When Relic Entertainment released promo posters for the latest Warhammer 40,000 game, Space Marine, with the tagline ‘Cover is for the weak’, it was clear which title it had its sights on: the mighty Gears of War.
Making a jab at what is arguably the king of the third person shooter genre is a brave move indeed, and while Space Marine (perhaps predictably) doesn’t quite conquer Epic Games’ flagship title, it certainly gives a good attempt.
Anyone familiar with the Warhammer tabletop game will know what to expect from Space Marine: war, bloody, relentless war. Huge armour suits, countless mindless enemies, massive explosions and flying limbs everywhere you look – and to this end, it’s no surprise that it’ll be compared to Gears of War. But, as the game’s gutsy tagline suggests, it separates itself in that this is no stop-and-pop, cover based shooter.
Space Marines are walking tanks, expected to advance straight into the Ork horde with a rifle in one hand and a sword in the other; and for many this may take a while to get used to. At first, it can feel like the game is begging you to take cover, but upon understanding just how well Space Marine blends shooting with excellent hack ‘n’ slash style melee combat, it truly comes into its own as a thrilling and visceral combat experience.
It’s said in Warhammer fiction that Ultramarine versus one thousand Orks is a fair fight, and the game’s engine pulls no punches in showing that. What enemies lack in firepower they make up for in numbers, and in an ordinary combat situation you can be cutting through up to a hundred Orks, and even as the bodies pile up and blood drenches your armour, the framerate doesn’t drop for a second.
However, as is fairly ordinary with such combat-heavy games, many elements other than fighting do suffer. The plot will likely fail to inspire anyone other than die-hard fans of the fiction, and environments are very strictly linear. I also experienced on more than a couple of instances some very bad checkpointing indeed, having to listen to two minute’s dialogue every time I died and reloaded, and an unambitious script did not help to carry this along.
Personally, I only ever dabbled in the Warhammer 40K tabletop game, I found Space Marine to be a quality title that succeeded in third-person action in a way that all too many fail – to make the controls heavy compared to that of a first-person shooter contribute to an all round ‘badass’ experience rather than a more fluid one.
To go from blowing enemies to bits at range to suddenly hacking them to ribbons with a giant ‘chainsword’ was truly memorable, and I strongly recommend to anyone who believes there’s a darker, better side to sci-fi than just plasma pistols and lightspeed.