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Posted on Sep 15, 2011 in Electronic Games

Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine – PC Game Review

By Lloyd Sabin

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. PC Game Review. Publisher: THQ: Developer: Relic. $39.99

Passed Inspection: Faithful reproduction of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Great action. An immersive plot and gameplay that gets deeper and improves with time.

Failed Basic: Console roots are glaringly obvious. PC FPS polish is lacking: linear gameplay, imprecise firing reticules, delayed responses in movement, no map editor or dedicated server support.

First, Let Me Get a Few Things Off My Chest

Let me say this upfront: the Warhammer 40000 (WH40K) universe is new to me. The writing talent of Dan Abnett, the treachery of Horus, and the wonder of a Warlord-class Titan purging its enemies: all new. Forge worlds, Space Wolves (and Hulks) and Orks of all varieties: new, new, new. It’s been a universe I have admired as an outsider for a long time, and I’ve always enjoyed looking at the miniature model making skill of experienced, long-time fans, but I have not had the opportunity until now to enter it myself. So, WH40K: Space Marine, the just-released shooter from long-time developer/publisher team Relic and THQ, is my gateway drug. And like Huey Lewis and the News, I want a new drug that does what it should.

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Like coining bad musical puns, I normally don’t play shooters either. Generally, I consider my First Person Shooter (FPS) days behind me…I’m not getting any younger. The last memorable shooter that I played was the original Gears of War on the PC and to be honest: I loved it! The level design, the adrenaline-drenched action, the awesome enemies…Gears of War was just a non-stop festival of digitized violence and I loved every minute of it. It was a great way to let off some steam after a crappy day at work, a long commute, and an argument with The Wife. I was hoping for the same thing with Space Marine, only this time with a tremendous amount of lore backing up the action.

This may be one of the most beautiful ugly worlds I’ve seen in a game.

Prepare Thyself

Space Marine does not beat around the bush: almost immediately the player is thrown into the thick of WH40K–style combat, and alone at that. Taking the role of Captain Titus of the Ultramarines, the player is given some simple background info about an ongoing siege of an industrial forge world, its strategic importance, and a basic job: kill everything that is keeping this planet from its rightful human owners. With that mission in mind, the player sets off to liberate the planet before it is totally laid waste by a million-ork army bent on insane destruction. Along the way the player will meet a few additional AI team mates and a couple of non-player characters that help move the story along. Nothing too taxing on the brain here at all, yet.

Once you advance a chapter or two into the game, you may discover something about yourself. You may learn that you absolutely love blood-splashed, limb-covered melee and ranged combat. And at the same time you may learn that it can get exhausting after an hour or so—it did for me. That’s not a negative either: the action in WH40K Space Marine is really intense at some points: don’t be surprised if you need a break after playing for an hour or so. Also, blood and guts is everywhere in this a game and it deserves its Mature rating; it is not intended for young children or for players with a weak stomach. That said, the violence is part of the allure. After all, it’s not humans the player is blasting and tearing apart, its orks. And they deserve it. The player is trying to save humanity, but the violence can really build up.

Tools of the Trade

I spy…an Autocannon! There are some canonical aberations in the game (canonical Autocannons?). Technically this goes on vehicles or is crew-served, but who cares?

The player starts out in WH40K Space Marine with a simple bolter pistol and a power sword, but leveling up comes quickly. Soon Captain Titus and his mates will be outfitted with heavier firepower including heavy bolters, scoped sniper bolters, grenades, and other more specialized anti-ork weapons like the infamous Space Marine chainsword. I have to admit I loved using the chainsword: eviscerating dozens of orks while their blood and bits fly all over the battlefield is extremely satisfying, every time, and I always looked forward to a chance to use it. Each of the weapons is modeled well and they behaved with kick and satisfying audio, exactly how I thought they should. Titus’ and the other Marines’ armor is also modeled well, feeling appropriately heavy and substantial as the player moves across the game world. Perks can also be picked up as Titus advances, including expert marksmen skills and other improved combat abilities.

WH40K Space Marine also encourages melee combat by using console-inspired gameplay: combo attacks such as stunning an opponent and then executing him, which in turn boosts the player’s health meter. ‘Fury’ mode is also an option, where the player initiates a berserker-like state in Titus and he can rip through a mass of attacking enemies. Fury mode lasts only a short period of time and requires both a build-up and cool down period, but it’s also satisfying in crowd control, and can boost health as if all the carnage weren’t incentive enough. Couple Fury mode with the chainsword and you have the makings a happily homicidal hoe-down.

Also available as an option in a few chapters is the jump-pack, which lets Titus rocket high into the air and then slam his armored body into the ground, doing wide area-of-effect damage. It was hard for me not to enjoy the jump-pack, even if I wasn’t particularly good at using it.

More picturesque real-estate I’d love to own.

Paint Me a World

All the bloodletting in WH40K Space Marine is effectively rendered, but not particularly fantastic. The main protagonists look fine as do the ork enemies and human allies like the Imperial Guard. Where the game really shines is in the environments: sci-fi Gothic is what players get here. For longtime WH40K fans, it should feel effective and appropriate. For a newbie like me, both the indoor and outdoor environments got my jaw dropping. After mopping up several levels, I took a breather and enjoyed exploring particularly well produced battlefield environments, moody ruins and impressive architecture. Even though the majority of the WH40K Space Marine world is destroyed, much of it is hauntingly beautiful.

This, however, does not mean the gameplay is open-ended: it absolutely is not. Players can explore levels to an extent but missions must be completed within a specific order. The game is “on rails” as it were, and as the game progresses access on the map is locked off. Most action games on the PC departed this type of map construction years ago, and it’s here that Space Marine’s console roots show most glaringly. If linear games turn you off, you may not enjoy WH40K Space Marine. I didn’t mind the linear plot because the sheer violence, compelling plot, and rich atmosphere kept me satisfied. Other players who like more open-ended gameplay may find it too constrictive.

Multiplayer is relatively simple, with just a few maps and two types of games available currently: domination and team deathmatch. The shining beacons of light for multiplayer right now are the ability to customize their online avatars, and with experience players can unlock more powerful perks and weapons, which can turn an average player into one much more capable of dealing out damage. Again, the console roots show through – success in multiplayer has less to do with personal skill, a fast internet connection, and sizzling gaming rig; it has much more to do with grinding levels, unlocking perks, and selecting them appropriately.  At mid-level (around 20 or so) players begin to unlock particularly powerful perks that make it easier to to be successful, though personal skill still plays a large role.  Offsetting this is a neat feature – after being killed, the player has the option to "copy loadout" of his killer for one life. Selecting this actually allows the player to use his killer’s weapons and perks—which goes a long way toward allowing low-level gamers access to the heady upgrades other players have worked to achieve. Copying the loadout only lasts for one spawn, or life, but it can be enough to leaven the gameplay and offset any frustration low level players might feel.

There are other, more significant problems with the multiplayer game, though. The limited number of maps already mentioned mean that players will quickly learn the ins and outs of them, but variety is definitely lacking.  Considering the huge world created in the single-player game it seems odd that so few maps have been created. Lacking a map editor—and worse, no dedicated server—means that multiplayer options are very restricted. While it is possible to create private games, as opposed to public, dedicated servers are a staple of serious PC action games. Multiplay can be a lot of fun and highly addictive, but veteran FPS players may feel constrained by the game’s limits.

By copying the loadout of the last guy who killed me I am able to access the weapons and perks of this Level 29 player for one life.

A Guilty Ork-Infested Pleasure

WH40K Space Marine doesn’t do anything new or groundbreaking at all, and the gameplay feels like a bit of a step backwards. Technically and visually it is as standard a shooter as they come. However, its lore and its intense violence are the selling points here, and I would dare anyone who loves WH40K to not have a great time while playing this. Sure, you may not want to show it off to your wife when she comes in the room—but you’ll want her to leave the room that much quicker so you can get back to the ork-slaughter. As a gateway drug, it has immersed me into the WH40K universe, as a good gateway drug should. Huey Lewis would be proud.

Armchair General Rating: 91%

About the Author

Lloyd Sabin is a writer and historian living in the Lower Hudson Valley of New York State. He is constantly trying to keep his wife from sealing up his computer room with bricks, rooting for the Yankees and Jets, trying to teach his infant daughter to pronounce ‘trebuchet,’ hiking, biking and reading as many books, on any number of historically based topics that he can get his grubby mitts on. A recent convert to the Warhammer 40,000 universe, he’s rapidly making up for lost time.

1 Comment

  1. I must say, I gave this title a spin this weekend and was definitely surprised and not dissapointed in any way.

    I have never collected the models nor followed the stories – and yet to purely play it for the game was a true joy: I would suggest it’s Gears of War in the model world – and thats not a bad thing in the slightest!

    Great review – definitely worth a go for anyone who wants a hassle free slash Fest. Great fun.

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