Relic’s new third person shooter set in the Warhammer 40K Universe is out – Warhammer 40K: Space Marine. In Space Marine you play as Captain Titus of the Ultramarines who has been deployed to a remote forge world named Graia that has been invaded by the Orks. His mission, initially, is to prevent a giant mech from falling into the hands of the Orks. Things rapidly change from there, and Titus soon gets caught up in a war far different from what he initially expected.
More Than Just Orks in Space
I know it’s a little odd to talk about story first in a shooter. But I wanted to get it out of the way before we go on to the meat. For a shooter, this game actually has a pretty solid and strong story. Not in the same category as most rpgs, but for a shooter it was relatively well done. There are a lot of little lore bits that are delivered through pieces of these journal entries you can listen to when you find these ‘servo skulls’ throughout the environment. These not only add some nice story, but also a bit of replayability from a ‘gotta catch ’em all’ perspective since they give you a tally of how many you’ve collected in each chapter and how many there are. The unfortunate part is that Warhammer has a very long, very detailed story – and this game does not do a good job of introducing you to it. If you’re not already very familiar with Warhammer 40K, don’t expect to understand half of what’s going on. And that’s the situation I was in, I’m not a part of Warhammer history, and half of these groups, titles, organizations, species, and details made no sense to me. I was able to make assumptions about them, but they weren’t well explained and I could never be sure what I was assuming was correct. Other than that, though, the only other real downside to the story was the rather mixed ending. It had aspects that were very interesting, but the actual end was incredibly anticlimactic.
Chainswords and Snipers and Jetpacks, oh my!
So now we get to the meat of a shooter – the shooting. Your arsenal is fairly limited, with 4 different categories of guns, and 1-3 guns in each category. For your primary two guns – your heavy assault rifle style gun and your handgun – you get an upgrade midway through the game that makes them significantly more useful. For the other two gun slots, you can pick and choose any guns from the remaining categories as you find them in the environment. These range from an ultra-range sniper rifle to a short range shotgun style explosive blaster to a grenade launcher, among others. Each of these guns feels good to use, and they all add an interesting dynamic to both the single player and multiplayer, even if selection might be a bit sparse. In the campaign mode, your handgun has unlimited ammo but all other weapons have ammo capacities and can run out – which is a good compromise to ensure that it’s not too easy but also not impossible if you happen to run out of ammo. During multiplayer; however, this is not the case – even your handgun has a limited amount of ammo. One really odd decision was to make the ammo universal. No matter what weapons you choose to use, if you find ammo during the game, you can apply it to that weapon. There are a few places where you’ll find refill stations that are weapon specific, but any ammo you find lying around can just be put to any weapon.
The other half of your weapon arsenal comes in the form of a handful of different melee weapon options. There’s a fast, mid-damage sword, a slow high-damage axe, and a really slow ultra-high damage hammer. All three of them have a very good weight to them and feel very cool. Not so cool is the fact that you can only gain life by either unleashing your super-move, which you really need to save for key moments, or by performing executions: overly elaborate, uncancellable finishing moves on stunned or weakened enemies that really leave you open to attack – a bad situation when you’re in need of health in the first place. I can think of easily a few dozen times where I died while trying to refill my life due to the length of time an execution took.
The shooting itself is fairly responsive, rarely did I come accross a moment where I felt that I should have hit but didn’t, or where I was struggling to aim correctly, or where things just didn’t feel right. Overall it felt quite satisfactory except in one area: Headshot tracking. This seems to be an issue a lot of games that use non-standardized humanoids(either the unreal engine style steroid humanoids or things like monsters, undead, etc.), and it’s figuring out where the head starts and ends. In some cases I would appear to have shot the head dead on and not gotten a headshot, and I had a few where I’m almost 100% sure what I shot was closer to the middle of their chest and it counted as a headshot. A fairly minor issue, since the campaign isn’t that difficult for the most part, but still one worth noting – especially as you get into the multiplayer and accuracy becomes a bit more important.
One decision that felt a little awkward – although I do understand the reason for it – was the decision to not implement any cover system at all. Yes I know, the Space Marines are supposed to be so tough, so strong that the thought of cover never crosses their minds… but in practice that doesn’t work so well. When you’re fighting a dozen enemies all shooting at you, the lack of a cover system quickly becomes a pretty annoying hindrance to gameplay.
In addition to regular shooter moments, there are also segments where you get to use a jetpack, or ‘jump pack’ as they call it. These segments are among the most fun in the game, as you get to just blast around really feeling as powerful as the Space Marine is obviously intended to feel. The controls are not 100% responsive during these segments, and occasionally jumps would not go off or not work the way I was intending, but overall it was a great deal of fun despite those minor control issues.
The game’s presentation is mostly in the ‘average’ section. The graphics are decent, but not great. The framerate is consistent. There were very few graphical glitches I was able to find, and almost no broken terrain. The character models were all well-rendered but largely unmemorable – they look just like every other Unreal Engine no-neck military dude, afterall. Some of the enemy models were really interesting, but for the most part the enemies were pretty bland looking.
The audio was much the same story, with the sound effects all being reasonably good, the voice acting up to par, and the music largely unmemorable. Case in point, a mere week after finishing it, I can’t remember a single track from it.
Fragging With Your Friends
The multiplayer is prettymuch your standard shooter multiplayer, with fewer modes. The only two modes present when I played it were a team deathmatch and a territory-control game mode. The game doesn’t use character classes like many games, instead having ‘loadout archetypes’ that can be customized. The biggest downside being when you start the game you are stuck with one weapon combo and that’s it. You have to level up a fair bit to get anything else. The best thing in the multiplayer is the ‘copy loadout’ option. Whenever you get killed by anyone, you have the option to, for the next time you spawn, copy their ‘build’ – so any equipment, perks, etc. they have. This makes those first few levels more bearable. Once you start getting customization options, the multiplayer becomes noticably more enjoyable.
The gameplay works almost identical to the single player except that your handgun has limited ammo as I mentioned above and one or two weapons function slightly differently. The characters’ armor is fully customizable, but in the end you’re still either a Space Marine or a Chaos Space Marine so the appearances are largely the same – big bulky body, heavy armor, etc. The lack of variety in appearances really makes the game boring to look at during multiplayer, and it makes it nearly impossible to hide for sniping purposes since you are essentially the size of a small car and you have no ability to take cover at all.
The matchmaking system is either really slow, or there is just nobody playing it – it took me over 15 minutes of searching to get into my first game, and then about another 10 to get into the second game I tried to join. The system is also very vague, with it telling you a number of total games and then a ‘potential games’ count, I believe it was called, that gradually goes up and down but no explanation of what that means. In addition, it was also giving me NAT errors despite my ps3 being in my DMZ on my router, which makes no sense to me but didn’t seem to impede my ability to play, so didn’t really bother me.
The enemies are incredibly repetetive, with one switch in enemy type about 2/3 of the way through the game, but other than that it’s just the same selection of Orks for the entire duration. Additionally, the difficulty level on Hard was really erratic, with about 70% of the game being an absolute cakewalk, about 20% being a good difficulty and keeping me on my toes, and about 10% just making me feel like I was beating my head against the wall. I don’t really like it when most of hard difficulty is so easy. The end boss fight had a really frustrating part where you fought a whole bunch of regular enemies in a crappy position, which was fine – but following that you get this seemingly out-of-nowhere giant quicktime event end boss. This was a huge disappointment, I was looking forward to fighting that guy, but then it ended up just being me alternating square circle and triangle in a very predictable sequence. Really big letdown, especially followed by the bland ending. The game is also very highly linear, so if that is the sort of thing that bothers you, then be aware.
If you’re a Warhammer fan, I’m sure you’ll find a lot to love in this title. A lot more than I did. Ultimately, for me, as a person who enjoys third person shooters but has no experience in the Warhammer universe, the game was largely mediocre. A meld of highpoints and lowpoints in which neither was extreme enough to be telling. During the high points I found myself enjoying the game, but not blown away and during the low points I found myself disappointed, but not so much that I had the urge to stop playing. Neither the gameplay nor the story were absolutely exceptionnal, but both were definitely not bad. Warhammer 40K: Space Marine is the true definition of a mediocre shooter, but still – if you’re looking for a reasonably fun third person shooter to pass the time for a bit, this one might just entertain you for a while.
- Good weight on melee weapons.
- Controls responsive.
- Jump pack fun to use.
- ‘Copy Loadout’ option in multiplayer is really handy.
- Sound effects good.
- Characters were fairly well cast in terms of voice.
- Story is strong, even without a background in WH universe.
- Nice collectable lore aspect.
- Consistent framerate
- Very few graphical glitches or problems.
- Jump pack controls not 100% responsive.
- Multiplayer gives you too few options to begin with.
- Multiplayer matchmaking is very vague and doesn’t work terribly well.
- Limited multiplayer game modes.
- Lack of cover made game feel awkward.
- Music completely unmemorable.
- Does not do good job of explaining Warhammer specific concepts(*Note: This does not hugely detract from the story, but does leave you out of a lot of things that happen, and leave you wondering who or what a lot of people are)
- Headshot tracking isn’t very good.
- Ending scene very mediocre and anticlimactic.
- End boss was an awkward out-of-place quicktime event.
- Weapon selection felt fairly limited.
- Executions feel like a liability rather than a cool finisher.
Review written by: Sean