Game: Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
Platform: Multi [PS3 played]
Yesterday was a fun and interesting day. My free download of Space Marine as part of my PlayStation Plus Subscription had finished a couple of days ago and it had finally downloaded and updated to the latest patch during the night. I loaded up the game thinking I would play it for a an hour or so before moving onto something else. Suddenly a few hours had past and I was still playing, I then had to pick up my sister but when I came back I went straight back to playing, then dinner happened but I was straight back to playing once I had eaten. After another break while I caught up with my fiancée I made one last push and finished the game. All in one day.
Starting and finishing a game, particularly one that has seen a retail release, in one day is something I haven’t done in ages. I used to do it all the time when I was younger and had the luxury to dedicate whole days to gaming. Also I just find it hard to sit and spend a whole day doing one thing these days. I always have something else to do, such is the life of a grown up (groan!). I had a list of things to do yesterday but playing Space Marine just superseded all of them because I was having so much fun playing it.
It is a good, fun and refreshing game that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys action games and/or has an interest or past with Warhammer 40,000. I might even go as far as to say that this is a true gem of a game that says a lot about the current generation of games and the trends that drive them.
Allow me to explain….
Everything in Space Marine is there as a complement or counterpoint to current game design trends. It is a hectic, action packed game that grabs you and doesn’t let go and it is a genuine joy to play, for me at least.
In the story department it isn’t anything groundbreaking, especially if you have played any other games set in the Warhammer 40K universe or have knowledge of the setting’s lore and tropes. There are big moments and set pieces and at the end everything is mostly wrapped up in a bow with a few hanging threads left for a potential sequel. All very by the numbers and easy to get your head around.
What makes it standout though is the approach and tone to the story. This is mainly down to the 40K setting and aesthetic but the story does not take itself too seriously. Things are on the line constantly and everyone talks like they have a serious smoking problem but it doesn’t feel forced or melodramatic at all. It just happens. You get the impression that while dealing with these huge problems and missions the game’s protagonist, Titus, and his fellow Ultramarines have seen all of this before. If you compare it to Gears of War which spends so much time and effort trying to make you connect with its characters and in my view failing miserably. Space Marine just embraces its over the top nature and just presents it to you as fact. There is know hammered in love story or tortured past. No long cutscenes full of exposition. Nothing needs a whole wiki dedicated to it just so you can understand it. There is just the game’s main plot and that’s it really. Everything that writers have a tendency to throw into games to make them more interesting has been put to the side and it works. You get a no-nonsense story that takes you from action moment to action moment. It is something a lot of games could learn from.
While being a game set in the “grim darkness of the far future, where there is only war” it is varied and colourful. Once again this is down to the 40K license more than anything. The environments have your usual action game colour palette of greys and browns but they standout because of the Warhammer paint that has been applied to everything. A series of trenches is covered in the patchwork, thrown together Orkish structures, huge messes of angles and crude construction. The cities show the broken majesty of a vast gothic Empire slowly crumbling under the weight of the never ending war. Huge ornate buildings and statues dot the skyline while the playable space feels tight and cramped in places giving the impression that the workers who used to populate the planet where crammed into every single knook and cranny. The huge mega factory levels really show the Warhammer 40K aesthetic of gothic-sci-fi where everyone is just a cog in the giant war machine. The environments are varied and you feel like you have seen a lot of the planet by the time the credits roll. You are taken on a tour of the Warhammer 40K aesthetic rather than shooting down the same corridors level after level.
It also helps that one major gameplay decision meant that the level designers could be a lot free-er with their approach to the game’s battle grounds.
In a time when every game that comes out that features a third person camera is tied down with cover shooting mechanics Space Marine laughs at the waist high walls and charges into battle chainsword first. Don’t get me wrong there will be times where you have to take a breather to let your shields recharge but the lack of a cover mechanics is freeing. It, along with need to melee enemies to death to recover health, forces you into the middle of the action and it means that the cover that is there can be varied across the length of the game. From piles of boxes to crumbling walls to these huge statues. It is not hindered by the need to have the player stick to it like glue. There are no strategically placed walls and pop-up cover points in this game. It all adds to the feeling that as a Space Marine you are the frontline of the battle you are the cover for the troops of the Imperium. It shows that many games that employ the popularised cover mechanics of this gen just don’t need it. There are alternatives out there and they are rooted in gaming’s past. Combat feels punchy and in your face like old school shooters like Doom and Quake with a healthy dash of God of War style chopping things into pieces for good measure. The cartoonish levels of gore make you laugh and cringe at times as Titus cuts down swaths of Orks. Stamping on their heads, cutting them in half, gutting them with his chainsword, crushing them with his huge hammer, etc. etc. Red is the primary colour of this game but it never gets to much to handle.
The game is far from perfect though despite my gushing praise. The weapons on offer while varied don’t really give you much in the way of different or divergent gameplay. You will by about the halfway point of the game have found a loadout that you will stick with for the majority of the game. Only changing things up slightly when the situation demands it. The action, due to its hectic nature, can get overwhelming at times especially when you are in the thick of things. The camera is fairly close so when you are in melee it is hard to see where the enemies are coming from. The jump pack sections a really good fun but quickly become repetitive as you easily over power the enemy. Also combat in the game can be a bit of slog at times when you hit some tough difficulty spikes, where the enemies take the term bullet sponge to new levels and drawn out checkpoints mean you have little room for error. Also the game’s backstory is told via that most tried and tested trend this gen: collectable audio logs. Which have only been included to add something to the game to give it replay value. You have the option to either just pick them up or pick them up and listen to them. I recommend you just pick them up because they don’t add much to the game’s story, mainly extra flavour which isn’t really needed.
Overall though the reason I enjoyed the game so much is that it wears its heart on its sleeve. It doesn’t try to be the next big thing or an industry changing game, it is just mindless fun at its best. Its core gameplay of shooting while charging in to get close to finish the enemy off is fun and refreshing. It keeps you in the moment and works to get the adrenaline pumping. That coupled with some really good pacing that knowingly gives you moments to pause and just walk through an environment before ramping things up again. Makes this a really good game. One that I certainly overlooked when it first came out and only really played because I was getting it for free. It surprised me because I was expecting Warhammer 40,000 via Gears of War as many people do just by looking at it. What I got was Warhammer 40,000 via Warhammer 40,000 which is awesome. All credit to Relic who once again show that they know how to work with the Warhammer IP.