Space Marine is set well into the future (around the year 40,000 to be exact) and at this time there is only war. Humanity is battling for survival against multiple alien races and the war effort is not going well. When a Warlord Class Titan (a massive mech) with Ďabsoluteí strategic value is discovered on the planet Graia the Space Marines are sent in to recover it.
Space Marine, also known as ĎUltramarinesí, are the pinnacle of human warfare evolution. They are elite soldiers who have been subjected to extensive genetic engineering and years of training. They stand seven feet tall, are encased in huge, nearly indestructible armour and weigh in at a hefty seven-hundred pounds. In other words they are a welcome sight for the regular soldiers on Graia and a nasty sight for the Orks theyíre fighting against.
During the game you play as Captain Titus, leader of the three-man Space Marine squad sent to Graia. Accompanying you are Veteran Sergeant Sidonus and Veteran Leandros who are AI-controlled whenever they are with you. Your mission is simple Ė locate and recover the Titan. Unfortunately there are thousands of Orks standing between you and your objective.
The thunder hammer is clearly the most powerful melee weapon in the game but when youíre wielding it you lose access to all ranged weapons except the assault weapons. These are perfectly serviceable most of the time, but there are times where youíll wish you could bust out the stronger guns. Itís good to see a trade-off like this as it makes you actively choose which melee weapon you want to use, rather than letting you go with the strongest one throughout.
The ranged weaponry includes standard assault weapons, heavy assault weapons, plasma guns (including plasma cannon), a couple of sniper rifles, the Meltagun which seems to melt/explode enemies with each shot and the Vengeance Launcher which fires up to five sticky explosives that can be detonated at your leisure.
You can change between ranged and melee weapons with the press of a button which makes the transition next to seamless. The square button does standard melee attacks, while triangle is a heavy attack that can stun enemies. Early enemies can be stunned straight up with triangle, but stronger enemies wonít be stunned unless youíve chained a couple of regular attacks first. Stunning is an important tactical move because a stunned enemy can be executed (by hitting circle) which is one of only two ways to recover health in the game. Youíre vulnerable to attack during executions, so you have to time them well to avoid major damage.
As you progress through the game youíll earn the Fury ability which replenishes your health as well as making your attacks more powerful. The Fury meter builds up with each attack or kill you make meaning itís never too far away from being available. Aside from executions the Fury meter is the only way you can recover health in the game, which gives it a strategic element. Do you use it any time you stumble into a group of enemies, or do you save it for when youíre low on health? You do have a shield which recovers strength if you go a short while without being hit, but health is a much bigger concern because once itís used up youíre dead.
The game does a solid job of upgrading both your skills and your weapons. You donít have access to all the best weapons at the start of the game, but as you make your way through the first few levels youíll come across upgrades. The Fury skill is also upgraded making it faster to build up and slower to drain when in use. You also gain access to a jump pack occasionally (too occasionally if you ask me) which enables you to make huge leaps both across and up environments. The jump attack you can do with the jump pack equipped is very strong, wiping out or stunning all but the toughest enemies with a single blow.
Enemies arenít the brightest Ė most will charge at you regardless of the pounding they take Ė but the variety and their placement can make for plenty of hard battles. To go along with the strategy-deficient melee Orks there are Bomb Squigs, which look vaguely like dogs with bombs attached to their backs. If you try to take them out with melee weapons youíll take big damage from the resulting explosion. So youíll have to switch between melee and ranged weapons often, thereby ensuring they explode at a safe distance.
Space Marine features a couple of online modes Ė Seize Ground and Annihilation. In Seize Ground you need to capture and hold control points located around the map. You earn points for every few seconds you hold control points and the first to one thousand points wins. Annihilation is a team death-match and the first team to forty-one kills wins the round.
You earn experience by capturing and defending control points as well as a variety of different kill methods. Kill streaks, assists, kills from long range, killing people in the air, killing people from the air, avenging a recent team-mates death or saving them from death all earn you bonus XP. You gain access to better weapons and loadouts as you go up levels which puts low-level characters at a disadvantage until the level up. Whenever you die in either mode you get the option to copy the loadout of the person who killed you. This is a fun way to get temporary access to weapons and loadouts you may not unlocked already.
Despite the XP system I wasnít particularly impressed with the online offering here. The maps arenít very creative and with just two modes to play youíre likely to get bored quickly. A couple of the games I played were plagued by lag, with characters morphing across the screen every couple of seconds. Basically I see the online offering as something that will add a couple of hours to the game, but itís clearly not a match for some of the bigger shooters out there.
The story, which makes lofty Hollywood blockbuster comparisons in the game booklet, is actually rather mundane. The twists and turns, such as they are, are hardly unexpected and are certainly nothing new. The voice-acting also makes it hard to get involved in the characters. Part of this can be attributed to the low-volume at which they deliver their lines, but their lack of passion or excitement is also a factor. This is not the voice-actors fault as I believe Space Marines are supposed to be unexcitable, but it makes for a dull tale.
And lastly, the environments themselves do little to inspire you. Youíll have your fill of grey, brown and black long before the game comes to its conclusion. Itís a shame so much of the game takes place inside dark buildings because the lack of diversity really does affect your enjoyment after a while.
Graphically the game definitely suffers from a lack of colour or variety in the environments. As mentioned above a large portion (maybe three quarters) of the game takes place indoors and black, brown and grey are used to excess. The Space Marines look great and will make you think of the painted miniatures you see in Games Workshop stores as you walk past. Enemies too have the odd splash of colour that make them stand out against such drab backdrops. Thereís not a great deal of variety in enemy appearance (at least not until later in the game) as theyíre all Orks, just wearing different armour. One plus is the size of the levels which is very impressive.
Overall Warhammer 40,000: Space Marines is a decent, but not outstanding game. The strength of the game is its combat and youíll never have to go far to be engaged by huge groups of enemies. Flicking between melee and ranged weapons is fun, and some of the tactical decisions about which weapon to use, and when to use executions and Fury to recover health add some strategy to the mix. The online offering is extremely limited (just two modes) but whatís there is decent enough. Where the game struggles most is in its story, characters and bland environments, none of which will inspire you as you play. If you like Warhammer and shooting games, or just havenít had your fill of shooting games yet, thereís plenty here to enjoy. Itís not the best shooter on the market but itís a competent and reasonably enjoyable title.
Review By: Mike Allison