I’ve been following Space marine for some time now. A little over two years in fact; starting when I spotted the first trailer at THQ’s booth during E3 2009. At that point, the game was still in very early development, so Relic had nothing more to show. But, that single CGI trailer was all it took to grab my attention and Captain Titus and crew have managed to hold on to it in an iron grip ever since. Last April I took a run out to San Francisco to see how the game is doing, which was in Alpha at that point, yet it still held so much promise that my excitement for the final build was palpable. Now that it’s in my hands, and after spending some time running through Orks with my chainsword, I’m happy to say that my early Alpha impressions were spot on...
Fans of the Warhammer 40k universe will feel right at home here, as Space Marine is rich with Warhammer lore. However, even if you are a casual fan, you shouldn’t be dissuaded. I don’t follow Warhammer. I never have. Yet, I was able to jump right in to Space Marine and not only understand what was going on, but I became entranced. I needed to find out what was next. The narrative was written in such a way that it doesn’t matter if you’ve been playing Warhammer tabletop for the last 30 years or if this is your first bit of exposure to the Inquisition, it’ll hold your interest.
In Space Marine, the Orks - one of the opposing factions in the Warhammer universe - have invaded an Imperium Forge World (sort of a weapons manufacturing planet). The Liberation fleet is en route, although they won’t get there in time. That’s where you come in. As Captain Titus, the more free-thinking leader of the Second Company of the Ultramarines, you will lead your squad onto the planet in an attempt to buy the fleet some time. Naturally, things won’t quite go as planned and there are other factors in play here that Titus and crew aren’t aware of.
The Ultramarines are like the uber-soldiers of the Warhammer universe. These guys are ten feet tall and a thousand pounds of badassery. They abide by a higher code than most (the Codex, their version of military doctrine), although Titus doesn’t follow it as strictly as the rest of the Order. This single facet is what opens the story up and provides the drama that permeates the entire journey. I’m going to stay away from spoilers here, even though the game has been on store shelves for a few weeks now. Let’s just say that the Orks will be joined by Chaos forces - the other opposing faction - at one point and once it was all said and done, my desire for a sequel bumped up ten fold.
The gameplay falls into your standard 3rd person genre; where you’ll run and gun your way through gobs of Orcs and all their variants. There’s no cover system, which is a good thing as the focus rests solely on the action. There’s plenty of gaps between set pieces and stage sections, so when the action is on-screen, it’s exactly that, a straight up battle.
Combat rolls through both melee and ranged, although melee is predominate as the vast majority of the time, your foes will quickly close the distance between you. Featuring four different melee weapons (sword, chainsword, battle axe and warhammer) along with ranged weaponry sub-divided into two categories (standard and exotic), plus grenades, you won’t be without choices. Hand-to-hand combat can provide execution opportunities, which leads me to one of my biggest complaint about the game: The health system.
There are no health packs or potions or anything like that. There’s an oversheild, which helps take the brunt of the damage. However, once your health bar depletes, the only way to recoup is via executions. Beat on one of your foes until he’s stunned, then hit the execution button and you’ll start a brief animation that ends with said enemy eviscerated and your health bar newly refreshed. Sounds great, but in practice, it’s a pain. First, enemies can still do you harm while the execution is in play. Many times I found myself shaking hands with Death because I didn’t survive to the end of the animation. Second, executions are done in close quarters only. Now, if your health is already dangerously low, why would you want to get in close with someone who wants to bury their weapon in your skull?
Space Marine is also much bigger than one would expect. With today’s action games coming in with smaller and smaller campaigns, especially those with a multiplayer component (which Space Marine has, but more on that in a min), it was a pleasant surprise to find the campaign clocked in at a solid 10-12 hours on a single play-through.
On the subject of scope, that single word must have been Relic’s mantra as they were developing Space Marine. Not only does the campaign carry some meat, but the art design really embraces it with a massive bear hug. The best way I can equate it is to consider walking through a large vertical city for the first time, such as Chicago or New York. You’ll spend a lot of time with your head cranked back at a 90 degree angle, looking up at all the buildings. Space Marine’s architectural scope is roughly the same, with grand, majestic archways that span 40 or 50 feet across, huge columns and pillars, massive chunks of buildings littered about (remember, this is a war-torn environment), and gigantic factories. Everything is big. Even the Space Marines imply this sense of scope and size in just the way they move. Given their agility, it’s easy to forget how big they are. But as you hear their booming footsteps and the thud as they roll and drop down from one level to the next, your can feel their size.
In addition, the polish is impressive. I didn’t find a single texture rip, no pop-ups, nothing. The visuals are clean as can be. Some may be a bit put off by the repetitive design, but keep in mind that Relic is beholden to the license, a feat they accomplished admirably. While the non-fans may not appreciate it as much as the fans will, the visual dedication to the Warhammer universe is apparent.
As I noted, there is an eight-versus-eight competitive multiplayer component. Players have three classes to choose from - tactical, ranged and assault - with a couple of modes such as team deathmatch and an assault-like turf mode. With weapon challenges and experience levels earning perks and customizing options for your avatar rounding out the package, it’s decent fun, even if it isn’t terribly deep. Although, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that a horde-based co-op mode is coming, and should be available sometime over the next two weeks.
Space Marine impressed the heck out of me, especially considering the fact that the last time we saw Relic develop for a console, it was the abysmal Outfit from back in 2006. Since then, they have honed their craft, working on PC only and cranking out strictly strategy titles in the form of four more in the Warhammer universe along with the fantastic Company of Heroes franchise. Now with Space Marine, they not only returned to home consoles, but also left the RTS genre on the sidelines. Fortunately, it worked out great. Space Marine is a fun 3rd person action game that delivers an interesting story that stretches beyond the 12 hour campaign. With multiple difficulty levels, competitive multiplayer, and the incoming co-op update, there’s plenty here to keep both the die-hard fans and those who’ve never heard of the word “Ultrmarines” busy. The only real complaint (beyond the terrible health system) is how linear it is. While it didn’t really bother me so much, I can certainly see it arise as an issue for many of you. It’s pretty much a straight shot from beginning to end. All things considered though, those two complaints are negligable at best. This one easily falls into the ‘Buy’ category.
Release date : 2011-09-06
Publisher : THQ
Developer : Relic
Gameplay : Action
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