legion, and our conquests are many, with many more to come. Much of the Imperium’s border worlds will answer to the warriors of Aurelian first, and the Emperor second.”This shows the recognition that faith alone is not enough – simply showing someone a truth will not make them accept it. Again, such reasoning is an echo of Machiavelli’s writings:

“it should be realized that taking the initiative in introducing a new form of government is very difficult and dangerous, and unlikely to succeed. The reason is that all those who profit from the old order will be opposed to the innovator, whereas all those who might benefit from the new order are, at best, tepid supporters of him.”

Whilst faith empowers us, it is recognized more as a motivator than actual power, a far cry from the means to an end that many wish it to be. It still takes Lorgar decades to set in motion events to allow him to begin bringing the truth of the universe to the populace of the Imperium. The truth that there are actual gods, and an afterlife, unlike the Emperor claims – in fact, the Emperor himself made pacts with such forces to create his sons. When confronted by this revelation in a vision, Argel Tal cannot help but laugh at the irony:

“The Emperor that denies all forms of divinity shaped his own sons with the blessings of forgotten gods. Prayers and sorcery are written upon their gestation pods. This is the most glorious madness.”

However it is still important to note that whilst gods do exist in this setting, they are the sentient, coalesced forms of emotions – rage, hope, despair and pleasure at their most basic. This is an interesting play on the usual role of religion in society, to restrain our base desires rather than encourage us to indulge in them. Throughout the novel, the pantheon and their message are referred to as the “Primordial Truth”, reaffirming their ties with the baser natures of man than any actual enlightenment. Progression is regression could be considered their creed.

In addition to this, the theme of sacrifice is also continually raised in the book – the sacrifice of Lorgar’s faith in his father, his dreams of being something more than a warrior, as well as the very nature of his Legion – young children trained from a pre-pubescent age to be fearless killers, with extra organs and rewritten genetic code to make them capable of things far beyond a normal human. When confronted near the end of the novel by the Emperor’s loyalists, pointing out the monstrosity he has become by communing with elder gods and allowing daemons to possess him, Argel Tal only has this retort:

We. Were. Never. Human. We were taken from our families to fight the Forever War in the name of a thousand lies. Do you believe this truth is easy to bear? Look at us. Look at us! Humanity will embrace the gods, or humanity will embrace oblivion.”

A clear declaration of his beliefs, though it also portrays the misgivings Argel Tal has about his duty. His body is twisted and malformed by the entity sharing his body, and he knows he and his brothers are now monsters in every sense of the word. Still, he accepts his role, viewing himself akin to a martyr, suffering for the benefit of others. He knows that it is an unfortunate truth to teach, but he stays loyal to his ideals, those of revealing the truth no matter how inconvenient or difficult it may prove. However, Argel Tal believes in the vision of Lorgar for humanity, ascension and eminence in the galaxy, a prize worth the hardships they shall endure. Again, this is a reference to Paradise Lost, specifically the lines “Long is the way/ And hard, that out of Hell leads up to Light.”

Which leads to the crux of the issue at the heart of The False Heretic – not only the question regarding the necessity of faith and enlightenment, but the costs associated with it. The faith that the sons of Lorgar embrace, the truth at the end of the universe, is one which demands sacrifice – literal sacrifice of lives, made more potent by suffering. Even Argel Tal, a possessed, feels violated, and yet is told numerous times that he is enlightened, and special for being the first to accept the truth the gods have shown. Strangely, The First Heretic deals with religion in a rather roundabout way – the Imperium without it is ignorant and united by hate of anything alien, whilst those with faith in the Primordial Truth act on their base instincts, sowing chaos and destruction in their wake. There is no attempt to make religion seem like a force for good.

However, faith is not restricted to religion – it is, after all, reliant upon an idea. The fall of Lorgar, with it’s Luciferian undertones, is continually portrayed as a tragedy, his focus on finding greater meaning blinding him to the strength of having faith in himself and others. The novel portrays the strength one can have from faith through the character of Aquillon, one of the Emperor’s own bodyguard, his Custodians, tasked with keeping an eye on Lorgar and his Legion, to ensue that they do not slip into religious practice one more. Whilst openly hostile to religion, he draws strength from his friendship with his other Custodians and Argel Tal, placing his faith in them every time he enters combat. Whilst the militaristic setting limits the author from playing too much with the notion of faith, he makes it work within the confines of the setting. Indeed, a small detail that could easily be overlooked is the novel’s way of portraying how religion can unify – the relationship between Argel Tal, a captain in a Legion of bioengineered killers, and Cyrene Valantion, a normal human who takes on the role of his confessor.

Faith is a complicated issue, and The First Heretic exemplifies this. Not only are great things done in it’s name, but it is used to damn those with the noblest intentions. Ultimately, it is a balanced approach that is arguably the best, as both extremes (the lack of faith shown by the Imperium, and the active search for something to believe in on the part of Lorgar, Argel and the Word Bearers Legion) are shown to result in ruin, whereas the simple faith in others (the bonds of brotherhood and trust) is shown as the noblest.