The universe of 40K (Warhammer 40,000) is not new to video gaming, but past efforts at bringing the popular sci-fi tabletop wargame into the console/PC environment have been hit or miss. Space Marine is the first over-the-shoulder third-person version of 40K to hit the latest generation of gaming hardware. The effort to remain faithful to the existing flavor of the 40K universe is clear. Terminology and styling from the tabletop game and its related fiction are all carried over accurately. Relic Entertainment and THQ have experience bringing the 40K universe to video gaming with their previous hits Dawn of War and Dawn of War II. Veteran 40K players will enjoy the atmosphere and sense of familiarity in this game.
You play the role of Captain Titus, a Space Marine in the Ultramarines Chapter as he leads a small team of marines onto the Forge World of Graia. The world is under invasion by Orks and due to the strategic value of the facilities on the planet, a full bombardment of the planet is not an option. With Imperial Guard assets too far away to arrive in time, the Space Marines are the only hope of saving the planet with its resources intact.
Initially Captain Titus is armed only with a combat knife, frag grenades and a bolt pistol. Naturally, he's clad in the standard Space Marine Power Armor but can upgrade his weapons and equipment over the course of the story. The controls are fairly typical and straightforward, with the ability to walk, run, strafe and look around; fairly standard and consistent with other third person games. Titus can throw grenades, perform special close combat attacks through specific combinations of buttons, and switch to other weapons he is carrying quickly. Captain Titus can also acquire a heavy weapon (Heavy Bolter or Plasma Cannon) by manning it at fixed weapon positions or tearing it free from its mounting and carrying it with him until he runs out of ammo, reaches a chapter break or drops it to change to other weapons.
Most weapons require ammunition, with the exception being plasma based weapons. Rather than use ammo, they must be vented after several shots as they overheat. Ammunition crates are scattered along the path in single player mode as well as areas where the player can swap weapon types. The player can carry at most four ranged weapons at a time in addition to a pistol weapon wielded in close combat. The close combat weapon selection is much more limited, starting with the combat knife then advancing to the chainsword and then power axe. Eventually, the player gains access to the Thunder Hammer, a devastating two handed weapon that, when equipped, prevents the use of any other weapons except the bolter. The only downside is that the player is stuck with their chosen weapon selection until reaching the next available weapons supply crates. That means it is impossible to discard the Thunder Hammer to make use of another weapon besides the bolter if desired.
Enemy forces are represented faithfully from units from the tabletop game, depicting Imperial Guard, Orks, Chaos Space Marines and Demons of Chaos. The selection of equipment used by Titus is mostly faithful to wargear from the Warhammer 40,000 game, except a new weapon called the Vengeance Launcher (essentially a grenade launcher whose sticky grenades are detonated manually) and various upgraded versions of the ubiquitous Space Marine bolter.
The most unique feature of Space Marine is that there are no health packs or items of any kind. As Titus loses health, it is possible for him to regain it by performing execution moves on enemies, where he delivers a killing blow to a stunned opponent. Also, as Titus destroys enemies, he fills up his "fury" meter. Once full, he can go into a fury mode in which his close combat attacks do extra damage, time slows down when firing ranged weapons, and his health meter is replenished.
One piece of equipment that is only available in certain parts of the single player campaign (as well as Multiplayer mode) is the Jump Pack. This device allows Titus to rocket up into the air and come down at a point of the player's choosing, stunning nearby opponents. By using the Jump Pack, Titus can reach areas inaccessible on foot or escape from an overwhelming close combat situation, and then return by stunning all of his opponents. Once the player gets the hang of it, it can be a particularly devastating tactic.
Cutscenes and audio clips advance the storyline as the player works through the game, and in some ways the story is as much a tour of the 40K setting as it is a narrative story framework. Players who aren't familiar with 40K may become confused at first by terms like "Manufactorum" or "vox" but their meaning can be quickly picked up in context.
The voice acting was top notch and the characters' speech clear enough that the subtitles were generally unnecessary. Strong language is very limited, with only a handful of words that could be heard on broadcast television. Audio recordings picked up along the way were sometimes harder to understand, at which point the subtitles did become more helpful. The background music set the tone well and definitely heightened the atmosphere. Sound effects for the weapons was adequate, although I found myself hoping for something a bit more memorable for these weapons I'd been imagining for the last 20 years.
Space Marine successfully gives the player a sense of the sheer scale of architecture in the 41st Millenium. From the Titan Manufactorum to the massive suspension bridges on the planet, everything seems to be on a truly epic scale. Even the Warlord class Titan is rendered as a 3D object without popping as the player moves around the hangar and perspective changes. Another success of the animators is in animating the movement of Captain Titus. Previous efforts to render CG Space Marines in other media have often led to the characters seeming bouncy or weightless. Space Marine has solved that problem. When Captain Titus runs, the ground shakes slightly with each step. A seven foot tall Imperial Space Marine in full power armor is a considerable amount of weight even though they can move quickly and with dexterity. The way it's done in Space Marine makes one believe it.
Graphical issues were minimal but on the XBox 360 there were a couple of occasions when an enemy would become stuck inside another 3D artifact, although it was still possible to attack and destroy it. In one occasion a dead Ork became caught between the edge of an elevator platform and the shaft and was dragged downward even though there was really no space between the platform and the shaft wall.
This game is extremely violent. Blood splatters with every hit made against enemies and after a few moments of combat, Titus' armor is covered in thick, visceral blood and gore. (It fades slowly after combat is done.) Some of the execution moves are imaginative and violent, and in some cases involve Titus gripping an Ork's upper and lower jaw and tearing its head apart. Warhammer 40,000 has always been regarded as a grim and violent themed game, and Space Marine captures it fully. It is admittedly difficult not to be impressed by the creativity of the developers with this. At one point I performed an execution move on an Ork shaman which caused Titus to grab the Ork's staff, impale the Ork through the abdomen, then use the Thunder Hammer to pound the staff in.
The supernatural element of Space Marine is the idea of Psykers, individuals who have psychic ability which is connected to the Warp. The Warp, in turn, is an alternate dimension filled with demons, "gods," and chaos. As a result psychic powers and demons appear frequently in this setting. The Imperium maintains an Inquisition meant to root out and destroy these threats (among others) and is patterned after the historical European Inquisition. Essentially, any involvement with the Warp, aliens or disloalty to the Emperor is literally regarded as heresy, as the Emperor not only governs mankind in this setting, but is also its only officially sanctioned deity. Further, the forces of Chaos are worshippers of the Chaos gods and perform acts of cruelty and conquest to gain their favor. They are the villains, of course, but in Multiplayer mode the player can come in on either the side of the Imperium or Chaos. In Multiplayer, the player does not use any such powers but during the campaign mode Captian Titus does seem to have an unusual ability to withstand the powers of the Warp, leading to suspicion by some of his peers. Of course, many enemies in campaign mode use a variety of powers from the Warp. This can be viewed as a form of occult ability, although not based on any real-life system of belief. Playing with the powers of the Warp carries a terrible cost, and the game demonstrates this in a number of ways from the consequences of losing control to the suspicion generated by its use.
While Captain Titus is a heroic, honorable and strong character who has complete respect for the authority above him and who treats his subordinates (as well as non-enhanced humans) well, he is a part of an Imperium whose defining characteristic is utter xenophobia. He destroys "greenskins" not only out of self-defense, but simply because they're Orks and he revels in doing so. It may not be racism in a real-world application, but it can be a troubling mindset.
Space Marine's Multiplayer system is similar to the way the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series works. It features a level system by which the player can unlock additional options of equipment as they progress, chooses classes, and is randomly placed as either Imperial or Chaos in each battle. After reaching level 4, the player can customize their appearance with a very detailed customization utility. While there are several pre-set Chapter color schemes available (Ultramarines, Black Templars, Space Wolves, World Eaters, etc) the player may also opt to create a custom scheme, choosing colors and styles for the various parts of the Space Marine Power Armor. The available colors actually match the colors produced by Citadel, in order to allow a player to exactly match their tabletop army paint scheme or use the console game to design a scheme before painting their army to match. Pre-ordered copies of the game also came with special skins with highly stylized "elite" versions of particular Space Marine Chapters. (For example, pre-ordering from GameStop gave the player specialized Black Templars and Space Wolves armor schemes.) The player customizes two versions: One for Imperial, one for Chaos.
The player can choose from three classes: Tactical, Devastator and Assault. The Tactical class represents the standard Space Marine with weapons options meant to represent the jack of all trades and master of none. The Devastator class equips the player with a heavy weapon meant for support roles. The Assault class equips the player with a Jump Pack and close combat weapons, and is intended for hand to hand combat and rapid strikes. Each class has its own selection of perks and grenades to round out customizability.
The Multiplayer maps include mostly settings related to the devastated Forge World but none correspond directly to any setting in the campaign. The maps are multi-level and have plenty to do for all three classes, with long shots, wide avenues, and raised areas from which to launch a Jump Pack strike.
As is becoming more common among console games, the secondary value of this title suffers as it requires a code (provided with the game) to unlock the ability to advance past 5th level in Multiplayer. New codes can be purchased from Xbox Live! for a used copy of the game.
Space Marine is an outstanding game with very high quality and faithful use of the setting. It effectively captures the fluff and feel of the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game universe and related fiction while delivering a fun and interesting game experience. It is intensely violent however and pulls no punches. As much as it revels in the universe of 40K, it also revels in its own blood and gore. This game is not for the squeamish.