Space Marine Xbox 360
To virgin eyes, Space Marine must look like a very generic sci-fi adventure game. A lone space marine – whose job is literally titled ‘Space Marine’ – spearheads an attack against an invading alien horde, purging the beleaguered planet with guns and grenades and a roaring chainsaw. It is Doom. It is Halo. It is Gears of War. I’ve heard this kind of criticism come up a lot since the game was first revealed two years ago, but I think it betrays an unfair ignorance of Space Marine’s roots. The Warhammer 40,000 universe in which the game is set is absolutely derivative of Lord of the Rings crossed with early ’80s sci-fi films, but it predates all of those video games by a long shot – to say that it copies them is to put the cart before the horse. The problem is, regardless of Space Marine’s lineage, it struggles to differentiate itself from these rivals, validating this criticism on some level at least.
Speaking as a lifelong Warhammer nerd, I can confirm that this game is extremely faithful to its source material – probably the largest quibble I had by the end of the game was that I thought orks had green blood rather than red, but that’s not enough to turn me off. If anything, I think its veracity is probably the biggest hurdle for players with no interest in Games Workshop games, who may find all this talk of “Manufactorums” and “Adeptus Mechanicus” to be an inscrutable Martian language. Certainly I think the pivotal role of the Inquisitor you meet within the game would be interpreted very differently by people familiar with the background of his organisation – he seems like an untrustworthy hypocrite, but fans would expect that from someone in his position.
Putting the game’s setting to once side, Space Marine is actually unlike any other shoot-em-up I have played. That is to say it’s a lot like God of War instead, in the fluidity of switching between weapons, the way stunned enemies can be executed to restore your health, and the use of a ‘rage’ bar that can temporarily power up your attacks. The difference is that Kratos’ collection of blades has been replaced with guns, and there’s only one melee attack combo to wrap your head around – despite the similar mechanics, this is very much a shooting game. I was skeptical at first, but once the game opened up it revealed a pleasing amount of tactical variation, both in selecting your weapons and choosing how to use them in battle. Certainly by the final act of the game I was having a lot of fun, prioritising targets in each firefight and matching them up against the limited supplies of ammo I had on hand. That’s great, but it’s just a shame the game isn’t more like that from the start.
Similar praise and criticism can be applied to multiplayer. There’s an astonishing range of customisation options, in both selecting perks and equipment and also the visual design of your character. I cannot praise the armour design suite highly enough – it is by far the best representation of customising and painting a Warhammer model I have ever come across. There are nine different sections of armour that can be modified, each with about half a dozen variant models to choose between, and around 30 preset colour schemes based on major Space Marine and Chaos Space Marine chapters, all of which can be modified using any of the colours from Games Workshop’s own range of paints. Using the editor it took about two minutes to create a near-perfect recreation of my own little plastic men sitting in a box in my office. This is an outstanding piece of fan service for Warhammer fans, but I do wonder whether newcomers might find it a bit unnecessary, given that your choices have no effect in-game.
[youtube width=”600″ height=”335″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saYWEiMjzhw[/youtube]
There are three classes available. Assault marines wear jetpacks that confer high mobility, and have a good range of melee weapons to choose between; Devastators are slow but have access to powerful heavy weapons; Tactical troops carry rifles and are balanced all-round. Beyond that there are some finer details regarding their available perks, but I haven’t been able to use many of these yet; much like the single-player game, multi-player suffers from this weird obsession with ‘unlocks’. You begin with access to the Tactical class and only the most basic equipment loadout, and must unlock absolutely everything else – including the wonderful armour customiser – by playing the game repeatedly and leveling up your profile. Perhaps it’s fortunate that you can grind cheap experience by playing private games on your own, but I really don’t understand why a game with such a nice range of tactical options would withhold them until after you’ve been though this baptism of unfair fire. It’s almost as if they’re trying to keep the game a secret, and want to discourage the faint of heart during the early stages.
Ultimately, Space Marine is an action-adventure game that features good action, but underwhelming adventure. Once you’ve picked up a few weapons the combat comes into its own and serves up an unusual experience of focused but flexible brutality (broken up by some excellent set-pieces in the second half of the game), but taking long walks around the ruined, brown-grey forge world facilities while characters babble pseudo-Latin jargon into your ear is not very compelling. An adaptation such as this will always have to strike a balance between taking advantage of its source material and alienating new audiences; personally I felt like I was just going through the motions for much of the game, but perhaps I was just overexposed to the Warp as a child.