My first taste of anything related to Games Workshop, the people behind everything Warhammer, occurred when I was a kid. A friend of mine was visiting from Toronto for the week and one day while at a mall, we decided to go into one of their stores. Both he and I were foolish kids, so rather than simply going into the store and acting all normal, we pretended to be German kids and proceeded to ask questions about the Warhammer figurines with really horrible, prepubescent German accents. Oddly enough, my friend’s older brother was already collecting and painting his own Warhammer figurines at the time but I actually was not aware of its appeal.
Fast-forward to 2010 and a trip I took to San Francisco. While writing for GameFocus.ca, I was sent to The City to check out a couple THQ games, including the first expansion pack for Warhammer 40,000 – Dawn of War II, entitled Chaos Rising. It was my first experience with the franchise but I was automatically hooked. I have always been a fan of real-time strategy games and this was right up my alley. Since then, I have kept a keen eye on the series and was intrigued that the studio behind the RTS series, Relic Entertainment, decided to branch out the series to a 3rd-person action game, entitled Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine.
A long time ago, Blizzard, the famous company that has given us World of Warcraft, Diablo and Starcraft were developing an action-game spin-off for the Starcraft franchise. While Starcraft: Ghost was ultimately canned for various reasons, Space Marine is probably what they were trying to make: transforming an aspect of their strategy game and putting it in a 3rd-Person shooter.
Early on, Space Marine is pretty hard to judge. Almost immediately, the comparisons to Epic Games’ Gears of War franchise will come to mind: brooding characters, explosive shooting, vicious melees and plenty of chaos. Saying that Space Marine is a mere clone of Gears is foolish but for the ill-informed, it’s an unavoidable comparison.
Unfortunately though, the first part of Space Marine doesn’t really do enough to separate itself from not only that comparison but to other 3rd person shooters, regardless of the setting. You play as the Ultramarine Captain Titus, a man of honor who is trying to assist in a battle against Ork forces. As both the Humans and the Orks are on the pursuit of a Titan, a weapon that could drastically sway the tide of power in the universe, you spend the first part of the game simply moving from one location to the other killing a variety of different enemies.
Yes, there are a few times where things deviates from that, but they happen so rarely and only offer a few moments of variety. In one section, you have to fight off incoming foes as another Ultramarine moves a missile back into place, so it can destroy an Ork stronghold. The other is a boss battle where you face off against an airship which is trying to ensure a battering ram reaches its target. These moments of deviation are nice but need to occur more often.
Thus far, Space Marine is far from a bad game. The controls are extremely easy to grasp -yet another comparison to Gears will come up there-, the graphics are good and the melee executions are thrilling to see each and every time. But what hurts the game is the lack of originality, or at least, the fact that the game is playing it very safe early on.
There are only two minor things that set this game apart from others. The first is the way Titus recovers health. Rather than incorporating the common “shellshock” method where you need to avoid damage in order to heal, here, when you execute an enemy, you replenish your health. It’s a cool mechanic since the executions are so well done, but it becomes a crutch and ruins the pacing of most battles. Additionally, if you are being swarmed by a group of enemies, trying to target the one Ork that you can execute can sometimes result in a different, and incorrect, one being selected and your increased likelihood of death.
The other aspect that sets the game apart from other 3rd-person action games is the inclusion of a Rage-meter. Once filled and triggered, Titus goes into a berserker-like state where every attack is extremely devastating and his health replenishes. If timed correctly, if you use this when a large group of enemies -especially stronger ones- are close-by, you can dispose of them pretty easy. It takes time to replenish this ability so it’s best to use it at very specific situations.
Hopefully, as we progress through the game’s campaign, we begin to see more aspects that will differentiate this game from others. For someone who enjoys the Warhammer 40K universe, this is a nice branching point for the franchise. Relic Entertainment are not dealing with unfamiliar territory, as they have been working with the franchise for a very long time. But with Space Marine, they have failed in doing the most important thing in Games development, making a game that offers something wildly different and/or unique to keep the player interested from the first moment they start the game. If you enjoy Warhammer 40,000, then jumping into Space Marine is a no-brainer, but those who are getting into the franchise now, this may not be the best place to start.
As we begin the second part of the game, hopefully things begin to change, especially if we can see some more variety in the environments and combat. But if it continues to stay its current course, this will be nothing more than your everyday action game.