From the very beginning of 3rd person shooter ‘Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine’ you’re made extremely aware that the protagonist, Captain Titus, is a total badass. Descending to ‘Forge World’, an industrial planet under attack from vicious Orks, his craft is damaged by enemy fire and begins to fail. Rather than panic, Titus nonchalantly grabs a jet-pack and decides to continue the journey (a mere few thousand feet) using that.[boxout]This kind of stunt is made possible due to the fact that Titus is an Ultramarine. These Space Marines are humanity’s elite warriors; genetically modified and hardened from years of rigorous training that would kill a normal man. Adorned in armour weighing more than a car, these guys are the hardest of hardcore, verging on the superhuman.
You aren’t allowed to forget it either, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that every 30 seconds, be it friend or foe, someone will yell “Space Marines!” before either prostrating before you, or trying to blow your armoured bits right back up to your spacecraft. You’ll either find this hilarious, or pretty darn irksome.
Titus and his team have been ordered to protect Forge World, and it’s extremely valuable weapons facilities, from the million-strong troop of Orks who have decided that they fancy a bit of a ruck. All is not as it seems though, and it quickly becomes apparent that there is a powerful third player waiting in the shadows…the forces of Chaos.
It’s an interesting story, and whilst the game never has any big, dialogue heavy cutscenes, it does enough to make you want to continue and find out more. The nice twist halfway through is also very welcome, as it comes at a time when the game seems to be running out of steam.[drop2]As soon as you start the first chapter Warhammer makes its intentions very clear: it’s all about the action. There is no cover at all; no respite when you’re under attack, so the only option is constant offensive tactics. You can carry up to four ranged weapons at once, which can be hot-swapped via the d-pad, as well as a brutal melee weapon. It’s the melee combat that distinguishes Warhammer from other 3rd person shooters, as the game actively encourages you to wade in and get your hands dirty.
For example; you don’t pick up health packs in the game, and your health certainly doesn’t regenerate. The only way to top it up is to get up close and perform an execution move on an enemy. Once this has been successfully pulled off your health bar will get a boost.
It’s wonderfully satisfying stuff, and although your initially melee weapon is slightly disappointing, you’ll soon find yourself in charge of some lovely bits of kit, such as a Chainsword or Hammer. Rather than just swinging wildly, you have the option to try a heavy hit that will stun an opponent, as well as kicks, ground pounds and charged shots. At certain points you’ll also get your hands on a jet-pack, allowing you to fly up and take out snipers, then drop down, causing damage to all enemies caught in the shockwave.
Another reason to use the melee option is your ‘Fury’ mode. Crack enough skulls and a meter on the left hand side of the screen will build up. Once it’s full you can unleash your fury, which increases your strength as well as refilling your health bar. If you find yourself too far away from the enemy to take advantage of your sword, Fury mode also works with guns by slowing everything down when you aim, allowing you to pop heads at your leisure. Handy.
In terms of the gunplay, it’s nice and punchy with big, powerful weapons; even your basic pistol has a kick to it. A large part of this is down to the audio, as each weapon sounds as mean as it looks. There’s a decent amount of variety too, and whilst normally in shooters you find your favourite weapon and stick to it, this doesn’t happen in Warhammer as they are all equally useful.
Visually it looks good, but never really great. Saying that, there are some nice touches, such as the dust and smoke that gets kicked up from fire fights out in the open. It looked so good it actually made my mouth go dry at the thought of breathing it all in. The character models are nice and chunky, and there was never any slowdown during the playthrough, which is impressive considering the amount of enemies on-screen at times.[drop] It’s just a shame that, after all this good stuff, Warhammer falls down when it comes to variety. Whilst the action throughout is relentless and enjoyable, it soon falls into a very predictable pattern of walking into a room, clearing it, then heading up/down on an elevator. It lacks any real set-pieces, and the boss battles are few and far between; although they aren’t particularly interesting even when they do occur. It’s by far the biggest weak point of the game.
There are a couple of other niggles too, such as the lack of a melee block/parry function which would have been most welcome against some of the later foes. I’m also not the biggest fan of the way you gain health (mentioned earlier), as later on in the game you are besieged by both long and short range fighters, meaning the second you step out to try and perform an execution move you run the very high risk of being picked off from a few hundred yards away. Of course you can use the scenery to your advantage, but replenishing your health surely shouldn’t be such a hassle?
When you’re done with the story you can then head over to the online multiplayer mode. The ‘Annihilation’ and ‘Seize Ground’ modes are pretty basic, but the avatar customizer is good fun, allowing you to apply any emblems and patterns you have unlocked to make your character look all nice and pretty (or not).
Before you start a map you can chose a loadout, and by levelling up during multiplayer you will earn more loadout slots to use, as well as the chance to add more weapons and equipment to these slots. It’s all very solid stuff, although I’m not sure how busy the servers will be soon with the CoD and Battlefield behemoths approaching.
- Looks and sounds good.
- Satisfying melee combat.
- Punchy gunplay.
- A decent story.
- It’s fun!
- The odd health system.
- A real lack of variety makes things too predictable.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine has been a pleasant surprise. It provides a good story wrapped in some very enjoyable gameplay mechanics. Whilst it does have a few niggles, there’s no denying that it’s a hoot to play through as you hack, slash and blast your way to the Spire.
The key issue though is the lack of variety, which may put a few people off. If Relic can make a sequel with a bit more meat to it, that game could be something very special indeed. Until then though, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is well worth your attention.
Reviewed on PS3.