There really must be a design document somewhere at Relic’s Vancouver HQ titled ‘How to make the perfect 40k game for David Hollingworth’. I’d be curious to see it next time I visit, too, but in all honesty, I already feel I know what it would say, and the game it would describe...
Space Marine. It’s just about the most perfect experience of Games Workshop’s dark futuristic setting as this fanboy could hope for.
Angels of Death
Space Marine opens with the kind of set piece that a lot of other games would have to wait until the second or third act for. Following a very flavoursome intro of how best to respond to an Ork invasion of an important forgeworld, we’re quickly introduced to Captain Titus and his two honour guard, Sergeant Sidonus and Brother Leandros, before Titus leaps out of a dropship to plummet into the upper edges of the atmosphere and destroy an enemy vessel before riding its fiery wreckage to the ground.
It’s epic, larger than life, and a pretty perfect encapsulation of what it really means to be one of the Emperor of Mankind’s elite Angels of Death. More than that, it also deftly introduces some of the game’s subtler themes of loyalty, duty to one’s brethren, and how to live your life following a strict adherence to a code of honour without letting that code dictate your every action.
Are we reading too much into what is essentially a mouse-mashing click-fest? Maybe, but full points to Relic for making a game where a fan can do just that and not feel like he’s reaching too far.
The plot is pretty classic bait-and-switch stuff, and it’s foreshadowed very early on that these Orks are perhaps a bit cleverer than they should be. Pretty soon, Titus uncovers not only a missing Inquisitor and his ‘secret weapon’, but also elements of the Imperium-hating forces of Chaos acting behind the scenes. It’s rich stuff that touches on a lot of the most important elements of the setting, while also ensuring there’s a whole raft of different enemies to shoot, stomp, and jump on from great heights.
It’s this wide-range of action that really sets the game off. A lot of the combat is clicky in the extreme, especially melee, but it never seems too repetitive. There are boss fights, but they tend to be mercifully short, if no less challenging, and there are large set-pieces, running gunfights, defensive battles and more to mix things up. The range of weaponry is also pretty superb, and the limits on what you can carry, and the way these weapons work, mean that pretty much every player will find their own perfect loadout. We’ve got to call out two pieces of kit though, as they are an absolute blast. In fact, that’s literally what they both are!
The meltagun is possibly the most satisfying weapon we’ve used in recent years. It’s short-ranged, can blast multiple enemies, and will one-shot a lot of them. It doesn’t have much ammo capacity, but that’s what makes it fun – it’s a challenge to maneuver so you can hit the most of an incoming wave of attackers, and it’s great for dealing with the very scary demons that show up later in the game. Our other fave is the jumppack, which lets you soar above enemies before accelerating into a ground-pounding attack that can outright kill weal opponents, or stun tougher ones, setting them up for one of the game’s satisfying Executions.
In fact, these Executions really shape the game’s feel. There are no health packs or anything external to heal your wounds; instead, it is the brutal dispatching of the Emperor’s enemies that restores your health. This directs the player always forward, always seeking new enemies, and means you’re never in the position of being a near-immortal super soldier stuck for want of a band-aid.
The level design, too, deserves credit. Everything feels a little too cramped and small-scale at first, but when you consider that the habitation blocks and manufactorums that you’re fighting through are built on a human scale, not your eight-foot-tall superhuman one, that actually becomes a feature, not an issue. On top of that, the chance to work around on the ground amongst the rich trappings of the gothic Imperium is just too cool. As a 40k modeller, I can see this game influencing my building and painting for years to come, and that’s no small feat.
Space Marine does have a multiplayer component, but in all honesty it’s something we’re not all that drawn to. On the tabletop, marine-on-marine battles like those the game allows are the most boring, and it’s much the same here. A co-op mode is coming post-release (though we’d really rather it were in the expensive retail package), however, and that will be something to look forward to. We’re not going to hold the multiplayer, which is well-featured and deep, at least, against the game, because for us, the singleplayer is meat of the Space Marine experience.
We are biased, there’s no doubting that, and the game does have some flaws (length and lack of co-op chief amongst them). But at the end of the day, we just got to spend nearly ten hours in the power armoured shoes of an Adeptus Astartes. And it was great; everything we’d ever imagined it would be like while we’re pushing around inch-high models of them. And when the inevitable sequel or DLC packs come out, we’ll be more than happy to get into the power armour again.
For the Emperor.
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