Warhammer 40k: Space Marine is one of the best third person experiences I've played this year, combining a strong campaign with a good online mode that is going to expand for free next month with DLC that enables co-op. Even without that future DLC, Relic has taken the Warhammer 40k universe out of PC-only, RTS territory, to an engaging third person romp on consoles.
Captain Titus Is A Strong Ass Man
Relic Entertainment -- for some reason I used to get them confused with Ritual Entertainment all the time, probably because they were both major PC developers that sprang up in the late 90s. Ritual has been out of business for several years now, but Relic Entertainment continues to march on strongly, with a release history dominated by Warhammer 40k based RTS games. Let's not forget The Outfit from the early days of the 360 either -- that was a fun title.
But I digress; the topic at hand is Relic's latest project that was released last week via THQ. Warhammer 40k: Space Marine is a third person action game in which players get to strap on the boots of the infamous Ultramarines. The Ultramarines are battle-hardened, do-or-die super soldiers that serve the emperor. Specifically, you are in control of Captain Titus, a professional soldier and completely focused individual. You lead a small strike team that is being sent to Forge World, where a massive army of Orks has invaded and is seizing control over the local guards and populace. First objective? Reclaim control of the large anti-air systems that are preventing reinforcements and supplies from reaching the local resistance.
Space Marine is played from a typical third person view, and at first look, Captain Titus and crew look a lot like the futuristic, heavily armored characters from Gears of War. One major difference between Space Marine and Gears is that Space Marine does not have a cover system. Titus can do a tactical roll and sprint, but otherwise he's more of the in-your-face kind of soldier. Not having a cover system may remove some of the strategy, but I think Relic made this choice in part to show how fearless and brutally tough the Ultramarines are. That's not to say you can't die pretty quickly in Space Marine, especially from explosions or ranged attacks.
The mixture of melee and ranged combat is one of the best parts of Space Marine, and it's a design element that comes into play almost immediately. Titus carries with him a melee weapon at all times, be it the Chainsword or Power Axe or the devastating Thunder Hammer. Melee combat is kept very simply, but it's no less very satisfying throughout the campaign. To attack, simply press Square, but if you want to stun an enemy and make them vulnerable to an execution (which gives you an HP boost), you press Triangle (then Circle). There is a combo list you can reference from the pause menu, but for anyone who has played third person action games, the combos will come naturally. The best combos are those that lead up to a stun attack, which is capable of stunning a single enemy, or several at once depending on the attack you do. For example, a shoulder ram may stun one, but a ground strike can send several Orks flying back in slow motion pain.
Melee action works for a lot of reasons -- it's effective, fun, easy, there are a ton of enemies to chew up, and it looks great, to name a few. I'm not crowning it as the best melee combat in a third person game, don't get me wrong, but I like what Relic did here.
Complimenting the melee action every step of the way is ranged combat. There are far more ranged weapons in Space Marine than melee, and they run the gamut of assault rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher, sniper types, and there are some extra special weapons like the Plasma Cannon and Lascannon. Combined with hand grenades, Titus is ready to unleash some hell.
I like how Relic also didn't give Titus too many weapons too soon. That made finding the supply drop with a new weapon all the more exciting because you didn't know what new toy you were going to get. Regardless of what you snagged, it was never a disappointment and something you were eager to use on that next horde of Orks.
Generally speaking, Space Marine is about 90% action and 10% adventure. Level design is pretty linear, although some parts are spiced up with the ability to use a short range jetpack. World interactions are of the 'press button when prompted' variety, which is a bit of a letdown, but I suppose it does keep the pace of the game moving smoothly and appropriately with the intensity of the story. I thought the campaign was a little short too, only running about eight hours, too. For some reason, I associate Warhammer with 'hours upon hours,' maybe because some friends of mine have really poured a lot of time and money into the table top game. Still, there's something to be said for a fun eight hour game that does not overstay its welcome as opposed to a twelve hour plus title that should have been over sooner.
The campaign is the primary offering in Space Marine, and it's a good one, but there are also two modes of multiplayer available. As mentioned earlier, in October, free DLC enabling co-op mode is coming, which should be exciting. The multiplayer component is deeper than just two modes, Seize Ground and Annihilation, though. A detailed leveling and perk system are built in to give you plenty of goals to try an achieve with rewards to unlock.
Modes can be played with up to sixteen players, 8 vs 8, and there are three distinct classes of characters. These include the typical Space Marine that is balanced between melee and ranged, Assault Marines for strong melee abilities, and the Devastator who excels in ranged combat. As suggested by the name, Seize Ground is a multi-control point mode in which the goal is to hold control points spread across the map for as long as possible. Annihilation is akin to Team Deathmatch, no surprise there. In addition to loadout and appearance tweaks, players can further customize their characters by earning XP and unlocking new abilities and perks. You can view the criteria for perks from the multiplayer menu.
No matter if you're playing the campaign or online, Relic has done a solid job with the presentation. The graphics are pretty, sure, but what may have impressed me the most was the powerful and tailored instrumental soundtrack that greatly added to the experience. Sound effects and voice overs are also well done for that matter. Graphically, I did not notice any major techical issues and I liked the blend of indoor and outdoor environments, and the smart and pretty lighting effects employed in both areas.
At the end of the day, there's a lot to like about Space Marine. The Warhammer universe is so expansive that I surely wouldn't mind Relic revisiting it in third person fashion again.
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