Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine review

By Jeff Mattas, Sep 13, 2011 1:45pm PDT

Relic Entertainment has already proven that it knows how to leverage the Warhammer 40,000 IP into compelling real-time-strategy titles with the Dawn of War series, but Space Marine marks the first time the developer has attempted to bring players into the 40K universe at boot-level. Equal parts shooter and brawler, you'll slaughter thousands of enemies on your journey as a Space Marine.

It might seem a bit odd to lead my assessment of the game with a body-count, but using a good variety of ranged and melee weapons to leave mountains of dead enemies in your wake is the core pillar of the Space Marine experience. Many of the game's enemies are melee-only, and will rush the player at first sight, but a variety of ranged enemy types often require the player to manage both types of combat at once. The larger battles are intense ballets of decapitation and evisceration, punctuated by occasional headshots.

Space Marines are equipped with gaming's now-ubiquitous recharging shield, but health is handled a bit differently. When running low on vitality, players can stun, and then subsequently execute an enemy for a health boost. The player isn't safe from other attacks while executing a foe, however. Health also recharges when a power called Fury is activated, a mode which also makes the player's attacks more powerful. The Fury gauge is filled by killing foes. Like cover, health packs are for wimps, apparently.

There are also a few segments of the single-player campaign in which the game's protagonist Captain Titus dons a jump pack. While it limits his available weaponry, the jump pack allows the player to launch himself into the air with the option of diving down for an enemy-stunning "ground pound." I had a ridiculous amount of fun with these levels, but realized that the jump pack fundamentally changes how combat plays out. Once I figured out how to effectively "jump and pound" with regularity, progression was quite easy.

My only disappointment with the game's single-player is that Space Marine's final conflict makes use of an extended quick-time event. As with many QTE's, it looks great visually, but isn't particularly satisfying. It's especially unfortunate in the case of Space Marine, given how its great, core gameplay is nowhere to be found in the game's final moments.

It's not necessary to know all the ins and outs of the Warhammer 40,000 universe to be able to understand and enjoy Space Marine, but long-time fans will appreciate the way the universe and its characters are presented. Great performances by Mark Strong and the rest of the cast, both in-game and during the cinematics, provide a detached coolness to the Space Marine banter. It's a welcome juxtaposition to the immediate, chaotic, and relentless nature of the game's combat.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine also features two competitive class-based multiplayer modes out of the box, with a post-release co-operative mode to be added via DLC in October. In competitive multiplayer, Space Marines face off against their corrupted, evil counterparts, the Chaos Marines.

Annihilation is Space Marine's answer to Team Deathmatch, and Seize Ground is a capture-and-hold mode featuring numerous control points. The different class types (Tactical, Assault, and Devastator - each with Chaos counterparts), really change the approach the player should take to combat, and each class has its own specific suite of progressively unlockable weapons, perks, and visual customization options.

Multiplayer matches can be quite fun, though new players should be prepared to for some initial punishment as they crawl through the first few persistent character levels. At first, the Tactical Space Marine is the only playable option. Compared to the other two classes, it's the most vanilla of the bunch. By level five, players will have unlocked the Devastator class who dons a giant machine gun (Heavy Bolter), which packs tons of firepower, and the Assault class that gets to use the aforementioned jump packs to turbo around the battlefield.

Public matches are easy to find and play, but the majority of players in the matches I joined were much closer to the level 41 cap. Since level progression is tied directly to unlocking new weapons and more powerful perks, I often found myself trying to hold my own among much more powerful players. It can be pretty annoying when a level 33 opponent is sniping your level 3 avatar from halfway across the map... especially when you haven't yet unlocked any long-range weapons.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is a lot of fun when it comes to its arena-based battles thanks to a good variety of weapons and the most deft implementation of melee combat in a shooter that I've experienced in recent memory. The bloody single-player campaign is an Ork-chopping good time, and multiplayer can be a lot of fun as well, provided you can grind out the first few levels without getting too frustrated. I highly recommend checking it out for yourself. If not for you, then "For the Emperor!"

[The Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine review is based on a retail PC version of the game, provided on launch day by THQ.]

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