The Warhammer 40,000 universe has become a familiar staple in the videogame world for some time now, and while the quality of the tabletop war game's digital adaptations has often been questionable, THQ’s handling of the franchise in recent years has allowed the brand to receive the treatment it deserves, most notably resulting in the excellent Dawn of War real-time strategy series. What always irked me however, was the lack of a decent action game based on the world of 40k.
Full disclosure before the review kicks off: I’ve never been a tabletop gaming kind of guy, but I’ve always been an admiring onlooker of Games Workshop’s creations, especially their depiction of a future sci-fi world. For those wishing for a game that captures the visual stylings of the universe within a heavily action based environment, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine could be the game you’ve been waiting for.
Coming to the rescue of a besieged Imperial tech colony that houses several devastating Titans, you take the role of captain Titus of the Ultramarine chapter of Space Marines. Alongside two other Marines, players must rid the colony of its Ork invaders who have sent millions of units to steal away one of the legendary weapons for itself. Literally millions - and you’ll have plenty of fun using the satisfying arsenal of weaponry to take the hordes apart.
Taking the form of a Gears-like third person shooter, Space Marine is a no nonsense blaster that adds a unique melee aspect to proceedings that proves key to both survival, and the enjoyable constant variation of play style featured within the game. Enemies can be despatched by using ranged weapons and attacks, but the players health bar can only be regenerated by performing close range execution attacks, unleashed once the enemy has been stunned at close range. The executions are wonderfully brutal, and help break up the chaotic nature of the action giving a punctuation point to proceedings when the player needs to catch a quick breath to assess the next action.
The trade off between the relative safety of ranged attacks and the danger of not recuperating health quickly enough is a brilliant design choice that keeps the player deep in the middle of the fight at all times. The combination has to be used strategically, as charging head first in to battle will often end in failure, and occasionally even on the normal difficulty setting players will find repeated deaths during the same sequence. It can get frustrating, but a workaround is always in place to be discovered.
The most enjoyable aspect of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine however, is the convincing recreation of the weapons made famous by the tabletop game. From Chainswords and Bolters to Power Axes and Melta Guns, each weapon is enjoyable to use in conjunction with one another. A personal highlight, are the sequences in which players are given a Jump Pack to traverse both environments, and reign terror upon your enemies. The combination of crashing down with a shockwave inducing thud, and smashing the scrambling foes with a giant electrified warhammer is totally fulfilling.
Space Marine also translates the imagery associated with Warhammer 40,000 perfectly. The Ultramarine character models are satisfyingly chunky and very well articulated, and the Ork hordes the player faces off against look great, with each enemy type distinctive from the last, and filled with humorous design choices. Grim, towering gothic architecture lies decimated as players travel through the game, and while generic underground tunnels and dusty wastelands are employed, there are enough surprises in the shape of enemy transports to lighten the occasionally uninspired nature of the environments. There’s usually too much fighting occurring to take too much notice anyway.
The action can get a little repetitive at times, but new enemies spring up frequently enough and those using specialised weaponry such a shields and rocket launchers add some freshness every so often. The level design is incredibly linear, and there’s never an option other than following the designated path - even outdoor segments feel like corridors with foliage. While a distraction for sure, the linearity and monster closet nature of the confrontations can be forgiven as the sole focus of the title is to provide big and nasty fight sequences one after the other.
Overall, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is a fantastic addition to the growing profile of the franchise in video game form, providing a highly satisfying combat driven experience with the agelessly cool design associated with the universe.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is available now on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (reviewed format), OnLive and PC from THQ.