Friday, September 23, 2011

Something a Little Different. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine (PC game) Review.

Something a little different than my usual wargaming related posts. Recently I picked up and have played part way through the new PC title Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine.

Overall Review: Excellent game on almost every level with only a few minor quibbles.

Visuals: Amazing. To start, they really took the 40k gothic visuals and created a convincing and awe inspiring landscape. Amazing detail down to the very nuts and bolts. Dark, gritty, ruined, gothic. Everything 40k is supposed to be without going over the top, which is even more impressive. The models look amazing. This is what space marines are supposed to look like. Plus, the animations are fluid and realistic, and the voice acting and characters are done really well. What's more, the action animations and the pure carnage factor is stunning. The power a single marine is able to unleash in this game truly does these 40k legends justice. You can literally become a walking engine of death and cut a swathe of destruction.

Gameplay: This is where it gets even better. This game delivers on the action. What I really like is that not only does the game allow you to seamlessly switch from ranged to melee combat, both styles of combat have their place. There are parts of the game where it is better to stay ranged, use cover and gun down the waves of enemies. Other times there is nothing for it but to wade into the enemy and brutally hack and slash your way through. In fact, there are times when if you choose the wrong approach, you will find yourself gunned down from long range or swamped and cut to pieces in a wave of death. This balance of gameplay is not only important, it is impressive that they executed it so damned well. Space Marines are great at both roles. I personally prefer the ranged approach, and there is something satisfying standing back and gunning down waves of Orks with head shots from a standard bolter. Even more awesome is the power of a melta gun at close range.

Story and Level Design: This is a mixed bag. The story is very cool and the plot is pure 40k. Ork invasions, an Inquisitor, a Forge World, and even a somewhat competent Imperial Guard force swirl around the intrigue of a secret weapon and the attempt to prevent it from falling into Ork hands (or worse). So the story gets a plus from me. The only detraction was that there was not that much character interaction beyond short (sometimes too short) cut scenes. But hey, this is an action game and we are playing a Space who cares?

Level design is where I will say that the game falls short, but only in some minor ways that can be easily overlooked. The levels are very linear. That's ok, but added to the next factor, I think it becomes mildly annoying. At every part of the level where your character needs something it just happens to be lying in an open crate, on the ground, or in a drop pod or Adepticus Mechanicus machine. In fact, the game delivers your skill ups in these awkward Adepticus Mechanicus consoles. Get to a part where you need to fly? Oh look! A jet pack conveniently located in a drop pod. Done with that zone? The jet pack runs out of fuel just in time. Does the zone ahead have a few mini boss type enemies where you need to use a Lascannon? Oh look! There's one! Done those mini bosses? Oh well, no more ammo for that weapon. I don't mind crates of ammo throughout a game, but the way this game delivers not only ammo, but the very tools you need to complete a part of the game comes across as kind of silly and predictable. Also, there are times when you lose a weapon you had, only to come across another one later on. It's all a very awkward element of the game design.

The strange part is the fact that while they handled level ups and weapons so awkwardly, they handled health really well. You regain your power field after waiting a short time out of combat. That makes sense as it recharges back up to full. Health is handled even more uniquely and in two related but different ways: you build up rage as you are in combat. Once your meter is full you can unleash the rage in a storm of energy. It adds health to you, slows time slightly and turns you into a killing machine. Even neater is how it can be used both in melee and ranged combat (melee allows you to land devastating blows, ranged allows for super accurate shooting). It functions as an almost trance like Matrix style state without being cheesy. Plus it is easy to use.

Also, there is the ability to regenerate health by first stunning an enemy and then delivering a killing blow. It is kind of awkward at first, but it quickly becomes second nature. Though sometimes it is a pain in the ass to line it up right, but that is part of the challenge. Also, you must time it right. Not all enemies can be stunned right away but must be damaged first. Also, if you don't time it right, your foe can counterattack. There is nothing more aggravating than being picked up and slammed down and then stomped on by an Ork nob. Of course, there is nothing more satisfying than delivering that vicious and gruesome killing blow back on him...

One of the things I really like is the way they designed the actual enemies you fight. The Orks are far more than just waves of chainsword and axe wielding maniacs. There are nobs, stormboys with jet packs, shoota boys, Weirdboy psykers, Armored boys with huge shields, gretchin mobs...everything you think of for the Orks which makes an old school 40k fanboy smile (my only gripe would be that it would be nice to see some variety of color and details on the models-every type of Ork always looks the same even though there are a bunch of different types). The best part about your enemies is that each type of encounter requires you to think about how to handle it. Shoota boys will quickly reduce your power field and start taking chunks out of your health if you stand in the open. If you get swamped by Orks you will find yourself unable to fight your way out.

So taken overall, this is one amazing game. It is a lot of fun. It is challenging in all of the ways I like, yet not needlessly frustrating or difficult for the sake of being difficult. The few minor gripes are annoying and mildly detracting from the experience. But overall, it is one solid game. I recommend it for anyone that is a big fan of 40k. I really hope they continue this series. I would love to go up against Eldar, Tyranids, or the other 40k universe baddies. Note: I have not yet completed the game. I understand that chaos forces make their appearance...I can't wait.