Ever since the Warhammer universe has graced us with its presence on the PC, I’ve been an avid fan of the Dawn of War series, even getting into some table top with a bit of help from the local Games Workshop store. The RTS genre was the best choice anyway for this universe, but there were moments when I wanted to be closer than what the zoom-in allowed from the top down perspective and chop up orks in a more… intimate fashion. Fortunately, at least the chopping part turned out very well in Space Marine, even if other areas of the gameplay could have been a bit more polished.
Whaaaagh! is the main word here and the hero’s role is to silence these savage roars that mark the presence of the classical enemies of the space pioneers: the Orks. The one to do it is captain Titus of the Ultramarine chapter and together with two of his brethren (Sidonus, a sergeant-veteran and Leandros, a battle brother just thrown in the heat of battle), he must save an imperial Forge World from the ork menace, but also from another dark shadow that threatens not only this planet, but the whole universe.
On this planet there also “happens” to be a Titan, one of the most powerful weapons ever created, but the presence of the huge robot it’s more of a pretext, since it’s a pocket type of weapon. To give more details and underline the disaster, you can find audio logs all along the levels in the form of Servo Skulls, which are quite worth collecting and offer interesting narrative pieces.
Actually, the story is quite simple and offers no surprises, with the end being very much open (which is a good thing). Of course, it all makes more sense if you are at least a bit familiar with the Warhammer universe, otherwise the Codex Astartes, Machine God and all the Latin terms are just words without too much context. Actually, there is a little context needed: the Warhammer universe is, very simply put, a mix of religion and technology.
The Space Marines are the soldiers, the superior end of the warrior food chain, but the Adeptus Mechanicus, for example, is the one to control technology and the veneration of the Machine God, very much in the way Asimov does it in his Foundation. The Chaos Space Marines are the flipside of the coin, soldiers who were corrupted by the ruinous powers emerged from the Warp, from the depths of the dark energy emanated by the universe.
A big advantage of the switch from RTS to Shooter is the size. Only now you really get the idea of how big a Space Marine is, a super human not only physically enhanced, but also armor clad in a huge suit, with devastating weapons and a very useful jetpack when it comes to fall on your enemies like a mini apocalypse. Well, not that mini if you keep in mind that Titus is twice as big as the the average human.
Each step on the ground sounds like one made by an elephant and landing is a volcanic catastrophe; running turns into a rugby finish, shoulders first, if you happen to stop into a group of enemies; and if you slam your hammer into the ground, the tremor will stun at least a dozen unfortunate bystanders, thus ready to become splatter. The spirit of the 41st millennium is very well presented and the enemies are a classical fit: orks and Chaos Space Marines. Of course, for any sequel or add-ons there are many races to come still, among which I think the Tau and Eldar are the most interesting (most wanted in the Dawn of War series, too).
Of course, the size of Titus and his companions isn’t just to impress the ladies. Actually, I don’t think there are any ladies Space Marines, but there are some in the Inquisition, so the blue armor and the chapter specific drawings aren’t just for the sake of the art and battlefield identification (for example, if the Ultramarines have blue armors, thus the name, the Blood Ravens chapter has red coats and the ravens drawn on). Once the story gets started, all you have to do is kill. And Space Marine excels here more than all the slaughter houses put together.
No matter the weapon, all around is a frenzy of clicks, while heads, feet, hands and various pieces of meat fly all over the place, plus grenades that won’t be a thrill if they explode near you. It’s hard to describe the carnage, the enemies that come dozens at a time, in compact groups usually, the best comparison being the Serious Sam style of attack. There’s even a little monster, a mini-dog that explodes, not too far from the humans with bomb heads from the above mentioned Sam. Seriously, it’s big work to clean up a room and the levels are both tall, large and wide, since the buildings from the Warhammer universe look more like gothic cathedrals.
There are also limited in explorable areas, especially in the industrial interiors and in the sewers, but these come with multiple points of entry for orks to ambush you and, later in the campaign, the Warp will also spawn its own chaos demons. Double the number of enemies means double the fun, but things aren’t as easy as they appear, mostly because of the speed of the fights. Since there’s not much of an AI involved, you’ll find yourself often surrounded, so it’s hard to get to a safe area to recharge your shield, but even there you must keep an eye on grenades or four legged fanged explosives.