It's so easy to forget Space Marine's tabletop roots. As an adaptation, this title does an admirable job of bringing the battles of Warhammer 40,000 to life, exciting real-world players and enticing newcomers alike. The brutal encounters may shock those who are used to a strategic clash at the local Games Workshop, but this game understands that many of those playing will have dreamt about donning the cumbersome Ultramarine armour. If you have had such visions, it's likely buckets of blood soaked the floor, dousing various Ork limbs with a sauce that confirms defeat for the Greenskins. Space Marine wants you to deliver an ass-kicking of epic proportions, and playing as Bruce Willis lookalike Captain Titus, you have the tools to do that.
The influences for this game fit into the third-person-shooter genre with a snug fit. We have the Ultramarines, your super-sized behemoths who trudge their way round, growling at anything in sight. We have the pesky Orks, who serve as cannon-fodder for the most part, providing a few laughs along the way. Titus and his brothers speak with an admirable defiance, hardly noticing that the world around them crumbles under the weight of a power struggle. Despite their lack of power, the Orks push forward with intense numbers, screaming every time you squash their skulls against the ground. During the first three quarters of the game you'll face various Ork foes, ranging from the harmless midget types, to a number of armoured foes who can inflict serious damage.
Set-pieces help break up the bloody ground battles
Many games are lampooned for their bland setting, but it suits the Warhammer 40,000 vibe well. The Ultramarines are struggling to keep up with the enemy, their suits worn, and the lack of vibrancy underlines the fight for salvation. With that said, many building designs throughout the game lack inspiration, and generally consist of opening huge doors or pressing switches to progress. A few set-pieces are well-placed, breaking up the Ork bashing for a spot of...well...alternate Ork bashing. Jump packs give Titus an aerial boost, only for the battery to run out after a few minutes. Ork ships attack, with the best part of the game arriving in a mid-air battle, against enemies who try to board your battered Valkyrie. To spice things up, there's even a game-changing twist towards the end.
Despite the comparisons to Gears of War, there isn't a sticky cover system in place. Executions and general manliness echo the Epic game, but Space Marine plays entirely differently. Groups of enemies can be ploughed through in seconds if you utilise the right strategy. Towards the latter stages a measure approach is needed, as your opponents increase in power significantly. There's an incentive for getting up close and personal, as melee executions will provide Titus with a boost in health. Pretty much any impact is acknowledged with a sheet of crimson filling the screen; intensely satisfying if you're turning the tide of a tricky altercation. Weapons do their job perfectly, as plasma guns and Bolters slam into the enemy with a noticeable crunch. At times, it would have been useful for Relic to include an option to change the way Titus is faced. During a section where you have to rid a development base of its defences, certain parts of cover made it easy to pop out and shoot to the right, but created a blind spot on the left. It'd be helpful if a simple click of the left stick could change this.
He only wanted a hug
Heading into the online arena, there's plenty of fun to be had. Once again, the map design isn't too sharp, as the real entertainment comes from the marines themselves. Whether you're fighting as an Ultra or Chaos soldier, there's a substantial amount of customisation to play around with. Armour can be mixed and matched, giving Warhammer 40,000 fans a little something extra to get excited about. Weapon loadouts can be tailor made to their owner, along with perks that give a vital boost in certain areas. If you opt for a Bolter, it may be useful to activate the Kraken bullet perk to increase greater damage. Jump pack users may want to strap a bomb to themselves, ready to explode after they've bitten the dust. The options are substantial and are worth exploring. At first, the multiplayer arena may seem difficult to adjust to, but Relic have implemented a feature that allows you to copy the loadout of the last person to have killed you. This largely eradicates the learning curve, and also forces you to try out different types of weapon to find your favourite.
WARHAMMER 40,000: SPACE MARINE VERDICT
In a year of big-hitters, Space Marine is one hell of a surprise. The single-player campaign is meaty and full of confidence, backed up by a multiplayer realm that adds to the game’s longevity. Many would have shrugged it off in a month that sees Gears of War come to an end, but there is room for Relic’s love letter to Warhammer players. This room may not have been apparent before release, but Space Marine has comfortably forced its way into the limelight, confirming its place as one of 2011’s best surprises.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Witnessing the customised marines online never gets old.