Relic has built up a huge following over the last few years with its excellent real time strategy translation of the classic tabletop game, Warhammer 40,000. How will they fare in their first foray into a third person action-shooter game?
The setting in Space Marine is a Forge World (manufacturing planet) currently under siege by a million-strong Ork invasion that is intent on looting and pillaging anything of value. Unfortunately the planet doesn’t just create weapons, it also stores them, including assets of mass destruction capable of destroying an entire city. Should the Orks reach these weapons, sealed inside the ‘manufactorium’, things will go from bad to apocalyptic. So, with wiping out the planet (a popular solution in the 40K universe) not an option, and backup still days away, who are you going to call? This is the type of situation that Space Marines are bred for; eight feet tall, genetically enhanced and encased in as much armour and weaponry as a light tank, you step into the armoured boots of Captain Titus of the Ultramarines. Your mission: to urgently secure the manufactorium and repel the Ork invasion.
It is obvious from the opening back story and character interactions that Relic has a huge love of the 40K universe and lore. Little touches here and there immerse the player into the attitude and mindset of a Space Marine, with great voice acting and scripts really bringing atmosphere to the game. Graphically, Relic has really nailed the environment in the sense of ruin and constant war, and the details on the character models are excellent. In terms of the exterior colour palette though, the overuse of brown and grey textures leaves the environment feeling rather bland and uninspired.
Unfortunately, Space Marine is a game of strengths and weaknesses, and the love and attention poured into the atmosphere and characters is offset by generic controls and level layouts. Here Relic’s lack of experience in the third-person genre starts to show, with the story sometimes feeling padded out with levels that feel quite repetitive, for example requiring the player to defend a doorway against waves of enemies while his or her ally unlocks it. Set types of enemies are repeated throughout the game, and the boss battles are fairly typical dodge-and-shoot affairs. Levels are very linear, with only one path to follow, unless it is a detour to pick up one of the collectible servo skulls, which give hidden insights into the conflict from different characters’ perspectives. Space Marine does attempt to introduce some variety with the occasional jump pack mission, but while these do offer a change in pace and play style, the controls are clunky and imprecise.
The combat in Space Marine is gritty and bloody, with ranged weapons packing a solid punch and all feeling quite fitting in their implementation and results. Melee combat, while satisfyingly solid, tends to become a repetition of wading into hordes of enemies and button mashing, with no option to block and no cover system. Titus has a health meter and an armour meter over the top of that, and while your armour will regenerate with time, the only ways to gain back health are to either activate your accumulated ‘Fury’ power, which temporarily regenerates health and boosts damage, or to carry out special execution moves on enemies. Unfortunately the execution moves can be tricky to carry out, and as Titus is vulnerable until the point that he finishes the move, he can be killed by ranged fire just before being credited with the health bonus. Space Marine offers a fair amount of flexibility in its play style, frequently offering players the chance to restock ammunition and change out weapons (of which Titus can carry three, plus his pistol and melee weapon) before the next portion of the level. The game does not allow saves, but rather works off a checkpoint system with automatic save points instead.
The single-player campaign starts off with a fantastic opening sequence and continues at a nice pace, consistently introducing new weapons and upgrades regularly until about the half way point. After this the game starts to feel like a bit more of a slog (despite a mid story plot twist), and while the ending is ultimately satisfying, the road there could perhaps have been a bit better.
As for the Multiplayer, like the single player campaign, it has some brilliant shining points, and some very average ones. On the down side, multiplayer only offers two modes, a capture point team mode and a straight-out kill count deathmatch. Of these the former is definitely more interesting, however any attempt at team work (or making friends to play with again) is hampered by the complete absence of a screen showing who’s talking on voice chat. The maps are all quite small affairs, pitting a team of Space Marines against their Chaos Marine counterparts, but are well filled out with the full eight players on each side. However, compared with other multiplayer titles on the market today, one can only wonder what could have been done on a much larger open world scale. For example, part of the great mix of the Warhammer 40K universe is the great vehicles, but you won’t see any in this title.
On the positive side, Space Marine features some great class and weapon options to play with. Players choose to spawn as one of three options, Tactical (general guns and equipment), Devastator (heavy weapons) or Assault (Jump pack and melee weapons). Like many multiplayer games, Space Marine works on an XP levelling system, with the more exotic/desirable weaponry unlocked at higher levels. But new players need not fear, for in a unique twist, upon dying you can ‘copy’ your killer’s equipment for your next respawn, meaning that level 28 Assault Marine who ganked you with his thunderhammer needs to always watch his back. By level 4, players will have unlocked all three marine types, but more importantly the Customiser, which enables you to edit your weapon loadouts, bonus perks and grenade types. In a tip of the hat to its table top roots, the Customiser allows you to change your Marine’s armour choice (for both Space Marines and Chaos) right down to the individual pieces, and to use almost any chapter paint scheme in existence, or even come up with your own. Like weapons, armour pieces are unlocked through the course of playing, either killing (or dying) in different ways, and while armour sets have no effect beyond visual appearance, they are a fantastic touch to personalise the game for players.
In another plus, players can look forward to a free multiplayer expansion in October with the Co-op Exterminatus mode arriving. Here you will be able to team up with three mates against hordes of alien enemies across two different levels. Hopefully this will add more depth and longevity to the multiplayer offering for players.
Relic’s latest foray into the 40K universe again shows their love of the franchise and its source material. Their inexperience in the third-person shooter genre leaves the controls and action sometimes feeling a bit generic or outdated, and the multiplayer is basic but for the most part well executed, but this is one title that I am very much hoping brings a sequel.