Behind the Curve: SPHECE MARINE (my waaaaaaaaaaay behind the curve video game review)

So a game I’ve had my eye on for a while popped up on Steam on quite a good sale, so I picked it up! SPHECE MARINEZ! (Specifically Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine from Relic Entertainment). I had seen some early test/demo footage a while back and it seemed somewhat exciting (I’m aware that this is roughly 4 years behind the curve). Blood, guts, gore, you get to be a SPHECE MARINE, what’s not to like?

Well, a number of surprising things actually…

-I’m 8 or so missions into this game and it’s still feels like I’m in a tutorial level. I’ve gotten a new melee weapon (but I had to trade away my combat knife), 3 new guns (sniper, machine gun, grenade launcher). I haven’t seen any other choices, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I like having a wide arsenal to pick from.

-I’m very locked onto the rails (I call this a rail shooter because you have 1 direction of progress and it’s fairly obvious, not the traditional definition of things like Star Fox). I fight in box cayones, not even having the choice between the high ground or the low ground. Not surprised here, I wasn’t expecting anything but a rails shooter (honestly, I think rail shooters should generally go die in a hole, but that’s a separate rant for a separate day).

-This game really suffers from trying to be a shooter x hack n slash. The only method of regaining hp is through executing enemies, there’s no cover system for ranged battles. So ranged enemies deal no damage, none. I can stand in a full firestorm for a good 45, 50 seconds before even needing to duck behind a rock to recharge my shields. Again, ranged opponents are absolutely meaningless (occasionally there’s a rocket launcher mob that actually poses a threat but SPHECE MARINEZ LAUGH AT PUNY ORC BULLET).

-Melee is trivially simple. Mash melee X three times, then mash Y to AoE stun everything (including “Elite Enemies”). Rinse, Wash, Repeat. To make things difficult, occasionally you have to shoot a suicidal dog-thing that deals overwhelming amounts of damage when it blows.

-This game really needed to have a lot more time spent on developing both its melee and shooting system. Honestly I would’ve scrapped the “Execute for HP” and rolled it into a “Combo Executes for massive damage” type thing. Having to stop and stun a guy to top up on hp is annoying most of the time and actually impossible the rest (because there just aren’t enough little orcs to run over).

-Execution animations are sloppy and extremely repetitive. There’s generally 3 execution animations and none of them are action sensitive. For example, I just knocked a poor orc flat on his face, I need HP, so I execute him. Instead of just taking a large step and curbstomping his head with my trashcan foot, I magic him face up and stand, then knock him to the ground and then curb stomp him. I’m because of the “HP gain through execution” design, someone decided that all execution animations had to be exactly X seconds long for “balance” reasons…which is shoddy design. An execution recovers roughly 2/3rds of your HP every time, sometimes I don’t need 2/3rds of my hp bar, I just need 1/4 of it filled back up. There’s not an option for a “quick execute”, instead I have to lock into this X second long, clumsy animation sequence. I would’ve liked to see a much more smooth and natural execution system where you got a ratio of hp back based on enemy health remaining or a /X ratio.

-I’m playing with a USB Xbox 360 controller. I’m assuming that the aim assist is turned off for keyboard/mouse but DEAR LORD THE AIM ASSIST. I’ve played games with aim assist, that helpful little nudge to center your reticule over the thing you’re trying to shoot is super helpful when you’re using a controller. In this game I think that “aim assist” is rather much a misnomer. “Aim Hijacking” is more to the case. If you mash the aim button, at all, you lock onto an enemy. I discovered this while playing a little cover crab with some ranged enemies right after acquiring the sniper. I scoped and watched as my reticule tracked the orc perfectly without my right thumb on the camera stick…

-Plot critical NPCs and your two space marine buddies can’t die but don’t deal damage either. Wouldn’t want to steal the show from the player now would we? (I still remember playing Halo and outfitting every single marine I could with snipers! It’s fine that the AI is better then I am at aiming! More power to them!)

That covers most of the generic gameplay issues I’ve got with this game (so far), but that’s roughly what I was expecting from this game; a limited rails shooter (don’t worry, there are more issues in a little bit). Now onto the generic good things!

-This game is fun! Outside of some of the ugh-worthy execution issues, its tons of fun to tackle THROUGH an orc, gibbing him to pieces. Blasting orcs into pieces, stomping on their skulls, tossing grenades into the masses; this game has the giant piles of gore and bodies that are fun in a game like this.

-It doesn’t really require thinking to play. This is a strange statement, I’ll admit that, but I spent 9 hours studying for a test (then an hour taking said test)…my brain just hurts. Thinking hurts, adding hurts, making decisions hurts. Being able to stare at a screen and giggle as I tackle through another nob (little orc) is just pure bliss right now.

Yeah…that’s about it. Now onto some more issues (because they’re easier to rant about).

I’ve had issues with Warhammer 40,000’s universe for a while. It’s a purely stagnant universe for commercial reasons (the Ultramarines who are starring in this game have been completely wiped out, 110% D-E-D dead then retconned back into existence at least once, I’ll find the citation later). I have more issues with the quality of author’s that Games Workshop has piloting their universe (a universe “Retcon”!) simply because it tends to turn into one massive orgy of SPHECE MARINE fanservice. For example, you’ve got a planet that’s been invaded by hostile aliens. The local Imperial Guard are holding their own just fine (in fact, starting to turn the tide) when the Space Marines have a spare moment to show up and help out. Suddenly all the IG units (save a few to have dramatic last message/dying scenes) just fall over dead. Then a small force of SPHECE MARINEZ show up and dunk a planetary invasion force of aliens, no problem guys (seriously, a Space Marine chapter is 1000 space marines + support…I mean the are mankind’s elite forces but still, a 1000 man army is not a planetary defense force). This game suffers greatly from this trope (meme, whatever). 3, THREE, space marines (you + two guys who can’t die and don’t deal damage >.>) comes crashing into this Orc invasion force and from all apparent signs, begins YOLOSWAG-ing their way through everything. Round 1, 1 Space Marine vs Orc Space Ship. Space Marine wins (admittedly it was funny and very exciting). My point being that 3 people can’t stop an entire invasion (even if you take out the leader, if I recall my 40k lore correctly, even assassinating the Orc Boss at this point would be moot as the orcs would then begin to shoot each other with their giant guns/looted titans/other toys completely ruining the planet, including any SPHECE MARINEZ still hanging around).

More related to the game itself, my character has an amazing tendency to dispose of gear without a second thought. Opening scene I have a jump pack in lieu of a parachute (again, badass, I approve). Within 2 seconds of landing on the flying orc ship, I had taken it off and thrown it away (who needs a parachute while on a mission to destroy a space ship, flying through the upper atmosphere? Not me!). Fast forward a few missions. Hey look, a new jump-pack (in the game it was completely OP, I just began goomba stomping around on everything with total impunity). Ran through the slightly bigger box canyon (having a lot of fun jetting around, goomba stomping people). Hit the end of that section to have one of my buddies inform me that “That Jump-pack is too big for these tunnels, you have to take it off.” Let’s forget for the moment I’m a giant, 8ft tall, walking dumpster on top of two trash cans (the in game sounds are glorious CRUNCH CLANG CRUNCH CRUNCH CLANG) that manages to sideways strafe because my legs seemingly have no physical interaction with one another (the animation just clips through and to be fair, I do wear a pair of garbage cans for shoes). The cave that is clearly spacious enough for me and my two buddies that are identical to my size to walk abreast is just TOO SMALL for a jump pack. Here’s a hint for game designers, arbitrarily taking away fun/awesome toys because “that section is over” ruins the game. When I remember this game, I’m not going to remember how awesome that jump-pack was, I’m going to remember the fact that I couldn’t take it with me.

To sum up (because this ended up being a lot of text instead of the short little rant I had planned), Relic’s Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine gets a 4/10.

tl;dr

-Pros-

You are every Space Marine fanboy’s wet dream. A nigh invincible warrior god that regularly defies physics, laughs off puny orc bullets and regains hp through gloriously gory executions.

-Cons-

Pretty much everything else. Realism, limited execution animations, gunplay, melee-play, aim hijacking, suspension of disbelief, useless companions.

I haven’t cracked the multiplayer yet, but I’m not expecting anything much (if there is even any playerbase online anymore). If it’s anything amazing I’ll do a part 2 or update this. Anyways, cheers!

If you want something specific reviewed or have questions/comments/concerns, leave a comment and we can have a spirited interwebz debate about it!

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