Thursday, October 6, 2011

GrimDark Fandango

I was torn between getting Dynasty Warriors 7 or Gears of War 3. With the assistance of a coin toss I split the difference and got Space Marine.

The story for Space Marine is actually pretty good, containing fun double crosses and betrayals. And the clever player can understand the plot even if you're not a Warhammer 40K fan. You just have to pick up on what everything is supposed to be. Space Marines are super soldiers, Imperial Guard is the Army, and let's say Inquisitors are intelligence agents (not the most accurate analogy, but it works for the story). Once you get past the vocabulary the story makes sense even to non-fans of 40K. Unfortunately the dialogue isn't so accommodating, and the non-fan will have to muddle through discussions on heresy, the Warp, xenos, and the Codex Astartes.

As for gameplay, Space Marine is nominally a third person shooter. I've found this to be a lie, as it's actually more of a Dynasty Warriors game than Dynasty Warriors 6 was. Once I got within melee range and started banging out X, X, X, Y combos things started to feel oddly familiar. The game is designed to reward aggression, and it does so admirably. While there are some enemies who sit on unreachable ledges demanding ranged weapons, most are content to sprint directly towards you. Ranged weapons seem more for thinning the ranks of a horde or softening up a tough enemy before you get into close quarters. And there is no cover system, unless manually strafing behind a wall counts. And no ducking, you stand up at all times. If anything, melee is safer for you. Like the original Halo, you have armor that regenerates over time and health that does not. To restore health, you have to perform melee executions on enemies. This is where presentation makes all the difference in the world, as the animation, tasteful use of slow motion, and giving the player free camera control all make the execution animations very satisfying. Presuming there isn't a weird clipping issue that has your enemy four feet to your left while being killed or disappearing behind a concrete wall. It still satisfying, as I've found myself performing executions, yelling some variant on "fuck you" at the television, and coming away from the experience feeling strangely fulfilled.

The game isn't flawless. While new enemies are introduced at a healthy pace, weapons are not and you'll sometimes find yourself replacing a weapon with a new weapon before you've even learned how it works. The reloads are annoying as well. Reloading while you have ammo is faster than reloading an empty clip (for some reason), but if you manually reload an empty clip you can mistakenly think you're reloading a partial clip, which throws off your timing. And the timing is hard to learn because the reload animations are so subtle I'm not entirely sure they exist at all. And melee attacks or firing a partial clip cancels the reload, which just further confuses things.

Space Marine isn't a game that's going to revolutionize the industry or even the genre. The setting is too niche for the mainstream and being the bastard child of Dynasty Warriors and Gears of War is too niche for it's own genre (which is...?). Great game, no. Good game, yes. Enthusiastically yes. I'm having fun with this game. And isn't that the point of games in the first place.

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