The super-violent Warhammer 40,000 universe has always been popular with gamers especially after Relic's excellent Dawn of War RTS games. Warhammer 40K: Space Marine marks the first time the veteran RTS developer has come out with an all-out action shooter meant for fans of games like Gears of War and Darksiders. Space Marine could have been a run-of-the-mill shooter that did no favors to Relic's resume, but instead is a mighty fun game that often eclipses the always dark and dreary Gears of War.
When Titus swings his axe or hammer, there is a real feeling of inertia at play and the constant swinging motion with which Titus plies his bloody trade feels like a particularly gory but hugely satisfying ballet.
What's it About?
The best thing about Space Marines' story is that it's unpretentious, straight and serves the hectic action well. The worst thing I can say about it is that it is predictable but it serves its purpose. While Space Marines has a straight-forward story, the universe in which it is set has an epic history that sets the context very well. While you don't really need to know the exhaustive back story, if you happen to know the history of the Warhammer 40K universe with its enigmatic 'Emperor,' the warring 'Orks,' the mysterious 'Eldar' and the evil 'Chaos' then you'll enjoy the game even more.
Captain Titus: He makes Marcus Fenix & Master Chief look like prepubescent school kids.
Space Marines sees you as Captain Titus, the titular 'Space Marine' (of the Ultramarines chapter), who with his Space Marine brethren has to defeat an Ork army that has invaded a human 'Forge World'- a planet with factories that make weapons for human armies. And that's about it. There are a couple of twists along the way but nothing you won't spot from a mile away. There are a few speaking characters most of whom are memorable, a pleasant surprise in a genre resplendent with cardboard cut-outs for characters.
How it Plays
Space Marine was publicized with the tagline "Space Marines don't take cover," an obvious dig at Gears of War's space marines that only ever fight from behind cover. The tagline holds true since Titus has to actually get into huge melee massacres to refill his health bar. While you can still hide behind structures that work as cover, the game ensures that you will die pretty soon if that's your favored tactic.
However, getting personal with your enemies while wielding chainswords (swords with chainsaw blades), power axes and battle hammers is so much fun that you won't want to use your rifles and pistols for long. The game also understands the concept of weight because every weapon and every movement of yours shows a certain "heft". When Titus swings his axe or hammer, there is a real feeling of inertia at play and the constant swinging motion with which Titus plies his bloody trade feels like a particularly gory but hugely satisfying ballet.
The enemy A.I. isn't great but they have numbers on their side which makes the game challenging in the latter stages when you have to decide between getting into the fray to replenish your health or taking out enemies one at a time.
Titus' more than half-a-ton armor provides an energy shield that automatically refills after a couple of seconds but to increase his health, you will need to stun an enemy first and then perform a special execution. At this point the game slows down and then speeds back up, a visual popularized by film director Zack Snyder in movies like "300" and "Watchmen." It's cool to watch and Titus has a couple of unique execution moves for each melee weapon he wields.
The controls also follow an easy layout that feel fine on a keyboard and mouse. There aren't too many controls to confuse you and they are simple without feeling simplistic.
The worst thing about the entire game is the final boss fight which is an uncharacteristically terrible decision by the game designers. Without spoiling it for you let me just say that it's worse than the final boss of Mass Effect 2 and the first boss fight in Deus Ex: Human Revolution and heavily relies on over five minutes of Quick Time Events.
How it Looks & Sounds
Space Marine may not look as obviously beautiful or realistic as Crysis or The Witcher 2 but it looks fantastic nonetheless. Relic could have gone with Gears of Wars' grey-brown template but instead they decided not to restrict their color palette. The result is that Space Marine's environments look war-torn and lived-in but also colorful and unique. Also, although the game is essentially linear, the environments around you are huge with plenty of majestic backdrops such as hundreds of factory catwalks, partially destroyed Gothic ruins and a massive hundred-foot tall robot.
Space Marine also features very good sound design that makes use of the Warhammer 40K universe's predominantly mechanical (almost steam punk) aesthetics. The music score by Cris Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan is grand and I mistook it for being scored by Inon Zur (since he did score the original Dawn of War games).
Currently, there is one multiplayer mode available in Space Marine which is similar to Team Fortress 2's class-based team battles. Players can choose to play as Chaos Marines or Space Marines in death-match or CTF maps. While the multiplayer suite is not unique by far, the combination of powerful melee weapons with the ability to use jet packs to jump over distances makes multiplayer matches very hectic. Also, even the most basic weapons feel sufficiently powerful which means that even newbies can get a couple of kills to begin with.
If you are a fan of the Warhammer 40K universe, then Space Marine is a must buy. Not only will you be able to finally play as a Space Marine but you will also enjoy the environment created for you. If you haven't played the Warhammer 40K games before, and like straight-forward action shooters, then you will like Space Marine. I really don't think there's any kind of gamer out there who won't enjoy playing Space Marine.
After all, it's better to live for the Emperor than to die for yourself.
Warhammer 40K: Space Marine has been launched in India by Express Interactive. It's available for Rs. 699 for the PC.