Reader Review: Space Marine

Reader Review: Space Marine

We’ve all had plenty of time to put on some of the chunkiest armour seen in a video game, pick up a chainsword, and become space marines. So how was your experience with THQ’s 2011 Warhammer blockbuster? Kotaku regular Tristan Damen put on his critical hat and picked at the best and worst parts of his experience with Space Marine.

I’ve never been one for Warhammer 40K’s lore, lofty dialogue or miniature figurines. I have too much on my nerdy plate as it is. I did enjoy my brief love affair with Dawn of War II. Once again, not because of the source material; rather, it was a great strategy game in its own right. Now enter Space Marine. Same brand of brawny, quasi-religious tomfoolery, but from a different perspective. Instead of issuing directives from above, players get to step into the ridiculously-large boots of an Ultramarine. Will the close-up make these mammoths of men any more relatable?

The Good

Brutal Ballet — The combat system in Space Marine skillfully fuses third-person melee and shooting into a violent dance that is satisfying to perform. The risk-versus-reward execution system makes some of the more crowded battles all the more exciting, with those last minute Fury activations being the difference between life and death. The weapon selection, while modest, offers additional ways to control the crowd and thus the carnage on screen. Do you snipe your enemies with ranged weapons and clean-up the rest? Or, do you run in with Bolter, grenades and Chainsword at the ready? All important decisions, and most yield favourable outcomes.

That must’ve hurt — Execution moves look suitably brutal, and act as another reward for engaging in melee combat. The animations are, for the most part, fluid, and produce a satisfying amount of blood and gore. There are several different animations for each melee weapon, and they each serve to paint the Ultramarines (specifically, Captain Titus) as a force to be reckoned with.

The Bad

You look familiar — There isn’t much variety in enemy models and voicework throughout the campaign. You’ll hear “It’s the Space Marine!” in a terrible Ork-Australian accent so many times before the closing of the first few chapters that you’ll be tempted to mute the game for the remainder. Not that I did, but my word was that idea tempting! It’s also not long into the game when you first start yearning for some diversity in terms of look, sound and feel; and no, the jump pack segments do not count.

Walk in the park — Space Marine is fairly uneventful in terms of both narrative and difficulty level. With regards to the story: it’s painfully predictable, and doesn’t really tread into apocalypse territory until the final few chapters. Even then, Captain Titus always seems somewhat laissez-faire about the Ork and Chaos Marine threats. The unlikable, poorly-developed support cast also meant that I felt as though I had nothing to lose, even when the situation managed to look bleak.

I can see right through you! — Clipping errors are rampant throughout the single player adventure. If you’re backed into a corner and use an execution move, you’ll likely find that your opponent has disappeared into a nearby wall as you continue your choreographed moves. If you commence one of these deadly animations near a ledge, you might even see the miracle of levitation! The visuals also stuttered frequently in the final few chapters; it wasn’t so much a reduction in the frame rate as much as it was multiple, short (as in fractions of a second) instances of freezing.

The Ugly

You’re breaking up! — I couldn’t connect to a single multiplayer match that was of a playable standard. Deaths came quickly, and often from an enemy that copped about two clips worth of my worthless ammunition. My connection speed was slower than an Ultramarine attempting to run through a vacuum!

Top heavy — Space Marine’s multiplayer suite suffers from severe balance issues, with higher level opponents afforded equipment that has them raining death on newcomers. The ability to copy your assailant’s load-out after death doesn’t help things either, as there’s a learning curve for each piece of equipment. As a result, I often found myself dying before I could comprehend the power of the weapons I’d just acquired, and the vicious cycle was reset.

The Verdict

Warhammer 40K: Space Marine is a solid game that is undermined by some poor writing, repetitive visuals and obnoxious sound design. The brutal, satisfying blend of ranged and melee combat never turns stale, but the same can’t be said for the identical enemies and shallow support characters. The multiplayer aspect of the package also suffers from balance, depth and connectivity issues that led to me losing interest fairly quickly. If you’re a fan of the source material, I’m sure that you’ll get a lot out of the campaign. It’s just hard to recommend this game given the release window, where better games are either already on the market or likely to come very soon.


  • I reckon this is one that in a year or so we’re going to look back on and realise it was a lot better than it appeared at the time. If you see it on the cheap (especially for PC, if you have a decent machine and a gamepad to play with) during the Christmas / New Years sales rushes it’s absolutely worth picking up for $30-40 or so, but probably wasn’t worth it at $80+.

  • I would have played the multiplayer if they included a local only search filter. I once found an Aussie host and had some really fun 2 matches before he left.

  • I agree with everything said about the SP campaign even the bad but by god it is still so much fun doing those executions and swinging that chainsword.

    As for the MP? I found it really well balanced personally. In the 30 or so matches I’ve played (sure it’s not much but I got a good taste of it) I was always up against players with much much better gear and still managed to take them down with relative ease using just the Tactical loadout.

    • Im actually about to get 250 kills with the powersword, even though I dont actually have the item! <3 copy loadout!

  • Finally bought this for cheap from Ozgameshop. Looking forward to it now, despite all the other great games on the good ol’ pile o’ shame

  • Left me with a flat feeling TBH. I was expecting much more.

    I hope the next one is more like Battle Zone.

    • I agree, a good stepping stone for the inevitable an hopefully more refined sequel, a sign of good things to come. For the Emperor!

          • Relic are helping out with the 40K MMO thats due between next year and 2013 – which is why the game isn’t going to be in development anytime soon, which i guess is more than fair enough.
            It will be great when/if we finally get a sequel, though

          • You and me both.

            I actually thought Age of Reckoning did quite well. I really enjoyed it. Especially the RvR – better than any other game till that date – but in the end it was still and MMO, and MMO’s just fail to grab me.

            I more looking forward to the 40K MMO to see how they handle the universe.
            Hope for the best, but expect the worse, that way you may be pleasantly surprised. lol

          • The Emperor and his lies fool you all, only the path the Greater Good leads us through will bring success.

          • The Emperor is actually kind of false. The Empire he forged during the great crusade was based on a lie. I won’t go into the finer details, but he consulted with the Chaos Gods, then built the Empire on their advice, then blew them off, which is why they got so pissy and scattered the primarchs.

            So really, the only Chaos legion that’s doing it right is the Alpha legion which are as much a renegade legion instead of a chaos legion, as they haven’t entered the eye of terror even once. The other legions went full retard.

            It’s all a moot point anyway.

  • “The ability to copy your assailant’s load-out after death doesn’t help things either, as there’s a learning curve for each piece of equipment”. I see nothing wrong with this, given it means things come down to skill… And to be honest, not wiping the floor with your opponents when you just start using a new weapon sounds about right; means the weapons are different enough that its not just a reskinned weapon.

    But I do agree with most of the other points: MP always giving me shite reception (despite open NAT); whilst I love the execution moves, there’s not enough variety (esp. with later enemies); the music should have had more orchestral and triumphant more often (like how the title screen is). To be honest, they REALLY could have made this game epic (like WH40k is), especially given it’s by Relic, yet its quite mediocre 🙁

    Which saddens The Emperor 🙁

  • Admittadly i read the comments before i read the review, and after reading Lambo’s response i was expecting something bad – but you have shown the game great respect despite not being a fan of the universe.

    I’m still working on my review for the game (which is about twice as long), but i’ve had to put on hold due to the Kotaku Kristmas Project. But soon, people. Soon!

    I, personally, feel you’ve given the game too little credit in some parts. There are some features of the game that you’ve left out completely that are pretty great.
    Other things you think were good i found lacking.

    Without going to far into it and creating a review within a review (yo dawg…), there are a few things i want to nit-pick.

    – The Execution moves, as you said, are brilliant. Visceral and glorious. But i disagree in the fact that there is NO WHERE near enough variation in them, considering it’s a core game mechanic.

    -You paid no attention to the EXCELLENT sound FX and musical score. These were the highlight of the game for me. A game that finally got the bolter right? Thank you very much, i’ll take 2!

    -You didn’t mention Leandros was a complete dick, who needs a kick in the head.

    -Multiplayer is actually balanced almost perfectly, with nothing seperatin gthe sides other than skill. You may lose horribly, win triumphantly, or have one of the closest battles you could ever imagine. It changes from game to game. Those that played the single player will be fully comfortable with al lthe weapons, hence no learning-curve for the “copy loadout” function.

    -Multiplayer (on 360 at least) was usually more than playable. In fact i only expereinced drop-outs and unplayable lag a few times… except for Exterminatus. I’m yet to play a game of that that hasn’t lagged beyond unplayable.

    -Did i mention Leandros is a dick?

    – I don’t think clipping should be worth mentioning. It does nothing to gameplay, and you get that it pretty much any game with tight-spaces and execution moves.

    – I agree with the point of the Marine’s being very blase. Space Marines are warrior monks, basically. These guys are DEVOUT and FANATICAL, yet i felt no passion from them when it came to the hatred towards their enemies. There were lots of small touches that were missed that could have made the game all the more astronomical.

    – Lastly touching on that last point a little more – there were so many missed opportunities for awesome. Seeing the Warlord Titan for the first time was truly awe inspiring. The prospect of boarding it moreso. Then to only fight on the outside of it was a tremendous let down. I mean imagine if upon boarding the Titan, you got a short cutscene before transferring to the Titan Overloard, and got to pilot the monstrous war-machine towards the black tower to deliver Captain Titus, shooting down all manner of foe along the way.

    -Lastly, the orks were british, or are meant to be. Gamesworkshop always designed the orks with a VERY heavy cockney British accent – just this game failed to convey them properly, which many fans had a massive gripe with. I also agree with the annoyance of repetition, though.

    But all of this comes from being a big fan of the Universe, and as i said, you still showed the game a great amount of respect and all up it was a great review.
    Nicely done.

    I still say more people need to play it 🙂 <<<< Just came today 😀

      • The less said about Leandros the better.
        If I was Titus, Id have shoved him out of the cruiser when he complained about the codex not supporting making a bad ass entry/intro

          • +1 what a jerk.. Titus should have not only kicked him out of the cruiser but also shoved a copy of the Codex down his throat since he loves talking about it so much.

    • The inclusion of the Imperial Guard disappointed me a bit, they painted them as pretty useless. While I know they are somewhat the Imperiums meat shields I expected them to be a bit more useful. But then I may have had high expectations because I had just finished reading the Gaunt’s Ghosts books.

      • Yeah – you have to remember that the guard in this game were what was left of the planetary defense, pretty much.
        They were taken by surprise and decimated -and as we all know, the guard are only useful in numbers. Even the ghosts would have been trampled more than once had they not had support from the likes of the Dragoons.

        Anyway, the guard here were demoralised, separated and struggling to regroup. So in a way they weren’t portrayed all that wrongly.
        IMHO, that is

    • Thanks for the feedback, Loops (ha! get it?). In all seriousness, I’m glad that I didn’t cause any great offence to 40K fans.

      For the record, I played on PC. I’d just like to respond to two points:
      *I agree that clipping on its own isn’t worth a dig, but that was what I noticed in the first half of my plythrough. In the final acts, I ran into some really noticeable chugging which I’m fairly certain was not hardware related (as my laptop has recommended specs). What I was more pointing to was general lack of polish as far as the visuals were concerned.
      *Questions of balance aside, I trialed the multiplayer intermitenly over a 3 week period. Managed to find a few good matches and did have some fun, but given the snails pace at which you unlock gear and the consistent connectivity issues, I couldn’t get into it. As you theoretically have access to the whole arsenal (depending on who killed you last), there’s a lack of depth there as well. I say that because there’s no reward for slogging it out for countless hours/levels other than being able to spawn with the equipment that you could otherwise get by standing still and dying.

      Can I have some of that cake now, please?

    • Of course leandros was a dick, he’s an ultramarine, all the smurfs are dicks! If they’d gone with a decent chapter like the Dark Angels then all the characters would have been more awesome by default.

      Sadly I have to agree on the missed opportunities for awesome in the game though, a few times I thought I’d be doing something cool that ultimately didn’t happen including with the titan, though I was thinking that instead of driving the titan that I’d be fighting on it as it was walking and blowing shit up

      • Fallout 3 got it right when you walked along side Liberty Prime as you watched it just reek havoc (with matching awesome propaganda one-liners).

  • I also really enjoyed it. Yes it has issues, yes we need more varied enemies. But as far as a first go at this type of game I think Relic has done a pretty good job. lets hope they can improve on this effort in the next Space Marine game. Please tell me there is going to be another Space Marine game.

  • Whilst I do indeed agree that the story was predictable, I actually suspect that it was supposed to be. Pretty much all of the stories about the… “good guys” (or at least less consistently evil guys) in 40K are essentially the same story, a battle against overwhelming odds that ends with either defeat or at best a phyrric victory. In that regard, the story of Space Marine fit the theme very nicely.

    Ultimately no matter how well it fit the style of the universe, it fell a bit flat when converted to a game that could realistically be someone’s first exposure to the universe.

  • I massively loved this game, and despite my shonky rural australia internet I had no trouble finding games. (also slightly confused how you managed to ascertain all these issues with balance if you couldn’t connect to a single playable game, erm, wut?).

    So super upset this game isn’t getting a sequel. I wanted to see Necron, Eldar and Tau.

    • I played on PC in the 3 weeks after launch. Connection quality got progressively better throughout the trial period, but well below standards seen in multiplayer stalwarts like your CoDs, GoWs and BFs.

      If anything, persistently bad connection quality highlights some balance issues. I can remember back with Quake III, every few matches would feature terribad lag, but my mates and I could still grab the odd kill with splash damage from rocket launchers. There was no escaping a complete mauling in Space Marine if the connection was poor.

      I went through several matches without geting a single kill and worse yet, not being able to say that I was in the position to net a kill. I’d either be one shot killed by sniper rifles or explosions while hacking away at an enemy that was probably long gone. As the maps were quite open, there were very few counters to a good sniper; other than trying to sneak up from behind and melee them to death (didn’t happen often, but it did happen).

      I should clarify that I’m not the best player at online shooters, but my word, did I suck at Space Marine! It wasn’t for lack of trying though :o)

  • Has anyone mentioned that the 4 player co-op arena style matches are AWESOME fun.
    Also a good safe way to level up the multiplayer without getting constatnly nailed by someone with all the unlocks and upgrades.

    I’ve also not had any connection issues, barring a few higer than normal latency games.
    Massive loading times were my biggest gripe with the game (PS3), and it was a bit repetative towards the end.
    Also play it on Hard. It’s actually challenging that way.

    • I finished up with the game well before the co-op was patched in, but it sounded like fun.

      A mate challenged me to the same thing (ie. play through again on Hard). I did get through a few levels and found it to be far more difficult, but I play most games on Normal for review purposes as that is what most will find themselves playing.

  • I haven’t seen anyone mention the single thing I found most annoying about the game (which I really enjoyed btw).

    **Spoiler Alert

    The final battle being a quicktime event?!?! Seriously, I just blew up a horde of demons, executed a bunch of chaos space marines, and shot some chaos psykers in the head with a lascannon and now the final battle against a demon prince is a test of whether I can press buttons in order?

    Final battle was a real dissapointment IMO.

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