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Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

Ever since author Robert Heinlein introduced the idea of power-armored soldiers fighting off hordes of murderous aliens with nothing on their minds but guts, glory, and country in Starship Troopers, the space marine has been a fixture in science fiction for decades, spanning multiple mediums. The success of the Warhammer 40K series has relied on a way to effectively merge these sci-fi tropes with deep strategy gaming along with all the orcs and pompous dialogue associated with the fantasy genre.

Unlike the Dawn of War games based on the Warhammer universe, Space Marine makes the conscious decision to divorce itself from its strategy roots, instead opting for third-person melee combat and the shooting typically found in Gears of War. Players are put into the comically-oversized boots of Ultramarine Titus as he leads his squad through incalculable waves of Orks in the pursuit of a powerful weapon capable of wiping them out for good.

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It’s tempting to call Space Marine a rip-off of Gears of War simply because it’s about hulking soldiers running around in a third-person perspective, but that would be an inaccurate comparison. There are no cover mechanics in the game simply because they aren’t needed, and there’s far more melee than there is shooting in the game, even when Titus and his crew are facing an onslaught of Orks, which is practically what the entire experience is made up of. All too often players will mash on enemies with whatever melee weapon is handy, occasionally mixing things up to stun-lock enemies and going in for the kill. Once enemies are stunned they can be instantly killed for a quick health boost, but the player still remains vulnerable to attacks during this sequence.

Although for the most part players have access to an almost endless source of health through this method, it’s still a calculated risk, leaving them wide open for reprisal from the rest of the Ork horde. Shooting is a far less effective way to thin out the ranks and none of the weapons on display are particularly noteworthy. There’s the standard package of pistols, assault rifles, and sniper rifles along with grenades, but outside of the instances where enemies are out of immediate range, they serve little purpose.

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This leads to much repetition: Ork hordes rush the player, player eviscerates them with Chainsword, repeat for several more hours all the while running through bland, indistinct environs. Unlike Gears of War or other leaders in the genre, Space Marine offers no stand-out moments and no variety, content with its complete lack of a ‘wow’ factor to the proceedings.

Online play consists of team deathmatch and control point modes with the gameplay supplemented by a progression system that unlocks new items just like every other online game currently in existence. It’s not particularly enticing, and the lack of a Horde type of mode seems like a bizarre omission given the single player campaign. The multiplayer options quickly become tiresome, and overall it’s not the highlight of the package either.

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Mashing Orks into red pulp is a novelty that quickly grows tiresome, and the lack of variety in gameplay makes the campaign nothing more than hours of repetitive drudgery. For a game based off such a rich mythology, there’s very little to involve gamers in the plight of Titus and the rest of his impossibly broad-shouldered men chasing down some powerful maguffin, all the while wading through hundreds of similar enemies. Mashing Orks is fun for the first few minutes, but after the first few hours it becomes a chore.

Space Marine does just enough not to be awful. The controls work, the graphics are passable, and the guns shoot where you point them, but Space Marine is unambitious and never aims for being anything other than a mediocre third-person action title with insanely repetitive gameplay. It’s a shame none of the depth or strategy of the previous Warhammer 40K titles could be found here. If it had, maybe Space Marine could’ve been saved from being a decidedly average title.

5 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in March 2010.

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