Well, except I have kind of done this dance before with the Gears of War series and I guess this might taint thing a little. Especially with the release schedule fixed like it was this year. You see, once upon a time I grabbed a disk for my X-Box 360 called Gears of War after watching the trailers and being somewhat impressed with what I saw. And it took me all of 5 minutes of playing it to realise this is how it must feel to play as a Space Marine in Warhammer 40,000's universe.
And who knew Relic and THQ would finally pull through and give us this experience. Just a shame it took them so long, since now I feel little can live up to the expectation of the experience once Gears of War passed them in a blinding flash of bullets and blood and whirring chainsaw blades flinging intestinal lining in all directions.
|Command your army from on high like a god.|
Easy to see why the first major breakouts of the franchise on PC
are RTS based, appealing to the old hand tabletop commanders.
Anyway, onto the review of the game.
As I played I was somewhat impressed by the atmosphere and, well, a sense of general trueness that Space Marine upheld to the Warhammer theme in total. The atmosphere and effects come very close to the vision of Warhammer 40k and the weapons have not been messed with in any way so I will leave it said that visually the game ticks many boxes for me. I especially liked the effect of a distant ground defence canon firing massive shells into space way in the distance, followed by the rolling shock wave of dust on the ground washing over your location. In short, Warhammer was always about going big or going home with your scrotum hanging on by a thread. There are some graphical issues on the 360 platform, with texture details being a little blurry on the anisotropic filtering, and this is something you notice even before you play as you admire the coolness of the animated title screen where a marine is whirling around in slow motion to plant bullets or sword blade into one ork after another. I am not sure about other platforms and if they have the same issues, so anyone who has played the PS3 game or PC port please comment and let us know your experiences.
|This may be a pre-render but the game is just as grizzly as this.|
Shame the combat is not as precise as the picture leads us to think...
However, another issue is with the camera during this mode, and many times if an enemy is near a wall the camera may go behind some of the scenery or another npc (as seen in the clip above) and block your view. This is not so much an aesthetic issue as it is a practical one since executions are done in slow motion, and give you a sense of what is happening around you at the time and time to pick your next victim to have their jaw bone removed by way of mailed fist. To compound the issue the camera is locked in the direction at the time of pressing the execute key. So you cannot really look around much if you get into a real frenzied scrap.
I think maybe I have been spoiled by other games, but I could not help but keep thinking as I played 'if only they had made hand to hand combat like in Batman: Arkham Asylum.' Each combat move, unless clearly a good distance away from any target, would connect with an enemy with a fluid feel. And there was a variety of attacks to fill all possible situations, instead of Space Marine's typical pre-set combo of 3-4 slashes if you mash the button, then back to the start again. It all starts to feel so rigid after a while that it begins to spoil the theme of frenzied war with highly trained genetically enhanced murder machines in armour plate. In Batman, I could punch someone in front, then elbow someone behind, then leap and kick someone to my side, then back to the guy behind where I do something else equally painful to watch. This system has much to teach the 'mob combat' oriented games and I wish developers would see the light and adopt this for future titles. It does not make the game too easy, either, in case this is the fear at THQ, as you still had to pick your moment and positioning in Batman so you do not get too swamped.
|Up, up and away!|
|Ork Nobz can really bring the pain and stunning does not work on them.|
So I mentioned you can unlock stuff. As you roam around you are given better weapons, often finding them in some kind of chamber and they are always an upgrade to your current one. Overall you can carry four guns and one melee weapon at a time. Two of the guns are your main weapons, a bolt pistol and a bolter to begin with. Two of them are specialist weapons you can eventually swap for other specialist ones as you find them. Letting you mix and match a little in the hopes you have a diverse spread of damage dealers for the next section until you can swap again. All you need worry about is keeping the ammo stocked. Special weapons start with a grenade launcher that fires grenades that stick to an ork, and detonate manually, and a scour bolter with a scope and high power rounds in single fire mode. OK, a sniper rifle...
|OK, I promise, no 'hammer time' jokes from me.|
|An ork Psyker. Kill these guys as fast as you can.|
This bring me onto another issue I have with many games lately. I am sure I have mentioned this before, maybe in my Homefront review. games are being artificially padded out with difficulty and players resigning themselves to dying quickly and being forced to start from a checkpoint again. Instead of there being more material for players to work with and a longer and fulfilling game coming out of it. Many have said this about games like COD:MW2 where the game is like 4 hours long in total, but you might take longer due to dying in the same room a dozen times before moving on and dying again a few dozen more times in the next room. Unfortunately Space Marine has been infected with this illness too. OK, I did start the game on the hardest mode so this is kind of understandable. But you can see it in some places, once you get used to the controls anyway, and a room fills with as many orks as the game can render and you and sense the design principal behind this is not to make a challenge but to simply hold you back with a ridiculous scenario.
|WAAAAAAGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!! DAKKA DAKKA!!!|
It is not that Space Marine bores me with endless traipsing through hallway after hallway and I do not want it to. Each combat experience is presented before you feeling as fresh an encounter as the last one. This is, at least, a good thing I noticed about Space Marine. The scenery is not just hundreds of cut and paste rooms and hallways and courtyards. Each one is modelled different and the scenery and terrain is varied, never letting you stay in one kind of setting too long to become stale and make combat a simple matter of routine. So another good tick for our friends at THQ for taking time and effort to make a diverse playing field.
Overall, I have enjoyed the game and I do recommend it, despite the control failings in melee mode. You eventually learn to adapt and stay ahead of the glitches by learning to minimise their impact on your game. So if you are a Warhammer 40k fan, then grab the game and enjoy. Even though I say I might have been tainted by having played Gears of War first, which set a very high bar while dipping its hat to the Warhammer 40k crowd taking it as inspiration, I still feel satisfied in some way for having played it. Even if it does not quite measure up 100% to Gears. It gets to about 90% though and that is good enough for me.