Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine: The Kotaku Review

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine: The Kotaku Review

Until recently I was under the impression that Warhammer 40,000 was a tabletop war game played mainly by bookish and bearded nerds in comic shops and out-of-the-way conference rooms at sci-fi/fantasy conventions.

Now I’m as bookish and bearded as nerds come, but somehow I’ve managed to avoid being drawn into the game. I’ve admired the time and patience it must take to coat tiny metal figurines with multiple coats of fictionally significant paint. I’ve marvelled at the intricate crafting work that goes into creating the elaborate miniature battlefields those figures do imaginary battle upon.

I respect the dedication and passion that it takes to be a Warhammer 40,000 player, but I’ve never considered crossing over into Games Workshop’s world of futuristic fantasy warfare.

Then I spent a week walking in the heavy metal boots of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine.

Having proven their understanding and dedication to the Warhammer 40,000 universe with the Dawn of War series of real-time strategy games, Relic Entertainment now brings us a third-person shooter / slasher that focuses on a single member of the Imperium’s elite fighting forces. When an army of Greenskins invade the Forge World of Graia, where some of the Imperium’s most powerful weapons are made, Captain Titus‘ three-man squad of Ultramarines is the only fighting force close enough to the planet to help, but what can three men do in the face of several thousand Orks?

Quite a lot, actually.

When the Orks come charging across the ravaged surface of Graia, Captain Titus and his squad greet them with cold steel. The savages are met by combat knife, chainsword, power axe and war hammer, the might of the Ultramarines proven with every brutal swing. This is no God of War. There is no finesse here. Not when the one wielding the weapon is more than a ton of bioengineered human and massive metal armour. That impressive weight is put behind every swing, combo attacks generating almost unstoppable momentum. You won’t see an Ultramarine leaping into the air to juggle his foes like some deadly, gravity-defying acrobat. Even when equipped with the rare jump pack, their attacks are ground-based, the massive warriors bringing their full weight to bear in an earth-shaking power drop that sends enemies flying.

An incredibly simple system with only one real attack button, the melee combat in Space Marine might be considered rudimentary if not for the nature of the protagonist. Captain Titus is built to wade into hordes of enemies, swinging his weapon back and forth relentlessly. He is not a nimble dancer, weaving in and out of combat like some stabby ghost. He is a walking tank. That he can even manage to combat roll out of harm’s way is an impressive feat.

So instead of some elaborate fighting mechanic requiring complex button sequences, Relic gave us an attack button, a stun button (for setting up health-restoring execution attacks), and a dodge roll button. It’s very basic, but it works.

That same satisfying simplicity carries over to the other aspect of Space Marine‘s battles: Gunplay.

“Cover is for the weak”. That’s one of the slogans that appeared on the marketing for Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. Perhaps that should be amended to read “Cover is for those not nearly eight feet tall and encased in power armor”. When one becomes a Space Marine, crouching against crates is forever removed from your list of realistic activities. That doesn’t mean that cover isn’t a necessity. Space Marine just does things old-school. Don’t want to get shot? Put obstacles between you and your attackers, just like we did it in the good old days. Walking behind a large metal crate is just as effective as hugging it, and it counts as self-preservation instead of hiding.

Running and gunning without a cover mechanic makes for much more action-packed firefights. Rather than just finding a rocky outcropping and laying low until all of the enemies stop moving I dodge, I weave, and every now and then I throw caution to the wind and charge, chainsword humming to life in my hands. The four firearms I can carry at any given time add to the variety of my attacks. Do I get in close and let loose with a fiery force of the shotgun-like meltagun, or do I hang back hang back and let the pinpoint accuracy of the powerful lascannon take my foes out from afar?

The success of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine lies in combining these two simple systems into one. While enjoyable enough, there’s nothing particularly spectacular about the game’s melee combat. The gunplay is solid as well, but doesn’t do anything to stand out above other modern shooters. It’s the marriage of these two that make the game sing, two modest voices coming together to form a gorgeous (if somewhat militaristic) harmony.

The game’s only failing is that the online multiplayer falls under the keep-it-simple motif as well. Battles between the Space Marines and their chaotic counterparts are every bit as satisfying as solo gameplay, but with only two multiplayer modes and a handful of maps, it just doesn’t have much staying power.

Fortunately the single-player story is more than enough to carry the title. In narrowing the focus from Dawn of War‘s large-scale battles to a single soldier’s story, Relic is able to immerse players in the 40,000 universe like never before. Rather than looking over the action, we’re an integral part of it, and while Captain Titus has all the personality of a particularly colourful rock, his values, integrity, and the dark secrets locked away in his past make him a compelling enough character to warrant revisiting.

The true triumph of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is that it left me wanting more. Not just more of Captain Titus’ tale or more multiplayer battles, but more Warhammer 40,000 in general. I’ve watched people playing the tabletop war game many times over the past several decades, and I thought it a colossal waste of time. I played through Relic’s own Dawn of War games, and never once did I think to look beyond the game to the rich fiction Games Workshop.

But now I have questions. Who are the Inquisition, and where do they get off? What’s wrong with a little chaos? What’s the story behind the other Space Marine chapters that show up in the game? Why the hell would anyone subject themselves to a process that filled their body with extra organs and fused their ribcage into one giant, bulletproof plate? Do they sell those little metal Space Marines in bulk?

Simply put, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine has made me a fan of the property, and for the first time in ages, I’m wondering if I can find some time during the week to paint miniatures. Anyone have any pink and yellow paint I can borrow?


  • U don’t need to be good at painting to enjoy a good game of Warhammer 40.000 :).
    My advice: you can try it out in one of the GW shops, but it is a much better experience if you can find someone with a large epic tabletop battleground.

    • and lastly – you are completely right on this point – a lot of people don’t even bother to paint the minis.

      One of the things that is so brilliant about 40k is it INSPIRES the imagination – which people who don’t play it just don’t get.

      Imagination is sorely lacking in people in this day and age, but 40k really bucks the trend and lets you run wild in pretty much anyway you want.

      The guys in the GW stores are always really helpful and interested in pretty much anything your doing, if not being a little over-enthusiastic at times lol

  • “Who are the Inquisition, and where do they get off? What’s wrong with a little chaos? What’s the story behind the other Space Marine chapters that show up in the game? ”

    Basically, the Imperium is surrounded by enemies on all sides, and one of the worst is the Chaos gods. A little while ago they corrupted the Warmaster of the Imperium who ended up nearly killing the Emperor and so forth, so they founded the Inquisition to go around rooting out Chaos or Aliens or whatever evils and heresy they could find. As to the other Space Marine chapters, squads of them just join up with random fleets for crusading fun.

  • Subtext – buy this game

    As for multiplayer – it’s the most enjoyable multiplayer i have played for a long time just for the simple fact that it’s NOT overly convoluted like many other games these days

    • But you’ve gotta admit, multiplayer is a tad thin on the ground interms of game types and maps. The beastly customisation system will keep me going for a while, as it will a lot of the players, but once that dries up… then what?

      Here’s hoping Relic throw some love in the form of a few tweaks and some new maps (And maybe capture the flag?) our way.

    • I just hope they add dedicated servers or a local search option.
      That’s all I ask. I’m tired of playing multiplayer against U.S. and U.K. players.

      • Don’t hold your breath, man. Although we all live in hope, I don’t see it happening.

        If you’re in Australia, I suggest joining one of the few Space Marine steam groups. There’s always someone playing and its just a matter of hitting them up and asking if they’re onto a good one or not.

    • Realistically, i don’t see how it would be possible to add that to the game and keep it balanced, unfortunately.

      With the outcry for termi armor, though, i wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in the sequel (you know there will be one).

      In the meantime, i’d be happy with just a few more weapons. The Rocket Launcher, Multi-Melta and Power Fist/Chain Fist would be pretty awesome…

      Or better yet – LIGHTNING CLAWS! 😀

  • Seems like a simplistic and generic game too me, there’s nothing that draws me too play the game in the first place, so yeah, Im awesome and your not, and someone left this doormat at the front door…

  • Love to see the Tau or the Eldar as playable characters in the next game. Probably not the standard units but something beefier like a Tau commander in battle armour or one of the interesting Eldar units like the Warp Spiders.

    • All multiplayer is Peer-to-Peer, so it’s really a mixed bag

      MOST of the games i played were pretty goo, considering, with a small amount of lag every now and then.. but other games can be horrendous – one game i played migrated hosts about 8 times before i got fed up and left and rejoined another game.

      I’ve also heard MP is really buggy on PC and PS3 at the moment, but they should have it remedied soon

      • Yeah there’s a few matchmaking issues right now – for instance SM informs me my NAT is set to Open, and this may cause problems joining or hosting games. Riiiiight.

        My PS3 has a static IP and is DMZ’d, and comes up as Type 2 in the NAT test. Apparently there’s known issues that are yet to be fixed.

        Still have yet to get into a single MP game yet.

  • Played the demo and loved the solid graphics and animation but the game consisted of running down corridors and mashing square.

    I thought games were beyond this now.

    As for the minatures I’ve tried to get into it a few times but just can’t find the time.

    Played DoW2 though which was fantastic 😀

    • As opposed to running down linear corridors, pulling the trigger on controllers to kill terrorists.
      At least this game tries to mix it up a little

  • I’ve been avoiding this like the plague, Space Marines ruined 40k for me (look at the number of SPEESH MAHHRINE armies compared to Xenos)

    It however looks pretty damn awesome and I’ll go pick it up.

    Oh yeah, playing warhammer doesn’t rule out a sex/social life, its a hobby for a lot of people, just like computer games, sport etc.

    • woah – hang on – how do space marines ruin 40k?

      They have been a part of it since the rogue trader days???

      Also, the reason for the there being so many space marine (and imperial) armies is because of the great crusade among many other moves by the imperium where the space marines went from planet to planet wiping out entire races.

      Then you’ve got the orks, necrons and tyranids that do the exact same thing, s othe other races don’t have a massive chance 😛

      Also – if you’re getting the game, if you get it for 360 add me so i have more aussies to play with
      Gamertag: Chul00p4

      • Because every 6 months another over-powered marine army is made because they sell and my Tau which are largely unchanged (except for a few shinies) are stuck with the same underpowered stuff from 2001. =p

        I’ll be getting it for PS3 I think, and probably not soon (i’m so poor -_-)

  • Having been playing the multiplayer the past few nights. It’s great fun, working towards the achievements feels fun and not too grindy.

    The lag can be problematic even using four players all on ADSL2+ in Australia. Playing in a public lobby is a lottery, some games are bareable but other times it’s impossible to even hit a target.

    Hopefully given Relic’s track record we’ll see more game types and maps released in expansions.

  • I have really enjoyed this game and for the first time I had found myself fighting hand to hand for nearly the whole game. I will say one thing though, it’s funny how the most obscure Chaos chapters made it into the Multiplayer but the Chaos Marines you face in the single player campaign don’t seem to be from any particular Legion/Chapter what’s up with that?

  • My boss has 2 young sons who have recently become involved with Warhammer figurines and each week going to their local store to play.

    At first he was concerned but after watching his kids learn about team work, being a good sport when you loose and having to read the manuals involved in playing, he now sits down and helps his sons paint and play.

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