Warhammer 40K: Space Marine: Cover is for wimps

October 14, 2011

There’s a word that’s stuck out in most reviews of Warhammer 40K: Space Marine. That word is “uneventful”. We’re not sure that’s an apt word at all. Plenty happens in Space Marine, and it was able to hold our attention all the way through to the end. It’s true that the gameplay in Space Marine doesn’t quite evolve as much as we’d like it to, though. What you’re doing at the beginning of the game is very similar to what you’re doing toward the end. Does that make this a bad game? Not necessarily. Do other elements make it a bad game, though? 

This is the part of the review where we’re supposed to tell you what the game is about. We played the entire campaign, and we’re still not entirely sure what we were doing or why we were doing it. Stuff just kept happening and we kept marching on like a good soldier. If a macguffin appeared that we needed to find, we’d go for it. There was an enormous facility that was being attacked. and we were sent to protect it. Very little time was given to saying what this place was or why it was being attacked. While other games may pour exposition on you through painfully long cutscenes, Space Marine just gives you a glimpse of this world and the things that exist in it. The game knows it’s based on a tabletop game with a rich history going back decades and spawning countless novels, but it doesn’t shove it all down your throat. If you want to learn more about the Warhammer universe, you’re free to find out. The game trusts you with the little glimpses to do with them what you’d like.

You play as an Ultramarine, a soldier genetically altered to be the baddest dude in the universe. We towered over normal men and dealt with waves upon waves of enemies with ease. The game’s characters actually make sense within the context it puts forth. Games frequently ruin the sense of immersion by taking down the main character with a single bullet in a cutscene after he’s just soaked up hundreds like a sponge. In Space Marine, if you see someone do something rad in a cutscene, you can probably pull it off too. Many of the game’s themes and gameplay sequences feel like a commentary on today’s cover-based shooters. Space Marine doesn’t just not want to be a cover based shooter, it actively hates cover. The most frustrating parts of the game are segments where you’re dropped into an open area and wave after wave of enemies are poured out toward you. No cover, no health packs, and enemies from literally every direction hitting you up close and from afar. It can get maddening.

There is a regenerating shield, but your health won’t come back once it’s drained except by performing a special attack. After stunning an enemy, you can “execute” them, refilling your health bar but leaving you completely vulnerable during the animation. This can make regaining health during certain scuffles incredibly frustrating, but it keeps your health precious in a game where you feel like a demigod. It leads to invigorating moments where shields will be completely depleted by other orks during an execution. One more second would be game over, but a sudden burst of health leads to destroying 50 surrounding guys.

Linearity’s a bit of an issue in Space Marine. Very rarely did the game present more than one direction to go, and even less did it reward taking the road less traveled. The multiplayer and co-op, though, give the game some replayability. Space Marine can mold to conform different play styles, and is friendly to experimentation. Before most altercations, you’ll be provided with a variety of weapons and can switch out melee and ranged items to fit however you’d like to go about the situation. This would be more of a boon if most of the games’ bigger fights didn’t play so similarly. Usually, the choices are running in and kicking some ork or sitting back and picking them off with one of your ranged weapons. Eventually the gameplay ends up getting pretty same-y and alternates between two styles. Many shooting segments boil down to “us on this side, the bad guys on the other.” Then we just shoot at each other until everyone on one side dies. Then there are the parts I mentioned where you’re one man against hundreds with no cover or health.

Space Marine doesn’t evolve as much as we’d like it to and yes, there aren’t many big set pieces. But we enjoyed what we played. No part of it felt like it was trying to achieve something and failed, and it felt totally comfortable in its own skin.

Pros: Wonderfully captures the world of Warhammer
Cons: Gameplay becomes repetitive

Score: 3/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.