Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Game Review: W40K: Space Marine (multi-format) the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.

Every aspect of Space Marine oozes with atmosphere, and so it should.  Few sci-fi universes are quite as colourful and as richly detailed as that of Warhammer 40K, and Relic have spent the last several years perfecting and fine tuning their video game adaptation of Games Workshop’s epic tale of war to thunderous applause of approval from the 40K fanbase.

Perhaps the best example of this in their latest 40K offering is the Space Marines themselves. It’s just not in the level of visual detail that Relic has applied to each model, but it’s also in how each marine’s demeanour wonderful captures the mighty prowess of these god-like soldiers.  During the course of the game a knowing smile will undoubtedly reach across your face as the broken and scattered Imperial Guard genuinely gawp in awe on first seeing the hulking forms of the Space Marines set foot on their planet ready to rain down fire upon the foes of the omnipresent Emperor.

As Ultramarine Captain Titus, (whose stoic but tactically risqué approach to war epitomizes the veteran 40K Space Marine), you and his two Battle Brothers, (Sidonus and Leandros), must ready the Ork invaded Forge World of Graia in time for a Liberation Fleet to arrive and begin the clean up process; which in short means killing everything living thing on the planet and then rebuilding it to it’s former glory. Contrary to regular belief, in the 40K universe mankind aren’t exactly the ‘good guys’, they’re just arguably the best of a rather awful bunch in a universe wracked with war and bloody betrayal. Like reading one of the many 40K novels currently available, (and mostly thanks to Relic’s explicit understanding of the 40K universe), Space Marine feels like one story amongst a thousand others and as such it carries a greater sense of tangibility that many other sci-fi shooters simply fail to do so.

Control of Titus is much as expected; the heavy ‘clank’ of his power armour belies a speed and agility that gives a grace like quality to the marines towering menace. Charging into a hoard of Greenskins, Titus cuts a swath through his enemies with relative ease, the whirring hum of his Chain Sword sending bloody chunks of gore into the air in a whirlwind of precision ripostes.  The kick of Titus’ bolter gun is as equally satisfying as heads pop and limbs are torn clean from unfortunate victims. Pushing further into the game you’ll also take charge of the Pattern Bolter and Lascannon for long ranged shots, (the latter vaporising smaller foe); the Vengeance Launcher which enables you to sends out several sticky mines to detonate at the perfect moment; the Plasma Pistol which is followed later by the Plasma Gun, both of which can charge up unleashing powerful blasts of raw energy; the Melta Gun which evaporates everything in its path; and finally a handful of variations on the standard Bolter including the Kracken Bolter, (a more powerful version of the Bolter), the Storm Bolter, (rapid fire), and the Heavy Bolter which just tears through anything and everything . Yes, there are a lot of guns in Space Marine.

 The Space Marine has always been regarded as a one-man-army and through Relic choosing a hack ‘n slash/shooter hybrid as the template for their latest 40K offering they have captured the very essence of these armour plated killing machines of the future.  As though to hammer home the point there is also no cover system in place, and so save for a few large chunks of debris and the burnt out carcases of space craft that have crashed to the planet below you’re constantly vulnerable to enemy fire.

While you begin with a simple combat knife you’ll soon get your hands on a variety of melee weapons via drop pods scattered about the planet starting with a Chain Sword before moving up to a Power Axe and then the devastating Thunder Hammer. With a simple tap of the Y button followed by B you can stun your enemies to perform one of the brutal, but highly entertaining, execution moves with each execution being different depending on which melee weapon you’re carrying at the time. Performing an execution also gives you an energy boost which is rather handy during those frantic moments when your shield has been depleted and you’re getting attacked from all quarters - but there is a downside. While performing an execution you become locked in an animated sequence that leaves you vulnerable to melee and long range attacks, so if you have very little health left its nigh-on impossible not to avoid death thus sending you back to the last check point.  It really is quite infuriating that at the very moment you’re about to grab a bit of life saving health it’s snatched away from you by a stray bullet. You can of course also regain health by entering ‘Fury’ mode once the metre is full giving you a window of superior strength and speed, but once again you’re locked in another animation leaving you vulnerable for a few seconds. If Relic plans to do a sequel to Space Marine then it’s an issue that most certainly needs to be addressed. Perhaps allow the animation manoeuvre to broken mid sequence or better still, allow the marine to be invulnerable during these animations? As it stands now it’s stupid and annoyingly unfair, particularly as you have no control over the outcome as said control is wrestled away from you.  It may be for only a moment, but in a game of this nature it’s the moments that count between success and failure.

What Space Marine lacks in variety, (the general pace is broken up by a few, but not nearly enough, jump pack moments and a trip through the skies of Graia in a Valkyrie under attack from Ork Stormboyz), it makes up for in sheer ferocity.  Tearing a Heavy Bolter from the confines of its gun placement and unloading round after round into swarms of Orks as you make a stand in one of the games many spectacular set pieces is immensely satisfying to the point of being exhilarating.  Explosions and blasts of energy tear across the battlefield, throwing chunks of debris and severed limbs up into the air and as the heat of battle intensifies your senses come under constant assault from the crack of Bolter fire, searing smoke, and the agonising screams of the dead and the dying.  It’s a far cry from pushing toy soldiers around a table-top.

The lack of variety is a problem though and you will undoubtedly reach that point where killing your thousandth Ork becomes a little tiresome and you’ll be wanting Titus and his Battle Brothers to maim something else, it’s just that ‘something else’ is quite a few hours away - about the same time the forces of Chaos make an appearance as it happens. Deamons pour out of the warp closely followed by the Traitor Legions, turning the atmosphere of the game into an even darker and foreboding place thus enthusing you with renewed vigour to see it through to the end.

Whether or not you’ll get this far though is down to how much you’re willing to put in however, and in all honesty, given the repetitive nature of the game, Relic are asking for a hell of a lot of patience from its audience.  Also, while aesthetically the game recreates the epic scale of Games Workshop’s 40K universe exceedingly well some of the level layouts are a little bland and so things do become a little samey for a time, which doesn’t help shake some of the boredom once it begins to take root. But as I say, stick with it  and fight past killing your thousandth Ork and you will be rewarded with some of the most engaging battles ever to grace a 3rd person shooter.

Regardless of whether you only play it for only a few hours or see it through to its brilliant end, it is without question that Space Marine is a highly entertaining game, one that wonderfully captures the breadth, depth and scale of Warhammer 40K.  More importantly what Relic have produced points to the beginnings of a fine franchise that everyone, not just Warhammer fans, can enjoy .

For the Emperor indeed.


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