When I think of the words “space marine,” the guy from Doom or Marcus from Gears of War pops right into my head. You might have similar thoughts when addressed with those words, but it’s hard to associate that the Warhammer series. Similar to what Guitar Hero did to Guitar Freaks, other games have taken the idea of being a marine in space that Warhammer started and ran with it, making it more mainstream. Warhamer 40,000: Space Marine was a pioneer in the space marine idea and has come back to make itself relevant again in the gaming universe with this mix-up of genres. Warhammer fan or not, Space Marine is a game worth trying.
I’ll preface my knowledge of the story by saying that I really don’t know much about the lore of Warhammer. Even with that said, I still found the narrative engaging. Captain Titus is your British-accented space marine, who is about the size and bulk of a minivan, and you and your team are tasked with stopping the Orks on one of the planets they’ve infested. The Orks definitely have the numbers to match your pure, unrivaled strength but a stronger weapon is needed to wipe them out for good. This specific motivation leads your genetically-modified squad of meat trucks from point A to point B in search of the weapon that can wipe out the Orks. More interesting plot points arise near the end to thicken the plot (ones I won’t spoil) and, while I enjoyed the story as a whole, the most entertaining plot point isn’t fully opened until the end. Had this specific instance been more fleshed out earlier in the game, it would have made the plot better and more dramatic. The developers chose to tackle this in an inevitable sequel, but to have this dilemma solved, not just teased. Luckily, the striking universe and long, mostly exciting tale has the narrative as a strong point in the game.
Space Marine is a third-person shooter. Wait no, it’s a melee hack-and-slash. Actually it’s a blend of the two. When I first heard of this genre mixing, I was honestly pretty skeptical because it sounds like a train wreck. Consider me surprised when this turned out to be my favorite part of the game.
The cover-less third-person shooting gives you four weapons at your disposal. Shooting is competent by itself, as every weapon sounds like a loud firecracker and is accompanied by equally pleasing visual effects. It isn’t uncommon to see an enemy completely explode into red paste. Is it satisfying? Is it effective? Hell yes and yes.
Melee combat is also seamlessly integrated into combat and it also works well. While it is definitely simple at its core, it breaks the paces up whenever you want to and is fun to boot. You’ll only get one melee weapon at your disposal (of which there are three main ones) at one time, but mashing the square and triangle (PS3) or X and Y (Xbox 360) buttons leads to the gory death of dozens of enemies on screen, leaving you with a smile and your space marine covered in blood. Melee combat is strong and rewards you with health, so it is both fun and vital to survival. Numerous enemy types have you switching from your giant death hammer to machine gun so, while the game is long and challenging, repetition never really sinks in. A game is only repetitive if you notice it.
Combat does stumble in a few areas. As I briefly mentioned earlier, melee finishers reward you with health. This is all good and dandy when you need health, but almost a deathly mistake in a crowd. The gory fatalities lock you in and take more than a couple seconds to complete, so if you needed health right then, you’ll more than likely be dead before the animation rewards you with the much needed vitality. This problem pops up every so often during the first eight to ten hours, but for the last few, it is aggravating. Enemies are much tougher in the latter hours and melee enemies arrive much less frequently, leaving you with no health most of the time and few ways to regain it. Clipping occurs in an embarrassing amount of these finishers as well, causing you to miss the good of the kill. Most can be at least temporarily forgiven when you force an Ork to deepthroat your chainsword and then kill his buddies around him with a few swipes.
And then there’s the jump pack. The jump pack is so special that it deserves its own paragraph. Even though you only get it three times in the whole game, flying around and dealing death from above is a complete and utter joy that even the finely tuned ground combat has trouble keeping up. Not only does it add a whole other dimension to the fighting, but flying up in the air and slamming down with the impact of a meteorite, obliterating the many enemies unfortunate enough to be on the ground is something that didn’t get old. I would have liked to see this mechanic repeated a few more times throughout the game, as it completely changes pacing and is a blast to use, but the three times when it is used is memorable.
The wonderful world that the Ultramarines and Orks are fighting on is, in addition to a total warzone, quite the looker. Environments really pop with detail and every texture has a high enough resolution to ensure this game always looks sharp. I was amazed how many of the different places looked so damn good, even with the art style for some of the locales feeling a tad generic which is saying something. Character models looks good too, with the main villains and Ultramarines looking particularly detailed with scratches, scars, bolts, and any other differentiating characteristics showing and showing well.
Warhamer 40,000: Space Marine shows back up to the space marine party it started many years ago and makes a warm, hearty reappearance. It stands out from the others by showing its unique and detailed lore, gory melee combat, and above-serviceable shooting, all while looking fantastic while doing it. Warhammer may not mean much more than this game to many people (like me), but it’s a strong enough title that it can carry itself on its own merits, regardless of the name behind it. Given the generic title, it’s a good thing I judge games by their content and not their name.
+Melee and ranged combat blends well
+Challenging but (usually) fair
+Jump pack is awesome
-Clipping pops up too frequently
-Last quarter of game mostly ditches melee and ranged combination
-Executions have you locked in, leaving you to die or take damage
Final Score: 8.5/10