Thursday, October 27, 2011

Warhammer 40k: Space Marine review

I'm a fan of the Warhammer 40k setting and as such there's a lot going on in this game to tickle my fancy; sadly if you're not a fan there's a lot here that just doesn't work.

In concept this is a formulaic shoot/hack third person affair and if you've played one then you've pretty much played this. If things had been left there then that would have been okay; of course they weren't.

Space Marine as a game doesn't seem quite sure what it is. Control-wise on the console it's a standard shooter - left stick to move, right stick to look/turn. Shoulder buttons to fire, reload, aim and throw grenades all the controls to fight based around the positions of the fingers on the controller. As is the norm switching weapons is via the d-pad which means sacrificing a moment of movement; which is fine. The problem lies with the face buttons.

Square to hit; Triangle to stun; Circle to execute and Cross to evade/combat roll - all melee combat. However to use the face buttons means sacrificing turning ability. Again this wouldn't be a problem if melee was an option of last resort - something one finds oneself performing having missed a target with a weapon or having wasted ammunition.

Melee combat is the only method of regaining health.

Against a single enemy - fine; against the group charging towards the player - not so fine. Hit a character on the left and the only way to hit one on the right is to move in that direction - which would be okay if the camera stayed positioned  over the shoulder. Except that's what the right stick is for - the one being sacrificed in order to use the face buttons.

As the player will often be facing a crowd of enemies coming from all directions, but also shooters hanging back I found myself often dying from a wound coming from an enemy I didn't know even know was there because I couldn't turn around to see them.

Given the inability to see during melee combat it also grates that it's possible to get stuck on scenery or the non-playable characters. It's easy to be surrounded and stuck in a group that it would be possible to bash one's way out of if it were possible to just face in that direction.

It gets worse with the jet-packs as lift is assigned to the Cross button. Let go and the player starts to fall and can't restart the jets until they land. This means that once in the air it's impossible to turn around and direct movement towards enemies.

On top of that is sheer repetition. Sure later on there's different enemies to shoot, but even then it's the same thing every time - those with weapons hang back and shoot, those without charge.

Annoyingly the game isn't too bad apart from that - atmospherically it matches the setting though why the stick-up-the-arse Ultramarines were chosen as the playable character over more interesting Chapters (the Viking-style Space Wolves, the fire toting Salamanders, the paranoid Dark Angels) I don't know. Weapons have a convincing heft to them and the Space Marines themselves thud convincingly along and even require time to slow down from running. It sounds daft, but after dropping from a ledge it was a pleasant sensation to be able to feel my compatriots dropping down behind me rather than having to turn around to check their positions.

The game engine runs along nicely though I've had a few pauses while it loads up the next area and a couple of clipping errors with enemies getting stuck in scenery. Graphically it's fine, nothing outstanding with textures loading up quickly. One major annoyance is that it has a tendency to reset weapons when reloading from scratch. Die and the game loads up from the last checkpoint with the same weapon-load and ammunition count. Restart and I can find myself with a Chainsword and Melta rather than the Power Axe and Vengeance I last had equipped. Breaks the continuity.

A fan can overlook the flaws because this truly is playing as a Space Marine, something we've wanted to do for so long now; non-fans may wonder what the fuss is about.

All in all this is an unforgiving game where dying is easy and often, but frustrating when the blame for such can often be laid at the feet of the game mechanics.