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While not perfect in and of itself, Warhammer 40,000: Space
Marine is by far one of the best video game entries into the twenty-four-year-old licensed property to date, bringing with it an incredibly fun and
fan-service riddled campaign and some relatively standard but competent
Relic has been making games set in the Warhammer 40k universe since the original RTS title Dawn of War back in 2004, and it is very clear many games later that they above all game studios truly understand the license. With that said, up until now they have only made real-time strategy titles based on Warhammer so I was incredibly skeptical of Space Marine’s quality, and in some ways it definitely shows that Relic has made very few action titles before.
Luckily the game is made well enough that even if you aren’t a die-hard Warhammer nut (like myself), it still has plenty to offer. Combat is very exhilarating and intense; hundreds of enemies run at you and it is your job to carve, shoot, stomp and hammer them in the name of the Emperor. Who is the Emperor exactly? That will take way too long to explain in full but he’s basically a living god in the 40k universe whom the Space Marines and other factions worship and who they interpret as their motivator for why they exist and why they do what they do. This game is overflowing with stuff for Warhammer nerds to enjoy.
You play as Captain Titus and your mission is to head to a Forge World – a planet covered entirely in city and foundries that are specialized in manufacturing weapons, with one in particularly significant to the game's story called a Titan. Titans are giant walking death machines with the power to annihilate entire populations. They are only ever used in the largest most epic of battles, and so should they ever fall into the hands of the many enemies of man it would have dire consequences.
And that is what Titus and his Ultramarine brothers are sent to prevent. They're trying to stop Orks (yes, it’s spelled that way in the 40k universe) from possibly acquiring a Titan, but you’ll find that events on the planet aren’t as simple as that as the story unfolds.
As far as gameplay goes you’ve probably played many titles like Space Marine before. It shifts between melee and ranged combat based on your preference at any given moment. Close range attacks are big and powerful and the guns are super satisfying. Using combos is crucial to defeating enemies efficiently and figuring out what weapons are best for which situation is often obvious, but it pays to be quick in your decisions as, for example, ignoring ranged enemies while jumping into a big melee brawl will often get you killed.
This is where Space Marine’s interesting health system comes into play. While you have a regenerating shield, your health is determined purely by how well you are fighting and defeating your enemies. In order to gain health back you must execute enemies through first stunning them, which does less damage than regular attacks but is crucial for survival.
There is no cover system but you will definitely find yourself wanting to get behind things frequently when the more deadly ranged enemies show up. Combat is kept nice and varied between the many encounters and weapons. For example, whenever you are equipped with a jump jet pack and a giant two-handed power hammer, you can slam down hard on anything after performing a massive jump and proceed to pummel whatever is in your way into pasty goo. While the animation and overall presentation is superb in Space Marine, it is clear that often this takes priority over responsive gameplay and you will sometimes find yourself locked into an attack or movement that will maybe get you killed if not struggling to execute another enemy ASAP. I adjusted fairly quickly to the game's needs but even towards the later levels I still found myself being killed by things I didn’t have as much control over as I’d like.
Multiplayer offers two modes of play: Annihilation (your
typical team deathmatch) and Seize Ground (your typical node point capture team
verses). They’re fun enough and the three
quite varied classes – Tactical, Devastator and Assault – give some nice diversity
between whether you want to focus on melee, ranged, or a mix of both. Plus the XP,
armor and weapon unlockables and upgrades offer players reasons to continue playing as
one expects in a modern action title.
Sadly I had extreme difficulty getting into any multiplayer as the matchmaking and performance seems very lacking, but I’m sure once more people have the game and Relic has put out a few patches this will be less pronounced. What I was really looking forward to alongside the campaign was the co-op mode that was supposed to come with the game on release but Relic left it out until October (when it will be properly polished and ready I guess). It will be free at least so I’m excited to return to it for that.
In all honesty their isn’t really anything particularly special
or uniquely impressive about Space Marine for those with no investment in the Warhammer
40k license as it is more or less a fairly standard, well-made, but standard
action title with a pretty short single-player and a content light multiplayer mode. But it’s definitely not a bad game so pick it up if there is nothing else on
your radar right now. If you are a 40k fan you've probably already bought the game, but if not, this is the best action game the license has seen to date.