Based on Relic’s history with Warhammer 40 000 I had a feeling they might really deliver with Space Marine, their first action take on the franchise. I’ve played both Dawn Of War titles a lot and liked the adaptations into videogame form quite a bit. As most Warhammer fans, what I’d really love is a direct translation of the tabletop experience, but that is something Games Workshop is unlikely to sanction. They are worried about their core business of selling miniatures. At least that’s what I’ve heard, but when Relic’s pumping out games of this caliber, I can’t help but wonder if the digital business might be bigger to them already. It’s intellectual property first, games second.
That Warhammer 40 000 – the world, the IP – has survived for over two decades (since 1987 – 24 years) without changing and still feel fresh amidst the endless contemporary clones (of which Gears Of War is the best), is more than a minor miracle. This is a living classic we are dealing with, here.
That this signifigance is lost on the majority of this game’s audience feels so wrong to me.
It would be impossible for me to judge Space Marine on its own. Relic has been able to dig into my brain and extract how I imagined being a Space Marine feeling like as a kid, and you can’t bypass that emotional link. If I were to try, I would say it’s a Gears Of War-y shooter with meaty close combat and satisfyingly tactical scenarios, set in a world with depth and history and too much running in tunnels. Weapon differences don’t feel quite important enough. The enemies could be more varied, and doesn’t a bit of it feel derivative? I mean, “space marines”? That doesn’t even work as a joke.
But that’s not the point of it. It can’t be. It fulfills the fantasy of being a Space Marine, a god of war, more badass than Kratos and out-manning Marcus et al. Captain Titus of the Ultramarines is very much the original badass. They way the (also tough as nails) Imperial Guard troopers stand a couple of feet shorter than you, kneel and address you as “my Lord” – they really let you revel in the fantasy. You are a space knight, riding into the green wave of nasties as the champion of all. You are the boss man of just a handful of guys, sent in because an army wouldn’t suffice. Space Marines. Yeah.
But it also about seeing and experiencing the Warhammer 40 000 world. Traversing a Forge world under siege from an Ork invasion, the historical world crumbling all around you as you’re racing to protect its most critical assets (Titans) from the alien, it’s stuff I’ve imagined countless times, now seen and felt for the first time. And it does not disappoint. Relic have gone to town with delivering the siege mentality, with audio logs (delivered via servo skulls), grissly wounded soldiers and decimated housing complexes.
The plasma, melta and las weapons don’t feel quite as good as I’d hoped and the (grand!) melee could use a bit more precision, but they’ve got the core so right. Bolt pistol and chainsword in hand, there is no number of Orks that could stop me.
I will never look at my beloved Space Marines quite the same again. I’ve finally got to play the part of one, and from now on, these small plastic men will never be inanimate again.
Oh, and I’ve been playing it on the PC, using an Xbox controller. The console versions felt pretty much the same, but I’m hoping we’ll see some cool mods for the PC down the line. It runs really well on my ageing system.
It will be interesting to see how the game is received in the hands of consumers largely ignorant of its legacy. I think it’s appealing enough to have legs, but against the likes of Gears Of War 3, I’m not sure.