Hardcore 40k fans shouldn’t be asking themselves whether they should buy Space Marine. They should. Space Marine is a fresh take on the established universe, a 40k game that plays like none of the others and yet stays true to the genre’s heart and soul. For those who aren’t 40k fans (yet), Space Marine gives you an enthralling first glimpse of the epic battle for the soul of the galaxy and delivers a solid, entertaining action title.
The single player campaign puts you in the power armor of Captain Titus of the Ultramarines. He’s on a mission to recover a vital artifact from a forge world that’s come under an ork invasion. That will involve killing a great number of orks, and eventually, the forces of chaos.
If you’re a 40k fan like me, the first few minutes of Space Marine will have you shivering in anticipation. Everything’s correct here, from the terminology to the general look and feel of the tech. There’s just a touch of old school Aliens as you view the forge world shrouded by orbiting space debris.
Titus does one thing, and that’s kick ass. He is fearsome from a distance with the overpowered armory of the Imperium in his fist. In melee, he is nigh unstoppable. You control Captain Titus from a third person perspective with the exception of when you’re gazing down the sights of his firearm.
The top selling point of the fighting system of Space Marine is how Captain Titus heals. He regains health and armor with time, but time is hard to come by when he’s surrounded by 20 orks. In the thick of battle, the best way to earn health is by performing over-the-top execution moves.
The melee system is a bit like Dynasty Warriors. Pressing X will perform a basic attack. Pressing Y is a stun that can be chained to the end of a series of basic attacks. Stunned opponents can be executed, and executions are rewarded with a health boost. The bigger and badder the enemy executed, the bigger the health boost.
It sounds simple, right? Slash, slash, execute, Titus will never die? Actually, no. Titus is frequently swamped by a horde of enemies, and he still takes damage while he’s performing a desperate execution move. You have to be smart about slaughter to keep Titus alive. My tactics are usually to thin the horde with firearms and grenades until it’s time to bring the chainsword into play.
Space Marine doesn’t have a cover mechanic, but I don’t think it needs one. The levels already have a lot of cover available and there are none of the problems associated with having to press a button to “stick” to cover.
The plot in the single player campaign is excellent. Space marines are armor-encased superhuman warriors, and as such they’ll be doing superhuman things. Everything is epic in Space Marine. The first mission is surprisingly suicidal, and when Titus emerges unscathed and ready for more, you’ll know what kind of hero a space marine is.
So I’ve been enthusiastic so far about Space Marine, but there is something that’s leaving me surprisingly cold, especially for a 40k fan: the multiplayer. There are two multiplayer modes, Annihilation and Seize Ground. Annihilation is straight up team deathmatch. The first team to reach 41 kills wins the match. Seize Ground is your classic capture-and-hold game mode, where teams will earn points for keeping strategic areas under their control. So there’s nothing really new here as far as game modes go, though it bears mentioning that the maps are excellent for the most part. (Nitpick: the Waste Management is oddly claustrophobic compared to the rest of the maps, which means assault marines will have a real advantage there. The rest of the maps seem to have great balance.)
Players will have a choice of three classes to play, though they’ll have to unlock two of them by leveling up. You’ll start with a tactical marine, which has a choice of light to medium firearms and a combat knife. After a few levels, you’ll unlock the devastator class. It’s the equivalent of the Heavy class in Team Fortress 2. Devastators start off with a heavy bolter that has a decent rate of fire while on the move, but they’re also able to adopt a “brace” position that will send the rate of fire through the roof at the cost of becoming an immobile turret. Assault marines trade off firepower for mobility and melee domination. They have jet packs and dominating melee weapons like chainswords, daemon mauls and thunder hammers. When you’re attacked at short range by an assault marine, chances are you will die in very short order.
You won’t be able to customize your loadouts in Space Marine until level 4, but that doesn’t mean you’re helpless against uber tweaked players until then. Every time you spawn, you have the option of copying the loadout of the guy who just killed you. So if you’re a level 1 player who hasn’t unlocked the assault marine class, all you have to do is die against an assault marine, copy his loadout, and boom, you’re rocketing all over the landscape.
So what don’t I like about Space Marine multiplayer? Well to start, a level 1 player can copy the loadout that I earned after multiple playthroughs. If the point of leveling up is to unlock more toys to play with, why should a newbie be able to play with my toys? It’d be one thing if the player was able to unlock ONE thing at a time per death, but instead it’s a complete loadout, weapons AND perks.
My remaining complaints are really 40k fan nitpickiness. The stuff that I feel is missing is stuff that’s been in other 40k games and shouldn’t have been that big a deal to implement.
Warhammer 40k is all about customization. In the tabletop game, you can kit out your heroes to your heart’s content, all the while knowing that every additional piece of war gear comes at a price. That philosophy is carried over in Dawn of War. One of the big draws of the RTS series is the multitude of war gear with which you can equip your hero, personalizing him or her (or it) with equipment that complements the way you want to play.
The customization options in Space Marine multiplayer are scant. You can choose among a few weapons. You can choose among a few grenades. There are perks, but they aren’t game changers.
Yes, you can customize the look of your Space Marine. You can make it look like one of the classic chapters or make a whole new look all your own. I was really looking forward to this. I had my color schemes all planned out, and I’m happy with the results. There’s NO WAR GEAR. How difficult would it have been to give players certain bonuses if they look like one of the classic chapters? How about special powers if you ally a chaos space marine with one of the four chaos gods? What about something as simple as a purity seal to let you gain a little extra XP with every battle? Team Fortress 2 has shown that a shooter can have ridiculous amounts of gear with lots of abilities without breaking the game.
So while I’m very enthusiastic about the single player mode of Space Marine, I’m not nearly as gung-ho for the multiplayer. Considering how I’m usually the guy who will eschew single player for multiplayer in games, that might be considered a problem. I have not finished the single player yet, but so far I’d say it has been flawless and fun. The multiplayer seems to be a no-frills, tacked-on afterthought. It’s challenging, it’s fun, but other similar games offer deeper tactical experiences with much greater customization.