In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. This week, Tom faces the Waaaagh in Space Marine.
Space Marine is a third person fighting game from Relic Entertainment, a studio best known for their fine RTS games. Space Marine was an attempt to break into new genres and find new audiences. Games Workshop's Warhammer 40,000 universe was the vehicle, and the opportunity to paste dozens of rampaging space Orks was the primary draw.
Space Marine commits completely to the core mission, and its realisation of 40K's exaggerated close combat weapons is unexpectedly good. The chain sword feels like a low-fi counterpoint to the common lightsaber archetype. Instead of the warm 'vrwooom' of plasma, the chain sword's gears roar with every swipe—a brutal weapon for an uncivilised age.
The glowing power axe seems to deal damage more efficiently, but lacks the mechanical ferocity of the chain sword. You have to wait until you find a thunder hammer to access the full force of the Adeptus Astartes armoury. This two-handed electric war hammer tenderises enemies with sweeping blows and overhead strikes. The latter emit a thunderous shockwaves that leaves enemies open to execution attacks, which provide some of Space Marine's most violent and satisfying moments.
Weapon impacts are improved by the addition of slow motion, judicious particle effects and some outstanding weapon noises. But let's not underestimate the role that your dance partners play. Orks lope towards you in swarms and pop explosively on death, charging with the misguided enthusiasm you'd expect of creatures that love to fight and barely feel pain. In defeat, as a chain sword grinds through various important bits, their primary emotion is surprise and outrage. It's telling that the game slumps in the final chapters, when another force usurps the Orks as your primary foe.
I mention these details because Space Marine demonstrates how careful attention to combat audiovisual can mitigate wider problems. Space Marine's environments are grey and samey, struggling to realise spectacle that the story demands, and that 40K fans expect. Thunder hammers—rare and mighty tools of the Emperor's finest—can frequently be found resting on small crates in cramped rooms. Fans of the universe can take pleasure in some authentically modelled vehicles and units, but many lie static and unused in the background.
Nonetheless, I can't stop myself going back to pick up a thunder hammer, strap on an assault jetpack and take it to the Greenskins. Space Marine isn't a classic but it does hammers, chain swords and exploding enemies very well indeed and that's good enough for a Why I Love in my book. Well done, Space Marine, the primarchs would be proud.