Can’t be king of the world if you’re a slave to the grind.
Since 1987, when it was created by Rick Priestley and Andy Chambers, the Warhammer 40,000 table-top role-playing games—and the videogames they’ve inspired—have presented an interesting mix of sci-fi, ’80s British fantasy, and a dash of Roman flavoring. Adorned in ornate armor, Space Marines named Titus swing battle axes and swords into the heads of orks (who are orcs that can’t spell) who’ve invaded the manufactorum. But those orks are alien, not Isengardian, the Marine’s armor has Halo-like shields, battle-axes and swords are often electrified, and everyone uses guns—regular, grenade-launching, and plasma-based.
Which is why it’s odd that most Warhammer 40K video games have been real-time strategy outings and not action ones. But the third-person hack-and-slash/run-and-gun Space Marine rectifies that, albeit in a way that will satisfy only diehard Warhammer fanatics and people looking for a mindless grind.
When orks attack the planet where humanity builds their warships, it’s up to you, as an Ultramaine named Captain Titus, to hold them at bay until the rest of the fleet arrives.
To do this, you use both your trusty gun—or rather guns, since you have a bunch and keep getting new ones—and your trusty melee weapon. What’s handy is that Space Marines can seamlessly switch between the two and back again without a moment’s delay, allowing them to mix things up as the situation demands. So you might blow away some guys as they’re running at you, then smack the ones who get too close for comfort.
This happens more often than not, because unlike some sci-fi soldiers who duck for cover, Space Marines and their enemies prefer to get up close and personal. So, it helps that while the melee combat is of the button-mashing variety, some simple combos and special moves (stunning, execution) mix things up. You can also supercharge your melee attacks or do some Matrix-like slo-mo gunning with a brief use of Fury, an attack boost that’s replenished by killing enemies. Which you’ll do quite often.
And therein likes the game’s biggest problem: Your enemies typically rely more on quantity than quality and try to overwhelm you by attacking en masse. And it doesn’t help that the differences between enemies is usually just how many punches they can take before they fall down. Like with the orks, for example: Save for the biggest of dudes, most aren’t very tough or smart (though, in fairness to the original mythos, they’re not supposed to be).
As a result, this often feels like a Dynasty Warriors game, as you cut your way through throngs of enemies with the only thing differentiating one engagement from another is whether you’re facing 50 guys or 500. Even later in the game, when you’re fighting orks as well as more skilled enemies, the battles are still more tests of your endurance than your reflexes.
This sameness extends into the game’s multiplayer modes—Annihilation, which is Team Deathmatch, and Seize Ground, which is a capture-point variation—both of which are augmented with the usual leveling-up and class systems. As you’d expect, they work as advertised. There’s also Onslaught, an equally adept four-player Horde survival co-op mode that adds occasional capture point objectives to the formula, which will be available in a month as a free DLC pack.
None of this should be taken to mean that Space Marine is a bad game. Especially not if you’re in the right frame of mind. Anyone looking for some mindless hacking, slashing, and shooting will find this fits the bill, especially when played in short bursts—as will Warhammer 40,000 fans looking for more action than the earlier real-time strategy games provided.
But even they’ll find this game’s sameness—in its battles, its enemies, its locales—to be a bit tiresome after a while, as will people who are neither into Warhammer or mindless combat. For while Warhammer 40,000 may do an interesting job of mixing sci-fi, ’80s British fantasy, and Roman flavors, actually being a Space Marine is something of a grind.
SUMMARY: While it has an interesting and faithful mix of fantasy and sci-fi, its hack-and-slash-and-shoot gameplay is so overly simple that it can be a dull grind.
- THE GOOD: How fluidly you can switch between melee weapons and guns
- THE BAD: Its simplicity is sometimes its undoing
- THE UGLY: Is that an ork, or are Shrek and Dobby trying to kill me?