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Warhammer 40,000 Space Marines

Game: Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine
Developer: Relic
Publisher: THQ
Year: September 2011
Reviewed: March 2013
Platform: PC
Game Type: Third-person action
Reviewer: [VaLkyR]Assassin

Your character sums it all up nicely
Your character sums it all up nicely

When I first started writing the review for this game, I was so disappointed in it that my first draft was already nearing completion halfway through, and I ended up being overly harsh towards the game. I have since re-considered my thoughts after playing the second half of the game, where even though it doesn’t improve massively, I started to like it that little bit more.

Playing the game as a Space Marine called Titus, you start off straight away mowing down loads of Orks with melee and guns, and it pretty much stays like that for the rest of the game. Some bits are a little harder than others, but the combat starts and finishes exactly the same. It isn’t very advanced stuff; it’s mindless shooting. There are games I have complained about before, like Red Faction: Armageddon, which involves much of the same. Yet even that game seems more interesting – that game uses colour and has a gimmicky environment manipulation tool. Here we have nothing more than just the basic shooting and killing, and slashing.

The voice acting is delivered dead pan and without much emotion, the characters look ridiculous in their oversized armour, and the environments are painted in one shade of brown. Or purple in the second half of the game. I’ve been told by a friend that the silly armour is catering for the fans, but it just feels silly and out of place, especially when the game tries overly hard to take itself seriously. A lot of pretentious terminology is used to describe things. At times, it seems to sound like ancient Roman or Greek, which can be good, but in this context it just sounds out of place.

Ultra makes everything sound cool
Ultra makes everything sound cool

At the beginning, there is very little in the form of story in the game. You are basically just going from A to B, and shutting down one thing or activating another thing. In one of the early levels, my objective was simply ‘Get to the big gun’. There are audio snippets you can listen to, that can be found at various places scattered along your path, but only a few of these are really worth listening to. Cut-scenes explain what is going on in brief terms, that Orks have taken over and there are millions of them against a tiny number of humans, and you also get treated to such words in conversations as ‘Ultramarine’. Trying to be cool there, I see.  Eventually, getting towards the halfway point onwards, what you are doing starts to make more sense, and started to give the game more of a purpose, but it still doesn’t make up for starting off so weakly in the first place. At best, in the second half, it is merely solidly average.

You are also joined by other Space Marine peoples, who will comment on things throughout your jolly journey through the monochrome world of the planet Tedium. “Oh look there, an enemy!”  and “I’m a Space Marine, you might remember me from such battles as….”, are just some of their insightful musings. Okay, so that’s exaggerating slightly, but you get the picture.

The enemies do seem to just shout “Space Marines” at you the entire game, though, and it gets a bit tedious after a while. Just like with the game-play, which never ventures from either wandering along empty corridors (or sewers, oh joy a sewer level yet again), pressing an endless stream of buttons to open doors, or facing an over-the-top horde of enemies. Occasionally you’ll have to battle a boss too, and this can become frustrating, especially in one battle where I had full health but was still insta-killed. The hordes themselves can also contain tougher enemies that just charge at you, and before long you will become quickly overwhelmed. Then you’ll have to redo a whole sequence again, due to evil checkpoint saves.

This phrase seems the limit of the enemies linguistic ability
This phrase seems the limit of the enemies linguistic ability

When navigating the environments, which are linear, debris and objects just seem to get in the way. I encountered a few areas where it was easy to get your character caught on the scenery, and at one point, while using a rocket pack, I somehow managed to get myself inside a wall, I couldn’t get out and was trapped unable to shoot at enemies, but I could still see them. You will find plenty of ammo pickups, but ammo seems to quickly run out anyway when mowing down the swarms of enemies, and often I found ammo containers full of guns that didn’t seem to really add anything to my supplies anyway. All I got was my character twitching on the spot.

I did find later in the game that there was a power-up thing you could do that temporarily boosts your attacks, as well as recharges your health. It wasn’t explained properly to me early in the game though, although I must admit, as I had been busy playing other more interesting games, I hadn’t really gone back to my controls to look at everything that was available. This power-up mode, called Fury, does help improve the action a fair bit, and makes the battles more bearable as you turn into the hulk, and start mashing the hordes down with a lot more ease, but even in this mode, you can quickly come undone when, what is effectively a walking bomb, decides to run up to you when you are on your bashing spree. However, I will add, that with this newfound knowledge, and along with some levels that allow the use of a rocket pack to stomp on enemies with your big Thor hammer from above, it can, occasionally, be fun. I can also see why some people may enjoy it.

Titus gets to grips with a finger trap puzzle
Titus gets to grips with a finger trap puzzle

Regarding the weapons, you can carry four projectile, grenade, or laser based weapons at any time, along with a melee weapon of choice. The melee weapons include a big axe type thing, the aforementioned big Thor hammer, and a chainsaw sword. When using the big hammer, you can only use two other weapons, although you still carry the other two in your inventory; they just aren’t available to you.

For a bit of variety the final boss battle involves numerous Quick Time Event key presses, and while not too bad to follow, the first time I tried I had to redo it all again, which is annoying as there are three separate stages to this fight.

Looking at the graphics in more detail, one of the main issues here is the lack of colour, with the first half of the game mainly being brown, and the second half mainly being purple. The colours aren’t strong, either, being washed out. This is combined with the very samey feel of level design throughout the majority of the game, and the infamous sewer level inclusion. There is an attempt to go to slightly different areas, all mainly war-damaged, and much later in the game, there is an attempt at using more than two colours in a scene, with some relatively nice lighting, but nothing that hasn’t been done before in numerous other games.

Basic texturing is also fairly average; it’s not terrible, and the character models at least look decent enough, but the environment textures can be fairly low resolution in places. As a plus though, this could have helped level load times, as everything about the game loads quickly. I only remember the odd transition, where in a lift the scene will temporarily fade to black then back again. Now I think about it, the sections with multiple doorways along long corridors could also have been ways of disguising a level transition.

 

Conclusions

I’m trying to wonder why a third person shooter/hack n’ slash game for Warhammer was made, because the real fans of Warhammer would surely much prefer the Real-Time Strategy games. This type of game-play is also too much of the same old thing for any seasoned gamer to play. Looking at a lot of recent THQ titles, they generally seem focussed on just swarming the player with enemies and providing very little in the form of story or interesting action. The games are usually polished, but polishing a turd can only get you so far (Spot the review where I said that before). I guess it explains the brown textures everywhere in this game, though! Saints Row 3 is a lone exception amongst the THQ games, as it manages to make swarming enemies in battles fun, and that’s really what it’s all about: keeping the player entertained, whether they are a fan or not.

The game attempts to use colour in the latter stages
The game attempts to use colour in the latter stages

You can still have mindless hordes heading for you, but there has to be something more to it, whether it’s mad over the top action or explosions, with added humour (Saints Row 3) or tactical completion of tasks, while working together in co-op (Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer). You can also kind of get away with it if you at least make the area you are fighting in look pretty. Through a long portion of the game, Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine makes a poor attempt to please anyone but the most hardcore legion of Warhammer fans.

While a lot of the Warhammer fans may indeed love it, with their newly purchased rose-tinted spectacles on, this isn’t enough to make a profit off, and it all makes sense now why THQ bundled games like this with other good and not-so-good games, and why they went down the pan in the first place. This is because it isn’t strong enough to make it on its own.

Is it worth playing? Well, although it is very average overall, if you can make it past the poor start, then you might start to enjoy it when it reaches its conclusion. I do feel that it is a game that Warhammer fans will still like regardless of what I say, especially with any Warhammer lore that they may pick up on, but even looking through their eyes, I still can’t see this game being much more than average and only appealing to a niche group of people.

When I wrote this review, I re-read our Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior review, and I can say that this game, although made nearly a decade later, has learned very little from the flaws in the previous game.

Summary

+ Character models look decent detail wise
+ Levels load virtually seamlessly, and very fast
+ Rocket pack sections are fun
+ At times you can feel like a big and powerful Space Marine

- Average action overall, no more advanced than Serious Sam with enemies just running towards you, but without the humour
- Plot is okay, but average. It starts off with too little information, or at least to someone like me that doesn’t have any inside knowledge of Warhammer.
- Levels don’t look varied enough, partially due to lack of colour to bring out any architecture properly. While outside areas can look effective with the battle damaged buildings, at other times you come across uninteresting halls, pipes, or virtually empty spaces.
- Checkpoint saves can be frustrating at times
- No cover system at all, you can’t even crouch
- A bug where I got stuck within a wall, but for the most part the game is ok
- I completed it in just over 9 hours, so it’s fairly short

Arbitrary Final Score: 2 stars

If you like this, you might also like: Going to war with a hammer in your hand, MC Hammer, Hammer Horror

Are you an angry Warhammer fan that wants to stomp on me? Let us know in the forum!