Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine Review

By Brian Leahy - Posted Sep 12, 2011

Relic and THQ offer their take on the Warhammer 40,000 license. With a a mix of melee and ranged combat, this third-person action game takes place as the Ork horde invades an Imperial Forge World of strategic importance.

The Pros
  • The Assault Jetpack
  • World is Greatly Realized from Source Material
  • Strong Start and First Half
  • Surprisingly Enjoyable Multiplayer
The Cons
  • Campaign Has a Lot of Filler
  • Combat Balance Doesn't Hold-Up
  • Encounters and Environments Get Repetitive

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine Review: 

Space Marine puts you into the power armor of Captain Titus of the Ultramarines, called to the Forge World Graia with two of his battle brothers to delay and destroy an invading horde of Orks until the Imperium’s Liberation fleet can arrive and wipe the xenos from the planet. The planet is producing gigantic war machines called Titans, which cannot be allowed to fall into Ork hands.

Setting the Stage

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine starts off strong with Titus and his team of three leaping out of their dropship after it takes surface fire with assault jet packs, landing on one of the Ork ships for a quick tutorial sequence. Here, you’ll learn the basics of the game’s combat system that attempts to marry melee- and ranged-combat beginning with a bolt pistol and combat knife. You’ll be thrown up against a mix of Shootas and Sluggas as you make your way along the ship’s surface.

At the helm of the ship, you’ll run into Warboss Grimskull who is leading the Ork invasion, but he escapes and the ship crashes to surface leading to the first objective of the game: disable the planetary gun that has been taken over by the Orks, preventing Imperial reinforcements from orbit.

The first few hours of the game are intense and are very promising. The pacing is great with almost no break in the action as you cover ground on the war torn planet toward the gun. Your allies follow you into battle and you feel as a Space Marine should: an unstoppable force capable of killing thousands of Orks with no trouble.

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No Cover? Slight Problem!

Space Marine does not feature of cover system and why should it? You’re a Space Marine and have no need for cover, right? Unfortunately, at a certain point through the game, the difficulty of the encounters eclipses your power and you start feeling weaker. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as a game should get more difficult as it goes, but it sadly breaks the combat system.

During the last half of the game, melee combat takes a backseat to the ranged combat. I think a lot of this could have been mitigated with the inclusion of a blocking or counterattack mechanic, but, when you’re facing off against high powered ranged opponents with a face full of melee attackers, often the only course of action is to backpedal and shoot the charging melee foes. After they are cleaned up, it’s time to wait for your shields to recharge and systematically peek out from behind walls and cover, picking off one ranged enemy at a time.

It’s in this, that the combat system falls apart in the sense that it completely changes the way you play the game and really takes you out of the role of a Space Marine. Since your health (under shields) can only be regenerated by doing execution moves on nearby, stunned opponents you’ll often find yourself hoping you’ll get the health bonus, which comes at the end of the lengthy execution animation, before you take too much damage. You can still be hurt during these executions and I often found several grenades falling at my feet during a cool looking finishing move which resulted in my death instead of the desired health boost.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

Jetpacks and the Curious Case of Balance

There’s a standout mechanic in Space Marine, which is the assault jetpack. You’ll be able to strap on a jump pack a few times during the game and these sequences are easily the best parts of the game. The problem is that they basically tip the scales in your favor making you an unkillable instrument of airborne death. Again, this is kind of what I want when I play as a Space Marine, but it would break far too much to be used through the majority of the game.

Get in trouble when you’re on foot? Better tuck tail and run, hoping your shields recover soon or land a lucky execution for some needed health. Get in trouble with the jet pack? Blast off and immediately pound the ground killing most weak enemies instantly or stunning stronger foes in the area around your landing. Still not clear? Do it again! It’s all fun until Titus depressingly declares that the jetpack is “out of fuel” or that it’s too cramped in this next area to use the jetpack.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

These Boots Were Made For Walking

The opening stages in Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine are amazing, featuring some great outdoor environments rife with destruction, Ork invaders, and gorgeous scenery. There are a few other set pieces that really pop and sell the feel of Warhammer 40,000, but as the game continues and you find yourself moving through the different facilities, it begins to get repetitive in both appearance and gameplay.

Then, there’s the traversal between the combat areas. There is a lot of walking in this game. In the beginning, it works because you can appreciate the scenery and work that went into creating this world from the source material, but toward the later stages of the game it devolves into what feels like filler. I spent a large percentage of the game sprinting from one room to the next with nothing to do in-between combat but look for some collectable audio logs.

My enjoyment of the campaign would have been much higher if I spent more time fighting and less time walking. Or if the walks were used to forward the plot through conversations or otherwise serve any purpose other than moving me from point A to point B. It makes the game longer than it needs to be at the expense of pacing.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

Multiplayer – Great Taste, Less Filling

The two competitive multiplayer modes in Space Marine are actually quite enjoyable as a diversion from the campaign. I don’t think it will have any real staying power, especially as other publisher’s gear up to release their multiplayer juggernauts this fall. It’s 8-versus-8 and features standard team deathmatch and a capture-and-hold mode. It’s all class-based with three to be customized as you gain experience levels and unlock more weapons, gears, and perks.

The balance is a bit cookie-cutter and there’s a little bit of jank in the way melee combat works online, but it’s fun enough to put some rounds into after you finish the game. Plus, you can grab a jetpack, thunder hammer, and dive bomb human players!

While you won’t have access to the best weapons and perks when you begin, upon dying, you can copy the loadout of your killer for your next life which offers a nice preview to what you can look forward to and makes revenge all the sweeter when you kill them with their own gear.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

A Good Effort, But Not There Yet

In the end, Space Marine is a decent first effort, but ultimately doesn’t fully come together as a full package. The world Relic has realized from the source material is, at times, incredible, but runs out of steam halfway through the game. The combat, which is fun and rewarding in the beginning, can’t keep up with the difficulty curve, which forces Captain Titus to hide and take cover. Not exactly how a Space Marine is supposed to fight.

With some less filler, more depth in character building, and adjustments to combat balance this could have been a spectacular title. Instead, it’s an average game with a powerful license. That being said, I would definitely play a second game if Relic tightens up some of the loose ends mentioned in my review.

Still want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?