Anybody who’s at least taken the most fleeting of glimpses at the world of Warhammer 40,000 will have likely seen any one of the many Space Marine factions and thought, “they look pretty darn cool!” The more nerdy ones of us, like me, will have imagined donning their armour getting to grips with the basics of using a ‘chainsword’. While I’m by no means up on the lore of this universe — most of my knowledge comes from the Dawn of War games — I know enough to realise that these Space Marine guys are pretty bad-ass. But how does this portray into a video game that’s not of the RTS variety?
Space Marine puts you into the armour of the Ultramarines Commander, Captain Titus, and basically sets you out on a journey to slay just about anything that moves, in a myriad of fashions. The Orks have invaded the planet, and you’ll not stop until their green-skinned bodies are little more than pools of crimson red blood. With a third-person viewpoint, and both ranged and melee weapons, this is what you’re tasked with for the majority of the game’s campaign — which lasted around 8 hours for myself. Ranged weapons work in the usual fashion, with the close-combat taking on a sort of beat ‘em up style. With the camera right up in the action, there’ll be some rather brutal stuff going on. I mean, you take no prisoners in the midst of an Ork invasion. And there’s blood, lot’s of it. By the end of a fight, it’s as Titus has just come out of a cameo-appearance in the Dragon Age franchise.
There’s two key points that set this aside from other games that may be similar in appearance. The first, there’s no cover system. At all. You won’t be hiding behind an ammo crate to recharge your health in this one. Which brings me to the second point here; the way in which health is re-acquired. Where as most games tell you to run away in order to top up on life juice, Space Marine does the complete opposite. Special attacks are the way in which to recharge, and they’re performed in close-quarters by stunning an enemy and then hitting the attack key. Resulting in anything from a slow motion, skull-crushing boot stomp to impaling an enemy on your chainsword. It’s an interesting mechanic, that actually requires you to run towards enemies when your health is low. After all you’re a Space Marine, no time to be afraid, there’s a job to be done. It’s an idea that forces the player to act in the way you might assume a ‘real’ Space Marine would, and it works.
The one down side is that this can often feel a little repetitive. But it’s so damn cool you just don’t want to stop! Relic Entertainment have done a fairly good job of breaking it up with short cutscenes, the occasional boss-battle, new weapons throughout and the occasional unexpected twist in dialogue. There were a couple of sections, however, where the repetitive nature was in the forefront of my mind. These break-up points could have stopped this by being just two or three minutes earlier. But, then the game does something like throw a jetpack on Captain Titus’ back. Then you’ll keep playing, for sure. It appears a few times throughout the campaign, and changes combat a little as you’ll be using it to not only leap upon higher ground, but also to blast yourself back towards the ground with a force that’ll stun all enemies nearby. You’ll also progress from slaying mere Orks around halfway thorough; the orders of Chaos have arrived. Which is a welcome — and slightly more challenging — change.
Being made by Relic, it’s also pretty compliant with what us PC gamers have come to expect from a game. Both playing with a gamepad or mouse and keys is a pleasant experience, and there’s just about all the options that are needed in the menu screens. I also played on two machines; and it ran great on both my own more powerful system, and an older PC with an 8600GT for graphical throughput (albeit on low settings). And being a Steamworks title, my multi-system gaming was made a breeze with Steamcloud syncing my games between the two computers.
Throw in a fun-to-play multiplayer mode, with lots of weapons and customisation, and you’ve got a little added longevity thrown into the mix. It’s a fair bit of fun to play, and allows for one to play as the Chaos Marines. But I wouldn’t say it’s the sort of thing you’ll be putting a huge number of hours into. On the other hand, Relic have promised us that they’ll be patching in a co-op mode sometime in October. While it’d be nice to have it from the start, they did this very same thing with Dawn of War two — and in that case it not only drew me back into the game, but became my favourite part of it. So my fingers are firmly crossed that they’ll deliver in the same way this time around.
When it comes to the crunch, Space Marine does exactly what I was hoping it would — and that’s allow me to become as close to a Space Marine as I’m ever likely to, short of being cryogenically frozen for the best part of 38,000 years. The campaign’s not a bad length, achievements are in there to tempt a replay on a harder difficulty, and ultimately you’ll come out the other end of a few unexpected plot-twists feeling like a total bad-ass. A rather satisfied total bad-ass. Definitely worth a play, despite what a few other reviewers have claimed, and a welcome addition to the platform — as I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if it was developed by someone other than Relic and never made it our beloved PC.