So whilst we don’t spend our weekends painting figurines and waging war on a tabletop battlefield, it doesn’t mean we’re total strangers to Warhammer here at Gamesweasel. It’s just we prefer to play our games on a TV screen, but each to their own right?
There’s no way we can cover the whole history of the series here; however the main thing you need to know is that; Warhammer, is a hugely successful fantasy strategy game that sent Dungeons and Dragons players into a dizzy with a whole new take on the role playing game structure.
Warhammer 40,000 (or 40k) is a spin-off that sees the classic action sent hurtling into the outer reaches of space, as well as the future. It’s all well and good battling Orks with swords, but sometimes you just wish you had a machine gun or laser cannon.
There have been quite a few video game adaptations of the Warhammer series in the past; most notably Dawn of War 2 which we awarded 8 out of 10 to back in 2009. Of course DOW2 is a classic real time strategy game that is more akin to what you’d expect from the Warhammer world.
Warhammer 40k Space Marine is different; the game throws out most of the slow paced conventions fans will be used to and lays itself neatly into the action category. Don’t go thinking this will be a change for the worse, instead imagine you’ve been magically whisked down onto the game-board just like in that Robin Williams movie; Jumanji, You’re no longer hovering over an army of nicely painted plastic figurines. You are one of those figurines and down here this is real, there’s no rolling of dice or taking turns – this is war baby.
In what I will politely describe as a heavily influenced homage to Gears of War; you take control of Captain Titus of the Ultramarines. A legion of super tough soldiers that are sworn to protect the Imperial worlds and abide by the Codex Astartes. Right from the beginning this third person shooter holds no punches as you’re thrown into battle against waves of Orks.
There’s not much to the story, but here goes. Warboss Grimskull, leader of the Ork army has invaded Graia, an Imperial planet of great importance. Not only does this planet produce most of the Imperial weaponry and defences, but it also houses giant war machines known as Titans. In the hands of the Orks the Titans could give them all the power they need to wreck havoc on the universe. The mission is simple really, with your two Ultramarine buddies; Sidonus and Leandros, you must join forces with the planetary defences and banish the Orks. Whilst the green skinned beasts may be fairly stupid, they do happen to have numbers on their side. In fact their liberation fleet quickly took major strongholds on the planet and things aren’t looking good.
Let’s not beat around the bush – this is an action title focused squarely on two mechanics. Close range melee combat and mid-to-long ranged gun battles. There’s no puzzle solving, negotiation or faffing to be had here – it’s brutality, pure and simple . You start off with a basic Bolt Pistol and Combat Knife which are more than enough to deal with a small horde of Orks. So you’ll be pleased to hear that as you run from to checkpoint to checkpoint through ancient gothic cities, they’ll be plenty of green monsters to kill. They of course come in all shapes and sizes; but don’t get too complacent – even the small ones can be a danger in large quantities.
Most of the time you’ll have advance warning before you encounter the foe, either by seeing them at a distance or hearing their pathetic chatter. This gives you an all important edge where from long distance you can start clearing away Orks with your gun flavoured weaponry and grenades. All too quickly though you’ll find that a huge bunch have still managed to catch up to you and are ready to start slicing and dicing…unless you get there first that is.
Melee combat is fast, fluid and fun – simply push your stick in the direction you want to attack and hit the square button to perform a powerful strike. Press the button consecutive times to perform more powerful combos and clear the enemy with greater ease, if things are getting too rough then you can dodge attacks by rolling away or stun enemies with an attack from your triangle button. If performed correctly (and not blocked), this devastating blow will render an enemy totally helpless and ready to be executed. This is important for two reasons; the first being that the executions are very gory and gruesome to watch, the second is that executions regain your health. That’s right, there are no health pickups or potions to be found in this game – if you want to refill your health meter then you’ll have to earn it the hard way. It’s a great way of preventing a player from retreating and running off to find a first aid kit.
After killing several enemies in a row you’ll eventually fill a rage meter located in the bottom left corner of the screen. When full the player can activate what I like to call ‘awesome mode’ – not only are you able to move and melee attack at greater speed, but you can also trigger a slow motion moment (bullet time) which gives you a handy chance to pop some well placed headshots towards some of those tougher Orks.
As you explore Graia you may notice that things are a bit bland, this planet was mainly used to manufacture weapons and as such – the scenery and environments aren’t too pretty to look at. Most of the landscapes you’ll encounter are now ruins (thanks to the Orks) and by the end I’m sure you’ll be sick of the site of broken rubble and twisted metal, still – there are times when you’ll be travelling underground through pipes, in an airship and even with the assistance of a jetpack. Yes it’s certainly true that the humble jetpack is a tad overexposed in gaming at the moment, at least here in Space Marine it does serve a decent…if limited purpose. Because Ultramarines are encased in thick and heavy armor, it means they cannot run very fast or even jump. During the few stages that feature a jetpack you’ll instantly fall in love the ability to move with some speed, freedom and especially movement of the vertical kind.
You may expect things to get harder as the game progresses and you’ll be correct. The Orks get stronger and appear in greater numbers, some will even carry guns, swords and even makeshift armor and shields – of course you’ll need greater equipment to deal with them. Luckily you’ll encounter special Imperial stores that contain new weapons and can grant extra powers such as; Longer lasting Rage and a Regenerating Armor.. My favorites new weapons include a Thor like hammer, a laser cannon and the all important chainsword – a deadly combination of a sword and chainsaw.
For most of the game (but not all) you and your team mates will be battling the hoards together. Their strength and unlimited health come in very useful when things get tough but sometimes your AI buddies can be all but useless. Every so often you’ll encounter some seriously tough 10ft high Orks that require a great deal of strength to take down – a pity that your friends will totally ignore them as the baddies home in on you like a magnet, perhaps only Titus’ armor is made of iron?
Without wanting to spoil the latter half of the game too much, it’s safe to say things do get a bit more interesting than just battling Orks all day. Fans of Warhammer will no doubt love the addition of NPC Inquisitor Drogan, as well as a whole host of the Chaos warband to take down.
The singleplayer campaign takes around 8-10 hours to complete and certainly has it’s breathtaking moments. Many of the battles are thrilling and will remind you of those battle sequences from Lord of the Rings, at other times the dumb AI will let you snipe every enemy without them even reacting to being shot at. The Gears of War influence results in some gripping action and plenty of bloody being spilt during executions. The one thing I can’t quite fathom is the lack of a cover mechanic, especially when almost everything else has been borrowed from GOW.
When the campaign is all over with you’ll still have the pleasure of a full and comprehensive online multiplayer mode to explore. Take your combat skills into battle with others around the world as you battle in traditional team deathmatch or capture the point modes. You play as either the Ultramarines or Chaos Marines but in reality, they’re pretty similar. Originality is not on the menu here but if you like earning XP, levelling up and unlocking new weapons, then I can see you sinking a good few hours here. Those that rank up past level 4 can customize their characters look and it has been said that this will attract those that love to paint their own Warhammer models in real life.
Personally I found the multiplayer a tad slow when compared to the lightning fast battles to be had in Call of Duty, also right away you’ll be overwhelmed by the power of opponents. Those with jetpacks and plasma rifles will be too strong for your level one Bolt Pistol. However the clever inclusion of a copy class mode means that this isn’t really a big issue. After every death the befalls you, you’ll have the opportunity to copy the loadout of the guy that killed you. No you don’t get to keep the great stuff beyond more than one turn – but you will at least get to use all the cool gear long before you actually get to unlock it yourself, earning XP all the while.
All in all Warhammer 40,000 Space Marines is a decent experience. A solid single player campaign which quickly gets repetitive but at least has a story that you’ll want to see through to the end. Funnily enough the same can be said for the graphics, decent enough but repetitive locations and bland textures do make you wish for a splash of color here and there. But at least the game is smooth and doesn’t have a hint of slowdown, even when battles are super intense.
Coming away I feel that the biggest disappointment is that the game feels ripe for online coop play, yet it’s not there. When 75% of the game features you walking alongside two AI teammates – would it have really have been too tough to get a coop mode working? Epic have managed to do so since the original Gears of War and I think this game really would have benefited from a similar inclusion.
Warhammer 40,000 Space Marines gets a rather good 7 out of 10.
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