Space Marine

I have hundreds of games in my Steam catalog and on my shelves that have been unplayed. My Backlog. I’m trying to get through those games one by one, and then write a short review for my friends to tell them whether it’s worth playing. I am not a writer or a games journalist. This is just me, telling my friends about a game.

If you are trying to recreate the feeling of being a Space Marine in the Warhammer 40k universe, you could do a lot worse than THQ’s Space Marine. You play as Captain Titus, an ultramarine, as he investigates a distress call one of the empire’s many machine worlds. The plot and the dialog, while not particularly surprising, feels very authentic and believable. The characters are realized well and true to their roles, and you really get the sense that the developers knew what it was to be n Ork Boss, or an Inquisitor or a Space Marine.

The environments while generally very linear, repetitive, and bland periodically break that monotony with very impressive set pieces and situations that remind you and convince you that you are really in this world. It’s like running down a hallway in an office building seeing nothing but doors, and halls and every once in a while you pass the window and see the Eiffel Tower and remember the whole game takes place in France. It’s a little better than that, and served me well enough to believe in the world I was in. The plot and the environments are what kept pulling me through the game to the end.

NOT the gameplay.

The one weakness of the authentic feel is that the character is very vulnerable. This is a concession, of course, to the need for the game to have challenge and while that’s fine, the methods they chose to implement this weakness were constantly irritating to me.

The first method was scarcity of healing. The main method for healing in this game, is to execute a finishing move on a stunned enemy. While this is a very novel approach to healing, in that you heal by fighting (and fighting well), in practice it was too hard to use and frustrating all the time. You often can’t heal when you need to, because there are many guys it’s hard to stun. Or, maybe you’re fighting fliers, or people across a bridge who you simply can’t reach to do a finishing move on. Often, you will heal up by finishing off the 2nd to last guy only to take more damage while fighting the last guy and end the fight down on health. But by far the worst part is, the animation for the finishing move locks you in place–but doesn’t make you immune to damage. So, while you will ultimately gain health from the finishing move it’s possible to lose more health than you gain while locked in the animation. It’s possible to even die while locked in the animation–making it an extremely risky maneuver to attempt.

I expected the in-battle healing to make drawn out fights more entertaining, because you could keep up on health and still be fighting throughout, but in the end if made it more frustrating because you can really only heal effectively near the end of a battle.

The second method of weakness is the peck damage. They make every enemy a perfect shot, so the second you step into their line of site you start getting pecked with a couple hits from all around. The only way to survive in the game is to cut the corners and spot only one enemy at a time (since they gladly stand back and wait for you to reveal yourself). This really undermines your awesomeness, since no matter where you go if you stand in the open you are cut down in a matter of seconds. It really doesn’t matter who is shooting at you, and individually one guy won’t do much damage, but when you are taking 2 or 3 guys’ shots at once, which you almost always are, you get cut down quickly and brutally.

The consequences of these two problems combined is you spend the game hiding behind cover, hoping to conserve your hit points. Because, if you ever lose your hit points, it’s excruciatingly difficult to get it back. I spent most of the game hiding behind cover, and peaking out to fight one guy at a time. Aside from this just being boring, it was often difficult because what you see with the camera is not always where the Space Marine will fire, since you have an over-the-shoulder camera. There is no actual cover mechanic in the game, it’s just a matter of putting an arbitrary piece of environment between you and the AI.

The game looked like it was going to be a melee game with guns, but I quickly learned that it’s a shooter through and through. Using the melee weapons is visceral and dramatic, but you take so much damage that you can’t really afford to be in melee except against the weakest of opponents. Heavier opponents don’t die fast enough and their attacks are not interrupted by yours so you’re guaranteed to take (sometimes a lot of) damage while beating them back. It’s best after a couple chapters in to fight only with ranged weapons.

It’s a shame too, because they do have a fair number of varied enemy types from Ork Boyz and Shootaz, to squig bombs, Nobz, guys with shields, Ork Bosses, Chaos Demons, Cultists, Chaos Space Marines… the list is quite long, and interesting. But since I found only one strategy effective in the game, especially in the later chapters, I wasn’t enjoying fighting any of them.

They also have a wide variety of weapons from sniper rifles to shotguns, HMGs to LMGs. But again, I thought your tactical options greatly limited what you wanted to choose. I mostly wanted the things with the best range and most ammo. Only very rarely did I find use for a sniper rifle, but mostly I stuck with the fast-firing automatic weapons.

By the end of the game I was dreading another big fight, and hoping to just rush through and see the story. Nevertheless, when the game ended with a quick-time mini-game to defeat the final boss I was extremely let down. As cinematic as this method makes things, it’s terribly unfulfilling. For shame.

This game has merit, and you have to decide for yourself if you find the healing mechanic irritating or not. If you are a hardcore 40k fan, I think you’ll be pretty happy with it’s story commitment to the 40k universe. If you’re a hardcore 3rd person action fan, looking for a great 3rd person combat game… just pass.

Posted in Backlog

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