I’m not going to try to bullshit you, my delightful readers. I won’t be citing my “Incredible Knowledge” of Warhammer 40,000 that is secretly straight from Wikipedia. Really, it’s a franchise that’s been around since I can remember, but I know very little about it. The extent of my personal knowledge would be knowing this one kid in Elementary School, because he was always reading the game’s rule books. Obviously, I’m not an expert. So, with that out of the way, I’m simply going to be reviewing the game itself. I can’t speak for the rest of the series or how accurate Space Marine is according to the lore of this expansive world. Please forgive my ignorance.
Total honesty aside, Warhammer 40k: Space Marine follows a small, elite group of hulking Space Marines trying to save the Forge, World Graia. The planet has been invaded by an enormous army of Orks, risking the destruction of Manufactorum Ajakis. The Manufactorum produces the Warlord Class Titans, which are massive, bi-pedal robots that generally destroy everything in sight. By the way, everything in this game is elaborately named. I can understand that it was originally written that way, but…jeez. We play as the 2nd Company of Imperium-of-Man Ultramarines, sent by the High Lords of Terra in advance of the Liberation Fleet to Manufactorum Ajakis in order to combat Orks and rescue stranded Imperial Guardsmen. Starting to get my point about the names? Anyway, the plot does have a few twists and turns, involving a shady agent of the Imperial Inquisition, Chaos Demons and political intrigue. Unfortunately, if you don’t follow the Warhammer 40k Universe, most of the plot lines will pass by without any real consequences.
Something that particularly chapped my ass was that you are almost always in a group of three Space Marines. With these constant companions, it feels like a missed opportunity for a cooperative mode. Why isolate the campaign to single player, when there are A.I. teammates alongside you every step of the way? Also, the A.I. teammates are about
as useful as a matchbook in a forest fire. They rarely do anything, outside of fire rounds aimlessly into the air. Luckily, all of the enemy A.I. have heat seeking hatred-missiles aimed at you. The enemies will solely go after you, leaving your half-brained teammates to stand around and shout at owls or whatever they do.
Space Marine takes on a Gears of War style of gameplay, with a tight 3rd-person camera and painfully linear level design. The Space Marines are equipped with a variety of melee and ranged weapons, such as Chainsaw Swords (Chainswords), Assault Rifles, Grenade Launchers, Enormous Hammers and Sniper Rifles. While you won’t be lacking in ways to kill people, none of these tools are particularly exciting or innovative. While using melee weapons, the camera zooms back a bit, allowing you to see where you’re hacking and slashing. The general rules apply, with the “X” button being your weak attack and your “Y” button being the combo finisher. When using ranged weapons, the camera snuggles up against your character’s massive shoulders and gives a tight view of what is in front. Once enemies take enough damage, they enter a stunned mode where you can do bloody executions on them. The problem with the combat in Space Marine is that it gets very old, very fast. There are so many enemies thrown at you through the course of the campaign, that you never stop doing the same melee combos and mindlessly shooting into crowds. They try to break up the monotony by adding in a few different weapons and a “Frenzy” mode, but these simply become part of the endlessly repeating patterns of combat.
These executions actually serve a purpose, instead of just being for your own sick amusement. See, your Space Marines have a shield which recharges after avoiding damage for a moment. If your shields are down, any damage you suffer will permanently drop your health bar, similar to Halo: ODST . The only way to regain lost health is to execute these poor bastards that are staggering around. Now, seeing as this is a fairly unique concept for gameplay, I have to commend the developers for it. Unfortunately, this idea was better on paper than in the game. While doing these lengthy execution animations, you are still susceptible to taking damage and unable to stop the animation. So, you may execute one enemy to get a small portion of health back, but end up losing more health during the actual execution. This constant cycle of executing to gain health and losing health from executions can drain the fun out of the combat scenes. Not to mention, there are only a few execution animations, which quickly become tiresome to watch.
The voice acting was surprisingly decent, avoiding the overly gruff soldier clichés. While the main characters may have been shallow, the performances behind them were well done and above average for video games. All of the dialogue is voiced (rather than text), including the shouting from your teammates and enemies in battle. The battle dialogue is where my largest complaint about the voice acting comes in; it never stops during combat. Ever. The enemies are always screaming, shouting and yelling, “SPACE MARINE!”. Seriously, “SPACE MARINE” is every other word out of their mouths. I couldn’t believe how many times it was shouted while I was trying to beat this game. You will be annoyed by this, believe me.
The graphics in Space Marine aren’t the best, but are far from the worst. The strangest part about the visual design of this game is that, while the Space Marines are made to look as realistic as possible, the Orks look more like cartoons. With enemies that seem wacky, instead of fearsome, it clashes with the gritty, violent style of Space Marine. No matter what enemy you’re fighting in the campaign, the Marines are always lifelike and the enemies are something out of Ratchet & Clank.
The soundtrack (by Sascha Dikiciyan and Cris Velasco) is sweeping, epic and well fitted to the militaristic feel of Space Marine. I have to admit, this is one of the better soundtracks I’ve heard lately. Unfortunately, the music is often more entertaining than the gameplay itself. With a soundtrack that could be at home in any movie on the big screen, it’s worth checking out in your free time. So, if you’re a soundtrack junkie, Space Marine won’t disappoint.
Finally, my largest complaint for the entire game: the Achievements. Now, some of you may not agree that achievements can truly dampen the quality of a game, but I personally believe that they are as important as any other major aspect of a game. The achievements can be what drive you to enjoy multiple playthroughs and strive to do your very best during certain scenes or bosses. Achievements can lead you to explore more of the world that was created for you and help you appreciate the game more than if you had sped through it. Sadly, Space Marine fails miserably at all of this. With only a measly 85 points coming from beating the campaign, the single-player achievements focus on getting X number of kills on X type of enemy. Just under half of all the achievements come from Multiplayer, which can be the bane of many achievement lovers. Assuming you can find people online to play Space Marine with, the achievements are a chore to try to achieve while fighting off the rabid Space Marine devotees. Just to give a personal example, I put around 8 hours onto Space Marine and was left with a pathetic 275 points out of a possible 1,235. If achievements matter to you, you’ll find Space Marine to be a wholly unsatisfying experience.
Overall, Space Marine is built on some fairly solid gameplay and has a wonderful soundtrack, but the fun doesn’t last through the first level. It is brought down by the lack of variety in gameplay, strange visual design choices and an overwhelmingly bad list of achievements. If you’re a fan of the Warhammer 40k series, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this game based on the story alone. But, if you’re an average gamer looking for a fun way to kill some time and earn some achievements, you should let this game stay on the shelf.
I give Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine 2.5 “Terrible Jetpacks” out of 5