Space Marine is a masterpiece. There, I said it. I even kind of mean it. I played it recently and remembered just how much I loved the game, and how sad it makes me to know that THQ isn’t getting a second shot at the IP. Hell, if anyone understood why the game was so fun, I wouldn’t mind a sequel from almost any studio...although if it were Telltale, I probably wouldn’t go for it. So what makes it so great?
First off, there is the combat. The first enemies you encounter in the game literally explode into a plume of blood and viscera when you shoot them, and it only gets better from there. You get a basic pistol, then a machine gun, then a ‘sniper rifle’ - which causes blood splatters a few feet across when you blow up an enemy's face with it. Then there are your melee weapons: a knife, a chainsaw/sword combination, an electric axe, and a hammer so large you can’t do anything except swing it, and you will never want to use another weapon in a game again. The melee weapons get a lot of use, as ammo is moderately scarce, and each has its own set of combos that can be used.
The best part though comes from the way that your health works: you have a shield which recharges and a stagnant health bar. The only way to gain more health is to pick up health packs. SIKE. No, you can only recover health by stunning enemies with your melee attack and disemboweling them. One move with the chainsaw sword is to ram it into the ork’s belly until there is a fountain of blood coming out of its mouth, then stomping the pulpy remains into a red cloud. And this heals you, and it is the only way to do so. It changes the entire pace of combat for the style of game that it is. Usually when you play as a meaty, musclebound, space marine, you are hiding behind cover to take pot shots at enemies, sucking on your thumb when you eat a bullet until you can safely break cover again. In this game, a horde of 100 orcs charges you behind cover, and you breathe a sigh of relief as you can finally recover your health.
That number of 100 isn’t exaggerated either (or at least by much)- they send massive numbers of enemies your way. Probably more than I have seen in a non zombie game. You start by clearing the ones with guns with your sniper. Then you thin the ranks with grenades and a machine gun. Soon, they are right on top of you, and you begin to eviscerate them with your melee weapon. You have a tool for every range of enemy, and each one is just as effective.
Every once in a while, the game does give you a change in scenery. For one section, you get a jetpack - which should get your ears perked up right away - that you can use to leap up into the air, only to come crashing down on your enemies with your armored fist, annihilating anything nearby. There are also sections with hammers, turrets, and a few other goodies. I noticed after one particularly panicked section that the game gave you a solid couple of minutes with no enemies at all...letting your murderous rage subside for a moment, so they could briefly throw some plot your way. Pretty much, the pacing of the game feels pretty great throughout.
There are a few other small details that I wrote down that I didn’t find a good place to fit in anywhere else, so random section ahead: After blowing up and/or dismembering one of the hundreds of enemies, your armor will have patches of blood that fade out over time. When your gun starts to get to the last few bullets, it gives a noticeable audio cue of the last bullets clicking. Running just feels like it has a weight to it. The most important ‘minor’ detail though, is that it feels close to the source material. The 40k universe has a ton of lore, and they drop a boatload of references to it. More than just throwing out some lines to appease fans though, you see the different factions from the universe represented, and you can almost feel their point values. You have the Imperial Guard - weak humans, easily overwhelmed by the same number of orcs. You have goblins arriving in hordes that even the smallest bullet can dispatch. Then you have the mighty Space Marine - a squad of 3 elite soldiers capable of rumbling with the best of them...until the Orc heroes start to show up. Its hard to put into solid words, but it just ‘feels’ right to the source.
On the thematic note of being a Space Marine, the game always makes you feel like it. It is ridiculously empowering. I have heard it compared to God of War more than a shooter, and while the combat is more simplistic, it isn’t completely off. There is no cover, and the combat isn’t quick and messy. The combat is often up close and personal. It is more Doom than Call of Duty, but more of a Melee than a shooter. Even still, comparing it to a game like Serious Sam - hordes inspire a smile more than they inspire panic. As the enemies toughen, your arsenal, too, gets bigger, and better. You can see the progress in you as a player, as well as the tools in your kit.
If that description hasn’t sold you on the game...maybe you would want to check it out on Monday’s Streamtoid - starring me! The only downside of the game is that it is relatively short, so I am probably going to play it for another 2 weeks before completing it! I decided to play it as something fun for the show, and remembered just how awesome the game really was. Oh, and you can literally pick it up for 10 dollars. Do it.