Warhammer 40000 is one of the world's biggest tabletop miniature games. Apparently, after 39,999 failed attempts, Games Workshop has helped create a solid hobby for players and collectors alike on try 40K. Solid enough for THQ to get on board and create a video gaming adventure in the universe.
Coming into this game, my only knowledge of Warhammer was that you could play it on a tabletop, and it probably involved dice. I also walked into a Games Workshop one time looking for a gift for a family member that played, and was matter-of-factly informed by one of the patrons that my knowledge of Warhammer was "noobish at best" and that I would "get pwned if I ever sat at one of their tables." I thought the purpose of trash talk was to downtalk people who:
a) Were interested in whatever you were trash talking them about?
b) Throw someone off a similar game or interest you shared?
Needless to say, when I was asked to review Space Marine, I had to first be convinced it wasn't a Halo game, and then be convinced I wasn't the worst person in the world (or this site) to do it. But I knew I'd need a bit of help.
So I solicited the Twitter advice of Strikeforce Heavyweight fighter Josh Barnett, who is an admitted Warhammer fan. He said he enjoyed the game, and said I should put a little research into the storyline it was from. So I did. I still don't know what the hell I was reading. I don't think the outside world realizes just how complicated Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer and all this stuff truly is, especially to someone whose only exposure were 2 roommates that used to play once a week with their work buddies while I sat watching old Pride FC events and playing Astropop. With these storylines, I gave up somewhere around the time I realized Orcs were spelled with a K in the Warhammer universe, and in trying to figure out what time period this all took place in. I just decided to dive head in.
The game starts with a brief cinematic and introduction to the charactrs, from which I've gathered the following: You are the hero Titus, South African decendant of famous voice actor Stephen Root. You are fighting a mixture of British and South African superhuman orcs and coming to the aide of a bunch of humans. Your race is undefined, you've grown liver spots on your face at age 40, you're probably about 9 feet tall, and capable of wearing a suit of armor that is completely impractical due to its size, but allows you to sprint and kill things with the greatest of ease.
Outside of the liver spots, being a Space Marine sounds kind of cool. Oh, don't forget the jaded old guy with only one eye. He's got to be in every one of these games. He appears to be decendant of King Triton from the Little Mermaid. I didn't catch his name, but someone's name in this thing is Leonidas. Probably him.
Anyway, enough making fun. Let me preface the rest of this review by saying that if you don't follow or don't understand Warhammer 40,000 like me, it doesn't matter. Understanding everything will give you more of a vested interest naturally (you'll probably understand why you're in this war a bit better, and understand the fictitious repurcussions,) but if you can take this game for what it is, you may find you still enjoy it.
The game sets you off with Stephen Root jumping from a plane onto an Ork ship, trying to single handedly take down a mini army. Within a few seconds I learned how to headshot, disembowel and bludgeon to death the orks in numerous ways. Fabulous. This is the best game ever! This mission is basically a tutorial level, which teaches you all of the various melee combo moves, stun moves, and special kill combos. Then? Wave after wave of fun ensues. Tons of orks come pouring out (which is a theme you'll see all throughout this game) and put you right into the fracas. The controls are extremely responsive, and work to perfection. The camera angles follow you wherever you go, though almost to a fault. If you overshoot your enemies, it will show the camera from the back, and won't necessarily throw you back into battle. You will have to adjust yourself, and the camera before you get curbstomped by an orc. This isn't as bad as it sounds - just annoying. You won't die overshooting an enemy, especially not when you can regen health by weapon special killing an orc, which is pretty simple to do. You then continue on assisting the humans at war. The humans are a measly 6 feet tall, and don't wear 9400 pounds of armor. In other words, they're pretty much bait. You'll probably have grown accustomed to the musical score at this point, which you'll notice is fine tuned to rise and fall as the mood allows.
With regard to your weapons, you start with a simple sword and a crappy pistol. The pistol is about as effective as Jessica Simpson at a spelling bee, so be sure to plot out explosives around the enemies you could shoot instead. Eventually you get upgraded to some ridiculously unfair combat weapons (a chainsaw sword? How can ANYTHING ever compete with that?) and interesting guns (which serve almost little purpose outside of proving how much more fun hand to hand combat is) to aide you in your quest. The game itself plays out very much like a movie. You as the Marine faction are attempting to stop the threats of orks and forces of chaos from corrupting the world and taking it over (all in the name of evil of course - you're never the bad guy playing good guy this side of Braid.) Your main source of fun in the first few chapters are the Orks, leading to a fairly gory and epic showdown with their boss. The game then shifts and becomes a giant psychological battle with the forces of Chaos. This is about as much of a high level overview as I can provide without spoiling anything. The game is very story and plot rich -- all of it well explained and well thought out if you're willing to sit through the lengthy cutscenes. But again, if all you're interested in is mindless killing by dudes dressed in cool looking armor that appear to have been fighting things for hundreds of years, this is still the game for you. Even as a Warhammer non-fan, I have no hesitation telling anybody (whether interested in plot or not) that Space Marine is a must play. I have a few minor beefs with the gameplay and controls, which I will address below. However, it shouldn't be enough to deter you from at least giving it a try. Let's see how the game rates.
Graphics: 9.5/10. The graphics in this game are fantastic. With all of the camera hopping, angle jumping and crazy scrolling possible due to the melee engine and the control system, they never glitch, never spot and no textures ever mess up. The in-game graphics are colorful and very detailed. No matter how many sprites are on screen, the game never slows down or blends textures. This is the mark of very well done design, and it's one of the things you really take for granted in one of these types of games until you see it in action and realize no corners were cut, and yet the game's performance was never affected.
Sound: 9/10. The music in this game fits every scenario perfectly. It rises to build suspenses, and drops at quieter times. Not a single piece on the original score was inappropriately placed or inappropriately done, and is probably the game's greatest strength sound-wise. Game SFX are a close second. Every bone crunch, every squish, every weapon stab, every bullet penetrating an orc's body is captured in perfect squeamish glory. The biggest sound downfall in this game is enemy dialogue. It's refreshing, and rather heartwarming that the Orks and humans speak the same language (which begs the question of why they didn't try to negotiate and hug out the great war,) but there wasn't a lot of verbiage recorded, and as a result, you've probably heard most of the one liners by the time you reach chapter 3. By then, you'll probably be sitting there picking off and predicting what they're going to say. "Here comes a human. Yup. Oh no the humans. Yup. Kill the humans. Seen it before." Cinematic dialogues are a bit cheesy too, but it's to be expected in this type of game, so I can't fault it much.
Controls: 7/10. At last, we arrive to the weakest part of the game - It's controls. They're perfectly responsive, and everything does what it's supposed to. The trouble is what happens when you over or undershoot your controls. If you overshoot an attack, it's harder than it needs to be (both by camera angle and recovery control) to recover and go again, and by then, you may be getting attacked by numerous enemies. Tougher still is when you face a boss character, who has the ability to nearly kill you with one fell swoop. For that matter, why can't the space marine jump at all? Why are so many developers deciding nowadays that jumping is an optional skill for a character to have? You've got this reckless killing machine, capable of using numerous weapons, often simultaneously, and commandeering an army of highly skilled war veterans through a battlefield, yet he can't jump? What's the logic behind that anyways?
Gameplay: 8/10. This game succeeds where others like it failed. Don't shy away from it (like I was doing) because it's a Warhammer game, or something that you feel you may not understand. The game does a good enough job to the outsiders of explaining just what's happening. You don't need a diverse knowledge of Warhammer canon to jump in and play. Very few video games I play make me say "Ok this game's cool" out loud in the first 5 minutes, but this game hooked me from the first melee kill and kept me going. My main criticism is that the game is a bit redundant - You basically just run around hacking and slashing things. But yet, it doesn't try to be anything else. Most of the achievements are even around killing things, and you can expect to have 500 kills racked up before you know it. Then, when you're done killing things on your own, you can do it with a buddy too and share the fun. I wasn't a fan of the jump pack either, as it was too difficult to ground slam and control, and I got stuck behind the scenary of the stage a few times too, having to restart my checkpoint.
Send this note off to Fox Interactive: This is what you probably envisioned Terminator Salvation was supposed to be like, instead of that steaming pile of development garbage that can be found on clearance shelves for $5 now. This game is so gruesome, so intense and so much fun that anybody can pick this up and enjoy it. Video gamers will enjoy the melee combos, the outlandish weapons and ridiculously overdone kill system. Warhammer fans will enjoy the visuals that accompany their favorite storylines, and can rest their vivid imaginations for a few hours while the game lays it out for them, and THQ will hopefully love the fact that this is a really good effort that leads to more of these games down the line. This game gets a thumbs up from me, and if you're looking for a fun afternoon of mindless fun kills where you don't have to go out of your way to find the action, Space Marine is one of the best ways to do it on the 360. If you still have video stores in your area, give this one a definite rental before you do buy, as you'll be turned onto everything the game offers, but may be turned off by the overall limit to gameplay functionality in a whole.
Suggestions: Please fix the odd camera angles and get on another one of these ASAP. This is fun stuff and I look forward to a sequel...and I'm usually a sports gamer.