The Warhammer 40,000 universe has an incredibly dedicated cult following. While it may not be as recognizable as some, there are a lot of Warhammer fans, and the universe has been crafted and detailed to an amazing degree by creators and fans. Unsurprisingly, this includes a fair number of Warhammer 40K games, most of which have been strategy titles that focused on large-scale battles instead of individual units. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine aims to change that by putting you in the shoes of one of the biggest and baddest people in the Warhammer universe: a Space Marine.
The game is set in the grim dark universe of Warhammer 40K, and the player is cast as Captain Titus, one of the Space Marines of the human empire. He is the leader of a squadron called the Ultramarines and is sent to an out-of-the-way Forge World to quell an Ork invasion and secure several important Titan-class war machines.
If none of that makes sense to you, don't expect the game to hold your hand.
Space Marine is a game made by Warhammer fans for Warhammer fans. While newcomers can easily follow the plot, it won't be a lot of fun for those who don't like Warhammer. The characters and story are archetypal and dull, respectively, and the game ends on a cliffhanger that seems like an early pitch for the inevitable sequel.
Space Marine gives you access to a large arsenal of Warhammer 40K-inspired weapons and tools, such as the Bolter, Lasgun and Vengeance Launcher. Despite their exotic names, the weapons mostly follow the traditional third-person shooter weapon lineup. You've got a pistol, shotgun, sticky launcher, submachine gun, etc. They're very functional and easy to use, but there's relatively little encouragement to vary your weapon selection. In addition to your pistol and submachine gun, you can hold two different weapons at a time. You can only find new weapons at designated points in the mission, and usually the game will give you the best guns for the upcoming situation. You can hold on to your Vengeance Launcher if you want, but if the game is throwing a Lasgun at you, it's probably because you're about to enter a sniper segment.
In addition to your guns, your Space Marine also has access to a few different melee weapons. Although you begin the game with a combat knife, you quickly upgrade to a Chainsword, which is basically a chainsaw combined with a sword. There are three different melee weapons in the game: Chainsword, Power Axe and Thunder Hammer. Functionally, they're almost identical except for differences in speed and power. In melee combat, you have two different attack buttons. The Square button initiates an attack on an enemy, and mashing the button turns the attack into a combo for more damage. The Triangle button makes your Space Marine stun an enemy. You can also press Stun during a Square-button combo to hit multiple enemies at once. A dizzied enemy won't attack for a short while and can also be executed with the Circle button. This instantly kills them and refills your health bar.
What melee combat comes down to is pounding on enemies until your shield runs out and then performing executions to keep up your health. Early in the game, it is rather satisfying, but as the game progresses, melee becomes less viable. The combat is simplistic but brutal and visceral, and the encouragement to use executions to refill your health keeps you in the fight. However, once you face enemies that hit harder or focus on long-distance combos, melee combat becomes a liability. You see, when you activate an execution animation, your Space Marine remains vulnerable for the duration of the animation and doesn't get his health back until the animation completes. At that point, you are a sitting duck and are pretty much helpless. Since the melee system is the most interesting part of the game, it is really disappointing that it ends up being so neglected.
The big difference between your Space Marine and the protagonists of, say, Gears of War is that you're an unkillable death machine. There's no cover system in the game because you don't need one. You have a massive health bar that's incredibly difficult to drain. To begin with, you have a Halo-style shield, so when you take damage, the shield is drained. Unlike Halo, it takes an exceptional amount of damage to take down your shield. You can wade into enemy fire and emerge practically unscathed. Only missiles, explosives or powerful melee attacks can significantly harm your shield. Even then, remain out of the line of fire for only a few seconds, and you're back in the game. Should your shield drain, you begin to take damage to your health bar, which doesn't regenerate naturally, but you can refill it quite easily by performing an execution on a stunned enemy. Executions refill over half your health bar, so it takes two at most to be back at full health.
As if that weren't enough, you'll also gain access to Fury mode. As you deal and take damage, your Fury bar fills up. Once it is full, you can activate Fury mode by pressing the L3 and R3 buttons at the same time. While in Fury mode, you regenerate health at an insane rate, and your attacks do more damage. You're not quite invincible, but it's close enough. Initially, the Fury bar fills up rather slowly, but you'll eventually get an upgrade that allows you to fill it once or twice every major fight.
On the one hand, it's pretty neat to feel like you're the biggest and baddest guy on the planet. On the other hand, it gets a little dull after a while. Your protagonist begins stronger than everything around him and continues to get stronger with upgrades. By the end of the game, I only felt that a few minibosses were even a threat. I could wade into any fight and emerge victorious. It's satisfying from a power fantasy level, but it isn't much fun from a gameplay perspective. When you feel like a bully beating up helpless foes, things start to lose their luster.
Repetition is Space Marine's biggest problem. The early parts of the game are exciting and fun, but you realize that things aren't going to change. You continue to tear through the same endless waves of Orks, with minimal to no variation in the enemies or levels. There are no exciting setpieces and no interesting areas — just swarm after swarm of Orks. About midway through the game, the Orks are replaced by the forces of Chaos. For a short while, these foes liven up things before they, too, become rote and boring. There are a handful of bosses, but none stand out as being interesting. Instead of an epic battle, the final boss is basically a glorified Quick Time Event with completely different mechanics from the rest of the game. It's the only fight in the game that uses QTEs, and it's extremely disappointing that the final boss falls into the trap of basically being a cut scene.
The shining moments of the game are when you get the jump pack, which allows you to jump into the air and jet around for a brief period. It adds a new layer to combat by allowing you to approach enemies from above and power-dive down or snipe them from the air. Unfortunately, there are only three such segments in the game, and each is incredibly short. If the game consisted of a greater number of diverse segments like this, the experience would've stayed fresh a lot longer.
In addition to the single-player game mode, Space Marine also offers an online mode where players can choose either Space Marines or Chaos Space Marines and battle to the death. There is a mode where two teams battle for the most kills, and there's an objective-capture mode called Seize Ground. You can pick a Marine of one of three classes: the default Space Marine, a heavy armored sniper class and a speedy class equipped with a jump pack. Like most multiplayer modes in this day and age, the game has persistent leveling. You earn experience by slaying enemies, and you unlock new weapons and perks by doing so.
The big problem with multiplayer in Space Marine is that, as of the time of this writing, it is almost impossible to play. An error in the PlayStation 3 version has all but neutered the matchmaking system. Attempting to get into multiplayer can result in wait times of 35 minutes or more just for the chance to get into a match. While private games are not influenced by this, it dramatically harms the title's multiplayer and replay value. While a patch is supposedly coming, anyone interested in Space Marine for its multiplayer would be better off picking it up on the Xbox 360 if possible. As it stands, it's hard to imagine that much of a community will spring up for the game when multiplayer remains broken over two weeks after launch.
Space Marine is an oddly bland-looking game. For a universe with such a tremendous mythos to draw upon, the environments are extremely humdrum and interchangeable with almost any game on the market. There are a few sequences with some nice design, but that's the exception rather than the rule. The enemy design is much the same; with the exception of a few main characters, everyone else is an interchangeable Ork, Imperial Guard or Chaos Space Marine. Since there is so little variety in enemies, you'll grow bored of seeing the same foes again and again. One of the big appeals of the Warhammer 40K universe is the ability to customize your models to be distinct, so it's disappointing that the enemies basically look the same. The soundtrack is rather uninspired, and the voice acting mostly lackluster. The Orks, one of the Warhammer races best known for their personalities and attitude, manage to come across as dull.
Warhammer 40K: Space Marine's story line is repetitive and unappealing — to the point that the game somehow manages to be both extremely short and entirely too long at the same time. While Warhammer fans will have fun with a lot of the universe's callbacks, anyone else would be better off playing another game. The multiplayer could have been the saving grace, but since it remains broken over two weeks after release, it becomes an encouragement to buy the game on another system. There is fun to be had in Space Marine, but not on the PS3. Unless you don't have a choice, buy it for the Xbox 360 or PC. Should the multiplayer be patched, feel free to add another point or two to the score, but until then, Space Marine is a rental at best.
More articles about Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine