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.


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