Evis T Reviews Space Marine... FOR THE EMPERAH!

So, Space Marine. I said in my thoughts on the demo (http://tlcsm.blogspot.com/2011/08/space-marine-demo.html) that I would buy the game if it came down in price, and it has thanks to a Steam sale. I’ve played through the entire single player campaign. What did I think of it? Well, the demo was certainly a poor representation of the positive aspects of the game; however it was a shining example its shortfalls.

There are many, many shortfalls. That said though, Space Marine manages to remain an entertaining title and while it can be frustrating at times, it is pretty fun. The melee combat is mostly well executed (bar a few unpleasant faults) and has a totally unique feel which sets the game apart from other melee centric action games like God of War.

I stand by my assertion that a cover system would be helpful though, if only because in the late game you pretty much need to soften up groups of enemies before you can charge- and they can often chuck firepower back at you capable of killing you in four or five hits (Ork missile troops and Chaos plasma gunners for example) and if you’re unlucky you will get about four or five of these troops firing at you at once. With a little practise you can work around this, but you’ll still find that every so often (often enough to be noticeable) you die from a concentrated blast of rockets because your head was sticking out. Conceptually, the idea of a cover system doesn’t work so well with the game, so perhaps a better idea would be to depower these ‘heavy’ units a little. It isn’t a game breaker, but it does get irritating and when combined with the other main criticism discussed below, totally changes how the game is played, moving it away from a melee centric experience with a bit of shooting into something more akin to Gears of War.

The biggest fault with Space Marine remains the ‘execute to heal’ mechanic. Again, I touched on this in my review of the demo and I stand by the sentiment. It’s a fantastic gameplay idea, but it needs more work. You just can’t perform an execution when you’re fighting against a large number of enemies because you will certainly be killed while the animation takes place. One could argue that this means simply picking the correct moment to use the special move is important- and thus makes combat more strategic- but you don’t have that much control over the melee- especially in later fights as enemies are much harder to stun, and you need to stun an enemy to execute them. About mid way through the game you start praying each time you perform an execution that it will be one of the shorter ones, as a long one is pretty much a death sentence in all but the smallest of melees.

In later fights this just gets even worse. Towards the end of the game I didn’t even bother trying to engage anyone in close combat- I just used ranged weapons and headshoted every Chaos Marine I saw with a lascannon. Going into close combat with them was pointless as they were too tough to stun, did loads of damage, and their retinues would chip me down into the floor anyway.

As I said earlier I get the impression you are supposed to use ranged weapons to soften up the enemy groups and then charge in chainsword whirring to finish the job, but enemy behaviour and gameplay ‘features’ emphasise long range combat. The problem is that the only enemies who pose a significant threat to you at range are the first ones you pick off (Plasma gunners and the like) and once they are gone all that’s left are the enemies dangerous in a melee- so why close to range when you can just keep shooting them? If you keep your distance they’ll probably never even get through your shields so you don’t even need to recover health by fighting them. Getting into the melee is suicide as ranged enemies can still shoot you and your movement is far more restricted once you are surrounded. This is very sad because- again- Space Marine’s melee combat system is really good, and certainly the most enjoyable part of the game.

The graphics are middling to poor. The art direction is brown, grey, dust brown, and occasionally purple. Some people who read this complaint in my thoughts on the demo said that this should be the case because 40K is ‘Grimdark’; I say fuck that noise- look up concept art for 40K and you’ll see plenty of examples of striking colours; gold, brass, emerald and so forth. Even the Titan is just an oblique brown angular... almost polygon. A titan should have character, style, flair. It should look impressive. It should engender many responses but ‘oh, that’s it?’ should not be one of them. In terms of quality the graphics are also quite shabby. The textures are poor, the animation is odd and the lighting and particle effects are basic at best.

There are also many, many clipping errors and animation bugs- usually centred on the executions. You’ll lob a Chaos Marine to the floor inside a wall, stamp on an Ork skull while the said beast’s head is floating in mid air and so forth. It’s not game breaking but it is very distracting and happens far, far too often.

The spectacle of Space Marine however is everything I thought it would be. If you’re a 40K fanboy then Space Marine has wanking material in abundance. There’s plenty of ‘For the Emperor!’ and ‘Die Greenskins!’ to be had. The story is also reasonably well told with only a few plot holes- and this is what really saves Space Marine from just being bland.

The game is a fun experience. You can forgive the poorly considered (though admittedly inventive) gameplay mechanics, the dodgy graphics, and the weird voice work because at the end of the day despite its flaws Space Marine manages to be fun and entertaining. When it works the combat is strategic and fast paced- if a little repetitive. To be fair even when the combat doesn’t work it’s still rewarding, intense, challenging and as much as I complain about the healing mechanics they don’t very often feel cheap or spawn the urge to rage quit. I intend to get the (inevitable) sequel, but again I won’t be paying full price for it. While I had fun with Space Marine I simply can’t justify spending £30 on a game which has such deep cracks in it.

Make of that what you will.

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