Relic Entertainment has proven time and time again with its Dawn of War real-time strategy franchise that it has a deep respect for Warhammer: 40.000. Does that respect extend to the third-person shooter?
Warhammer 40,000is an entire universe dedicated to grand battles, massive armies, and strategic combat. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine strips away all of that to focus on one particular unit participating in one of these grand battles, taking both the franchise and the developer pretty far outside of their respective comfort zones. It's like trying to make a real-time strategy game based in the Halo universe. It can certainly work, but it can also confuse and confound hardcore fans used to doing things a certain way.
Can Relic pull it off, or does Space Marine leave the assembled game reviewers starved for a more expansive battlefield?
Say what you like about Dawn of War and Company of Heroes - and if you're anything like us then what you will say is "they're awesome", in any case - but you can't deny that Relic knows and loves Warhammer 40,000. Space Marine, a third-person hack-and-slash/shooter hybrid, is the latest example of that wonderful, contagious affection. Spend a few minutes with the multiplayer customisation suite - unlocked when you hit level 4 online - and you will probably find yourself rapt.
What Space Marine does best is capture the spirit of its universe. The Ultramarines' weathered armor is so heavy and hardy, they don't so much wear it as it wears them. As you push through battle-worn trenches, the Orks' makeshift machinery erupts from the ground, shaking the earth. Roaring greenskins in rocket packs rush past, providing a touch of comedy amid all the carnage. And such carnage it is. Enemies erupt in soggy displays of goo, yet the waves continue, your foes' bloodthirst overcoming their sense of self-preservation. When you carve your chainsword through these forces, the buzz is so authentic that you can almost feel the green flesh being torn away from your foes' skeletons. The visuals and sound both work hard to promote this brutal atmosphere.
Once you settle in and peel back the well-painted facade, however, what you play doesn't fully match up. The life of a Space Marine is written to be one of a man enduring a painful transformation and augmentation to become the elite backbone of the Imperium. Stronger and more skilled than their foes, one life of a Space Marine is supposed to be traded for thousands of their enemies. For Space Marine, Relic might have interpreted those abilities and their stature too literally. There isn't much beyond a fluid mix of hack-and-slash and third-person shooter gaming to admire. One corridor leading to a bottleneck encounter against Orks or Chaos after another, all there is to do in the game is beat up or shoot it out with onslaughts of enemies. Surely an Ultramarine is capable of more than headstrong tactics.
The single-player campaign is somewhat short (about seven hours) but exceptionally paced, with constant and practical upgrades to both your weapons and Captain Titus' abilities throughout. There are only a few enemy types, but they're used so smartly that the game never feels repetitive. Orks in particular make for especially fun opponents. Whenever a horde of them bursts through the door, the feeling is much less "Not this again," and much more, "Good, more killing to do." You're an Ultramarine, after all. That's what you do best.
Fortunately, there is a robust multiplayer mode to keep things spicy, and it's shockingly good. Two traditional game modes — team deathmatch and capture point — pit Space Marines and Chaos Marines against each other across a modest selection of maps. There are three classes to choose from — the jack-of-all trades Tactical/Chaos class, the melee-based, speedy Assault/Raptor and the ranged Devastator/Havoc troop. Players can switch classes between deaths, and some maps are more advantageous to certain characters, encouraging players to swap out characters rather than stick with a single type.
If you've been looking for some hardcore shooter action, Warhammer 40k: Space Marine certainly fits the bill. It features a really fun, intense campaign to run through, with a well voiced cast and unapologetic action to go along with it. It's also a fantastic looking game, and manages to avoid a lot of technical hiccups that seem to plague a lot of games as of late. Another thing worth noting is that the musical score here is fantastic. If you have any love for action games, Space Marine shouldn't be missed. It's big, dumb action on a grand scale, and manages to give Gears of War a pretty good run for its money. I certainly hope we see a sequel in the near future, and I urge everyone to check it out.
Want my opinion? Then you'll have to wait until next week. I'm still playing.