Video Games Review – ‘Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine’

Olivia Cottrell gives us the lowdown on Space Marine, published by THQ for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC and released on September 6th 2011.

Well, it was inevitable, really. Having reviewed the promotional game Kill Team, it seemed only natural that I try Space Marine when it came out- at least, that’s the excuse I used. Released on Friday last week, Relic Entertainment’s vision of a grim, dark far future where there is only war is a surprisingly enjoyable romp that incorporates some of the best things about the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

The story of the game is simple enough. The player is put in the clunky armoured shoes of Brother-Captain Titus, an Ultramarine (the best kind of space marine, apparently) captain tasked with liberating a strategically vital world from the orks. Things develop quickly and, though I won’t spoil the climax, there are some pretty fun action sequences that have to be seen to be believed. Combat is standard hack and slash/point and shoot, though the game’s decision to omit the now-ubiquitous cover mechanic means that unwary players can quickly find themselves mobbed. You can only regain health by performing finishing moves on enemies- initially this seems alright but you can still be attacked while doing so, which can be very frustrating.

The characterisation of Titus and his brother-marines outside of battle is fairly standard- you can tell which one you’re supposed to hate within the first few minutes of the game- and, at times, slightly lacking. I wasn’t expecting a deep examination of the human psyche, but a little more emotion and nuance from Titus as the game progresses and things on the planet get steadily worse might have been nice. Instead, Titus rumbles his way through platitudes to the Emperor in a voice that made me wonder if he had been sneaking a cigarette break in between levels. However, it was refreshing to see a strong, non-sexualised female character in Lieutenant Mira (the leader of the embattled Imperial Guard you’re sent to save) and the villains, especially the orks, are enjoyably hammy. The player will get quite tired of hearing ‘Space Marine!’ shouted at them in a Mockney accent, but that’s just the perils of incidental dialogue.

The lack of strong emotional connection to the space marines is reflected in the facial animation, which barely moves the character’s features at all. This leaves the player in doubt as to what emotion exactly the characters are going for: fear? Rage? Mild constipation? This really broke my immersion and connection to the story, though this is, of course, a highly subjective aspect and might not be as big a problem for other players. The game engine renders everything else well, however, adopting a semi-cartoony aesthetic that adapts well to clunky power armour and slavering orks, while the bright colours reject the traditional brown aesthetic of modern gaming to great effect. The design of the planet is very true to the setting (skulls everywhere), and I recognised many elements of the levels from the small plastic sprues of my youth. This extends to the multiplayer character design, and the player can have hours of fun unlocking and building their own space marine to their preferred specifications. Unfortunately the multiplayer is a little sparse at the moment, however planned downloadable content will add co-operative modes to the game, which will hopefully open it up a bit more. As it stands, it’s enjoyable enough but nothing ground-breaking.

Ultimately, to get the most out of Space Marine you have to already be a fan of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and specifically a fan of the Ultramarines faction. Much of the game is geared towards providing fanservice for this audience and there isn’t much to interest players who are picking the game up completely cold. For those who are fans of the tabletop game, however, there’s an awful lot to enjoy here and I’d highly recommend it as a hammy alternative to arguing over the rules for move phases over a kitchen table.