In 'Space Marine,' Death Becomes Dull

How many orks must one player kill? A whole lot.

LONG, SLOW SLOG: The third-person shooter Space Marine takes the Warhammer 40,000 franchise down to the micro level of individually killing each and every ork you come across. There are a lot of them, and they all die pretty much the same way.

LONG, SLOW SLOG: The third-person shooter Space Marine takes the Warhammer 40,000 franchise down to the micro level of individually killing each and every ork you come across. There are a lot of them, and they all die pretty much the same way.

This week, I think I’ll talk about a repetitive third-person action shooter about burly Übermenschen duking it out with alien hordes across yet another series of war-torn neo-Gothic cityscapes: Gears of War 3 now exists. Moving on, here’s a review of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine.

Space Marine is the latest entry in Games Workshop’s long, slow slog moving the Warhammer 40,000 franchise away from tabletop wargames that nobody would be caught dead playing and toward the more lucrative market of video games that merely most people wouldn’t be caught dead playing.

It’s worked out pretty well so far. The resulting Dawn of War series by Relic has over the years made significant inroads into a real-time strategy genre dominated by tradition-bound gamers, studios that cater to those traditions, and the piled corpses of games that didn’t follow suit.

But neither Warhammer 40,000 nor the Dawn of Wars it engendered are really known as fertile soil if you’re looking for high literature. There’s a universe there, sure, but what you have when you’re dealing with 40K is a world of themes, not narratives. Honor in the face of certain doom, the inevitability of corruption, “orcs” becoming “orks” because K has more pointy bits than C, that sort of thing.

And that’s okay, as long the overarching structure of your creation relies on plot development only as a convenient way to explain how your guys came to be pointed at the other guy’s guys and why all those guys hate each other.

That’s where Space Marine falls short. To both its credit and its detriment, Space Marine is yet another Relic-quality rendering of the 40K setting. It works as a representation of the setting, but what it does with that representation leaves much to be desired.

Relic practically shoots itself in the foot from the word go. Space Marine’s opening cinematic scenes show all the high points of the setting, flinging one Captain Titus and his elite task force of Ultramarines headlong into an orkish invasion so Warhammer-ian that players can practically see ORK INVASION burnt permanently into the Marines’ tactical computer readout.

And again, this is just fine, as is the Ultramarines’ initial strategy of leaping from their dropship while still in orbit and punching their way through a few orkish space cruisers on their way to the surface just for fun. After all, 40K is a world in which your enemies require you to be 10 feet tall, bulletproof, and able to accept the most insanely suicidal of plans as the word of a living god. All in a day’s work, right?

But 40K’s other major point greets Titus shortly after he makes planetfall, and it’s an order of magnitude less appealing. No matter how many ships Titus knocks out of orbit on his way down, once he’s on the surface, he still has a whole lot of orks to kill.

Way too many, as it turns out. The sum total of Space Marine’s problems lie in a simple load-bearing equation: Space Marine simply can’t support the weight of all those orks. Nothing about it that isn’t specifically Warhammer-based, from combat mechanics to level design to multiplayer setup, does much at all to make the game any more than just passable.

Which leaves the storyline. Titus and his crew are very imperial and very grim, the invading orks are very cockney and very thuggish, the allied Imperial Guard is very stiff-upper-lip and very doomed, the Chaos forces behind it all are very demonic and very sinister, and not one of them does a single thing to distract the player from the fact that Space Marine is about nothing more than killing ork after ork after ork (or demon after demon after demon, after the game finally runs out of orks).

This isn’t a problem that Dawn of War ever had to deal with. Strategy games are nice and zoomed out both in viewpoint and in scope; the hordes are still there, but dealing with them is far from a one-at-a-time thing. Space Marine gives you no other choice. When dealing with the enemy, a million Dawn of War protagonists are a statistic; in Space Marine, one lone soldier is a tragedy.

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Comments » 1

C_Wadey writes:

Hey, i normally come open minded to all reviews on different subjects, after all every one is allowed there own opinion. This review is fair, personally i enjoyed the game, Great story really capturing the 40K universe and a really fun game play, i can see where you idea of repetition comes in (when your tearing the head of your 10,000 ork with your chain sword) but in the end of the day its all good fun. What i feel you can't seem to understand is that this game douse really appeal to the nature of the hobbyists. When you say "tabletop wargames that nobody would be caught dead playing" To star with i have to disagree, i know its never been considered a "cool" hobby, but i have been playing since i was 10 (i am now 20) and i have never really worried about who i tell, all my friends and family do, uni mates ect... and now days people don't seem to have a problem with it, a hobby is a hobby. But aside from that back to the game, where i say it appeals to the hobbyist it really douse, i had a nice chuckle to my self when in one of the chapters when a guardsman is looking at a earth shaker cannon and say's "we're on a forge world and i can't find a tech-priest". As for that the feel of the space marines are re-created perfectly, i mean there 8ft tall bio-engined super humans and you really feel that by the weight behind all the movements and the fact theirs a camera shake when you run, the guns feel sufficiently beefy and are a joy to wield and yes im glad they have made an accurate melta-gun for a change (shakes fist at fire warriors flame thrower version). And this is all backed up by the real heart of a space marine, in the novels and backgrounds every since i can remember a space marine is god, they were meant to last the ages and are superior to more then all the ork's in game, not to mention for the single player you play as Captain Titus and with the ultramarine being the poster boys of the imperium you are taking the role of some who leads 100 of the chapters 1000 men, though when i say this i feel i am delving to in depths to the back story driving away from the Essene of the game here.

So overall i feel this review doesn't do the game justice, from a sheer game point of view the game has a solid and constant game play with a nice array of features, a real weighty feel and a really dynamic visual system all tied together by a well thought out story of heroism and betrayal even if it was a little bit shorter then i expected and filled with some large encounters which felt like they were there just to soak up some time. To the standard person the game i feel should be a solid 70/100 you run of the mill game that you expect from games companies but a definite 80+ to all familiar to the expansive universe of the hobby.
Plus the multi-player is dam good fun to.....


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