Here in the relatively quiet time after summer but before the holiday releases, THQ and Relic Entertainment bring us a first in the Warhammer 40,000 franchise: a third-person shooter. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine presents us with the story of Capt. Titus of the Ultramarines, who must rescue and defend a military factory from invading orks. A two part beta and the prospect of multiplayer intrigued me. Conversely, my lack of experience with the 40K universe made me wonder if I would be bored by the campaign’s story mode, or unable to keep up with it. The good news: No, the story isn’t hard to follow, and a lack of familiarity doesn’t make this story uninteresting. The bad news: Cookie-cutter characters and a stale plot make the story uninteresting instead.
I don’t mean to say the story is terrible. It’s just that I’ve heard this one before and spoiler alert, you pay a steep price for finding the secret mega-weapon halfway through the game. The main character is the stoic commander, full of wisdom and unwavering courage. Your second in command is the grizzled old warrior who eats nails and pisses bullets, and tagging along is the zealous greenhorn who still needs to obey all the rules. Early on, you rescue the mysterious Inquisitor Drogan, a scientist who has been conducting research on the planet for several years and is a little too obsessed with his power source. These characters’ actions are predictable (take one guess at how reliable the Inquisitor is) and they don’t effect the gameplay enough for you to care about them. Ork Warboss Grimskull had a lot of potential to be a truly fun and engaging character, but his appearances, except for one, are too brief and uninvolved. His boss fight cuts him down just a little too early for him to have a real impact.
Mediocre story aside, the campaign is still a ton of fun. The only exists to explain the who, what, when, where and why of your current battle. The fights have enough variety between terrain, types of bad guys and fun weapons to keep you interested as you slaughter your way across the world. The ranged-weapon and melee combat meshes beautifully and you really do need some of both to make it through. You have to start swinging at some point since your health bar will only refill in two situations: Reaching a cutscene or performing a finisher in melee. Conversely, if you don’t stick to your cover at some point, you’ll be quickly overwhelmed later in the game. The ammo is placed frequently enough to make you wonder why they bother early on, but once you get your hands on the melta-gun and lazcannon you’ll see why they have limited ammo.
You get four different melee weapons throughout the game. You start out with a battle knife that looks like something Crocodile Dundee would be proud of, but for a space marine it’s just your toothpick. Before long you’ll be wielding a chainsword, and this is when you start to think melee is the answer to all of life’s problems. For a while it really is, since you can just walk up to each ork individually and perform your finisher to heal yourself and maraud through their ranks for parts one and two. The power axe, which was my personal preference as a default, will seem less viable at first seeing as it has no motor, but don’t be fooled! It has some very satisfying finishers and will cleave a path through almost every group of enemies you encounter. Finally we have the thunder hammer, or should I say Mjolnir itself? They only make this available right at the moment you’ll need it, and it slows you down if you keep it afterwards but for the few minutes you wield this monster every swing feels like it would knock the Hulk out cold.
The absolute coolest part of this game? The jump pack. Every game should have this. You can jump 30 feet into the air then propel yourself downward to smash things with your giant hammer. Need I say more? I will say more. I cried a little the first time Titus discarded the jump pack, and that was before I had a hammer. The third time he threw it away, I threw him off the side of the cliff to play through that sequence again. These parts of the game really excel at making you feel less like a space marine, and more like Thor: God of Thunder and Ass-stomping.
If you’re a fan of good art, you’ll find some ups and some downs here. The environments are built on a grand scale and are just gorgeous. You can see the majestic world that was before war split it apart. Huge factories, bridges and spires are displayed as works of art, and I found myself really wishing I could walk around in the un-destroyed city. On the other hand, the characters look like some weird crossbreed of World of Warcraft and Gears of War. I don’t really have a problem with character models that have gorilla-scaled bodies, so long as they aren’t placed right next to normally proportioned marines while they fight. The orks and space marines all just look like they received less love from the art department than the environments, and in all honesty they’d look just fine if not for the high-quality backdrop.
For you multiplayer kids out there, it’s hard to make a recommendation here. I’d say if you’re interested but not certain, go rent the game. However, you’ll be paying extra for multiplayer past level 5 unless you purchase your own original copy. There’s a lot to experience in the first five levels, but you’ll feel unable to compete with higher levels at certain points. The gameplay compares with Gears of War and Halo in that you’ll pound quite a few bullets into the competition before they go down. It’s also a bit more like the Call of Duty and Battlefield series since you’re using pre-built classes – no guns on the ground. There are only two game modes: Annihilation and Seize Ground. The first is standard team deathmatch and the latter is close to Domination in Call of Duty. Both play very well, so far. I haven’t seen spawn camping or broken weapon setups. The maps aren’t all that varied – a lot of perfectly symmetrical maps with two, maybe three tiers and some long corridors. Also, there are only five of them. It’s not revolutionary by any means, but it’s not broken. As a fan of both the Halo and Call of Duty style multiplayers I’ve been able to enjoy it.
This is a good game. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and yet I feel inclined to suggest it as just a rental. The real draw here is the single-player experience, which you’ll finish in less than 20 hours of play time. The multiplayer could be really worth it for a group of friends, but if that’s your thing I’d suggest a game built around its multiplayer such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, or Gears of War. This game has been a fun break from my normal trends, and I’ll see more than a few more hours of its multiplayer, but its long-term value falls shy of some other titles.
The Good: The jump pack. I want more and more and more.
The Bad: Nothing else original here, just tried and true methods put in the Warhammer universe.
The Ugly: Inquisitor Drogan looks too much Gary Oldman as Zorg in The Fifth Element to ever be trusted.