Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine Review (Xbox 360 & PS3)

Gaming has a long and storied history, and prior to the advent of gaming on consoles people actually sat around a table and played various forms of games.  Within the world of today’s videogame fans comes the comparison to those that played tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons.  Well, there is another storied tabletop franchise that is just as influential to videogames as D&D, and that would be the world of Warhammer 40,000.  This Games Workshop franchise is 25 years old this year, and what better way to open this universe up to the masses then through a videogame based on the world Warhammer 40,000.  THQ has stepped up to the plate to offer up Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine.   Developed by Vancouver based Relic Entertainment, this action game has finally hit retail shelves.  So is it worth your hard earned dollar?  Read on to find out.

One of the biggest things to point out is that Space Marine is based on a tabletop game that can take hours and hours to play.  The amount of rules and detail that is required to play a game of Warhammer 40,000 is immense.  The task of bringing such a game to the world of console based action games must have been a daunting task to say the least.  I could sit here and bore you with page after page of what the world of Warhammer 40,000 is all about, but that would be senseless as Space Marine is a game that does not try to wholly replicate the tabletop game it is based on, but what it does so to speak, is offer up one specific story/battle that would take place during the events that unfold in an actual tabletop game.  Let me explain.

When playing the tabletop game you manage and direct your own troops within your army and try to conquer your opponent’s troops during numerous battles, all using point based and dice rolling rules.   Battles are spread out across the table and there are many different things going on at once, given there are different troops and different mini-battles occurring at the same time.  It is a complex dance to say the least, and you have to pay attention to what you are doing.  Space Marine can be best explained as a videogame version of one of these battles that takes place during the whole tabletop war.

You take on he role of Captain Titus, a veteran Ultramarine.  Within the universe of Warhammer there is trouble on a Forge World called Graia, as Orks are attacking it in their effort to conquer and destroy, something that they do only to satisfy their desire to fight and demolish.  You and your team of fellow Ultramarines (three of you in total) are sent in to defend and secure the interests of the Imperium.  I am sure that there are some words/terms here that those not familiar with the world of Warhammer may not totally understand, but don’t worry, as you play you may just learn a thing or two about this franchise that will help you understand it more.

I found that the narrative in Space Marine did play an important role in the game given that the source material is so storied and rich.  Trust me, if you have a chance to read any of the books and/or Warhammer guides, you’ll quickly learn that this is the case.  Should you not have the time and/or patience, you’ll just have to trust me on this one.  Bottomline, the story that unfolds in front of you is enjoyable as it seamlessly melds into the gameplay experience.

Space Marine is a third person shooter, something that most gamers out there will compare to Gear of War.  Although the third person aspect of the game warrants the comparison, it should stop here.  One of the big slogans for Space Marine is “Cover is for the Weak”.  Let me tell you, after playing this game you understand why.  Cover does not exist in Space Marine.  You are a genetically augmented killing machine that is equipped with armour (protection and mobility being the key here) and weapons to take down any enemy.  You will find yourself shooting and meleeing through endless numbers of enemies given your Ultramarine status.  The melee system is wonderfully implemented through a combo-driven system.  You’ll shoot, strike and then use your chainsword for a bloody execution, all with a few presses of the buttons and sticks on your controller.  I was not expecting this game to be such an enjoyable melee experience, but alas it is indeed.  I found myself wanting to continue on in an effort to see what type of damage I could inflict as I progressed through the story.

Something that I was happy to experience was the learning curve of the game.  Space Marine has an uncanny knack of making things feel just right.  When you first play the game, and get accustomed to the control scheme, you start off by engaging and killing the most basic of enemies.  As things progress, the AI starts to ramp up, and you face new enemies where you have to take into consideration new strategies and the use of different weapons.  For example, some enemies only require you to club them in the head, or slice them in half with your chainsword; however, later on you’ll come across enemies who are off in the distance sitting in high ground.  Here you will need to use your Warhammer based sniper rifle (called a Stalker Pattern Bolter) or you may need to flank them and use any of your other weapons for a quick kill.  It was nice to see that Space Marine was not all about mindlessly ploughing through enemies just pressing random buttons.

Space Marine is not a particularly long adventure, and one should be able to finish the single player mode in 7-10 hours depending on your skill level.  This adventure is an enjoyable one though.  As you make your way through Space Marine’s various levels you earn upgrades for not only your weapons, but for Captain Titus as well.  Being rewarded for your battle skills is somewhat satisfying, as you get more powerful as you get deeper into the game.  Sure, it is nothing new to gaming, but given how well it feels in this Warhammer universe, it is something that just makes more sense here.  There are also collectible audio logs found through the game’s levels, and they serve to help newbies understand more about the universe, while helping the story to move along.  Achievement hunters may want to play though the game more than once only if not to get those points they missed.

Along with a great single player experience, Space Marine pretty enjoyable multiplayer experience offering as well.  I covered this in detail in a preview about two months ago and can be found on our site. Since that time not a whole lot has changed except that any visual bugs or other quirks that were found in that build seem to have been ironed out.

There are two types of game modes, Annihilation and Seize Ground.  Annihilation is your basic team deathmatch mode.  You score points by killing your enemy.  The first team (or player) to reach a pre-set number of kills before the time limit is up wins.  Should time run out then the team (person) with the most kills wins.  Seize Ground is a more objective based mode.  Each team fight for control of multiple objectives placed on the map.  The longer your team holds an objective, the more points you earn.  Of course the more objectives you hold at the same time the quicker your score goes up.  The first team to reach the score limit wins.

There are a total of three classes of Space Marines, and its Order of Chaos equivalent, to choose from. There are the Tactical Space Marine/Chaos Space Marine, Assault Marine/Raptor, and Devastator/Havoc.

The Tactical Space Marine/Chaos Space Marine is the most balanced class for a good combination of ranged and close combat.  You can use a series of ballistic and non-ballistic guns as well a combat knife for in-close battle.  The Assault Marine/Chaos Raptor is the close combat expert.  They are equipped with a jump pack that allows them to move about each level through the air quite quickly and also allows them to perform a move called a “ground pound” when they land.  Given their close combat expertise, the Assault Marine/Chaos Raptor class has more blade based and hammer weapons to rely on.  They also carry a side arm for a bit of gunplay when desired. Finally, the Devastator/Chaos Havoc class is the expert in long-range combat and is the only class that can handle the weapons with the most power.  Some of the weapons also can also be mounted to the ground for an increased rapid fire.  They are the slowest moving of the classes as well and can only kick when meleeing.

As I had mentioned in my preview when I wrote it, and a view that still stands, it took me some time to warm up to the gameplay, but as I did I found that it was really enjoyable and I had some great moments.  The multiplayer component is definitely not twitch play based, so fans of games like Unreal, or even Call of Duty, may find the pacing somewhat slow.  I still think that the reasons for this speed are twofold.  The first reason being that the game really does communicate the feeling of controlling a Space Marine who is suited up in a large suit of armour.  The second reason is that it reflects that the Warhammer tabletop games are ones to think out and strategize your moves, and the slower speed allows you to do this as you play the console game.  Whatever the reason, the slower speed works.

I should note that a free playable co-op mode, called ‘Exterminatus’ is scheduled to be available to download this October.   Space Marine’s Exterminatus mode pits an elite squad of four Space Marines against hordes of alien enemies in a score based fight to the death.   You can choose the Tactical Marine, Devastator or Assault Marine as well as utilizing any weapons and perks available to those classes.  Each of Exterminatus Mode’s scenarios, ‘Assault on Hab Center Andreas’ and ‘Escape From Kalkys Facility’ feature global leader boards challenging players to better their scores by completing dynamic challenges as well as utilizing score modifiers which increase game difficulty in exchange for additional points.  Experience earned while playing this mode counts towards the game’s multiplayer ranks, allowing players to earn progression in both Co-Op and multiplayer.

Overall I think that the multiplayer component, although lacking in the number of online modes (cooperative is still to come), is fun to play and that many people will find reason to head online, kill some enemies, level up, and play even more.

The virtual representation of the world of Warhammer has been crafted with a whole lot of love, and it shows.  To tell you the truth, I really wondered how Relic Entertainment would pull off turning a tabletop game into a console videogame, visually speaking.  Given that the Warhammer 40,000 universe is set way in the future to a time period when humanity has fallen into a state of chaos where they are continually at war, Relic’s interpretation of what it would be like it pretty darn amazing.  During a preview event in July we media folk were informed that one of the best ways to describe the world of Warhammer 40,000 is that is it a combination of gritty and fantastic concepts.  Well this game definitely catches this feeling as the grim reality of humanities plight is represented on screen.

There are no bright, vibrant, or happy colours in this game, as the content of Space Marine does not call for such.  What you will find is a lot of brown and reddish hued colours along with areas that look quite aged.  There are some very stylistically designed levels and Relic Entertainment seems to have gone with a design that reflects that of a powerful nation that has not aged well at all.  Lots of open areas combined with those of closed caverns keep the game fresh throughout your gaming experience.  Given that I have seen many of the Warhammer 40,000 figures and props that are used for the tabletop gaming experience, I believe that I can confidently say that the game’s designs do take cues from much of what already exists in tabletop form.

Technically speaking, Space Marine is a solid game.  There is little to no slowdown or clipping to be found, even when the action gets crazy on screen.  Characters are easily discernable and special effects (e.g. explosions, lighting, particle effects) are plentiful too. Relic has done a great job of adding the visual pizzazz in this area.   Bottomline, this game is pretty solid in the visual department, there is no doubting that.

The audio in Space Marine is yet another area that manages to help enhance the gameplay.  First off, the games soundtrack is very suitable.  Given the nature of the game’s story, and the franchise itself, the soundtrack matches all that happens on screen.  I have to say that again Relic Entertainment nailed it here.  As for the sound effects, given that the games main characters are hulking Space Marines with impressive armour and weapons, the sounds correspond to the impact that they would make as they shoot or melee through waves of on screen enemies.  Environmental effects are just as strong too.  Finally, the voice acting in Space Marine is really well done.  Characters speak their lines with emotion and drama.  They carry a British accent as well, and there is just something about the accents that help the voice acting sound that much better.  Characters also interact well with each other, so having Captain Titus talk to those in his team integrates well and nothing seems forced or out of place.  All in all, the entire audio package is well implemented, and yet another part of this game that helps enhance your gameplay experience.

Thank you THQ and Relic Entertainment for not trying to just cash in on a very storied and rich franchise license.  Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is a great game and does justice to the Warhammer franchise that it is based upon.   With solid graphics, good sound, and just the right gameplay elements, the total package makes for a great gaming experience.  The addition of multiplayer is also a plus, although it could have used a few more modes.  In the end it is my hope that this game is not overlooked this holiday season as the Space Marine really does stand on its own a solid title that is worth the time to play through.

The Good


The Bad