Meet Mr. Ork. You’ll meet many of Mr. Ork’s ilk in Space Marine; hundreds of the angry viridescent chaps, thousands even. Here’s one, strapped to a big red rocket using a pistol in a vain attempt to destroy a dropship. Now I’m no master of engineering, lest of all the engineering behind elaborate war-machines, but this strikes me as the futuristic equivalent of strapping 50 red barrels to the flanks of a tank and driving it into a minefield.
It goes without saying, then, that Mr. Ork is a little brain-dead. He comes roaring out of the periphery chanting things like “DIE OOO-MAN” and “SHOOT ME AGAIN” and “SPACE MARINE!” and “WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH” in a hilariously two-bit English accent, debasing the element of surprise with glorious gusto. He tries to shoot spaceships out of the sky with pistols and he’s invented shields – all credit to the chap – but his shield-compatriots charge into battle alongside little pet suicide bombers. Doh.
Space Marine is a game dogged in its stupidity, a game in which thousands of Mr. Orks come legging it at you without a hope in hell’s chance of doing anything in the way of lasting damage and you bat them away gaily with an eight-foot electrified battle-axe. Time and again.
You take charge of UltraMarine Titus, a bipedal character vacuum with shoulder pads larger than the void bringing up the rear of the writer’s CV. The UltraMarines are all well-spoken English gents, referred to by their underlings as “Lords”. (It’s basically a virtual Conservative Party training tool; the powerful, well-spoken cavaliers purging the riff-raff.) You’d get more intellectually stimulating conversation if you strapped a voice box to a dead terrapin, but let’s not pretend anyone’s here for the tête-à-tête.
Titus and his po-faced comrades Space Marine 1 and Space Marine 2 touch down on Planet Er in the midst of a nasty Ork invasion. It’s a fairly one-sided affair, with the planet’s standard-sized human army being pelted into submission by the “green skins”. Worse, the human resistance is being led by a woman. “You’re in command?” Space Marine 2 inquires, as the trio stomp into her command outpost. Space Marines to the rescue! Right? Well, not really. See, the Space Marines accidentally go ahead and trust this chap below, ignoring the hallmark facial scars, hole-in-the-head and Davey Havok haircut that altogether scream: archetypal videogame no-good. And then they unleash some hell-demons. Oops.
Space Marine is basically a series of shooting galleries interspersed with jargon-heavy cutscenes and, at one point, a turret section. It has a fervent love for the colour brown with all but a couple of the seventeen chapters playing out across ramshackle cities or through dreary caves and factories each painted in the same mahogany hue. One level is shamelessly called The Heart of Darkness. Turns out it’s just a sewer with a few Orks in it. Conrad be damned.
Oh Christ. I’m running out of things to say already.
Combat! Yes, combat. Combat is a mix of button-bashing mêlée and third person shooting. You press square repeatedly until all the nearby Orks are dead from an unfavourable encounter with a gigantic hammer, or something as boisterous. Some of the Orks come equipped with shooters and for these it’s easier to hang back and spit forth hot endgame instead of braving the swell of lead and normal Orks to reach them. The game hands out new guns at a steady rate but the Lascannon insta-kills just about anything and with such a bounteous supply of ammo peppered throughout the world, there’s really no need to use anything else. Ever.
So you thunder around these environments in 10-foot suits of amour, whacking, pewing and shouting things like, “Better crippled in body than corrupt in mind.” with very little to punctuate the soporific beat. Well, except for lengthy stints of doing absolutely fucking nothing. There are more lonely corridors, empty sewers and yawning, untenanted factories than there are Orks (kinda) and there’s some seriously offensive pacing issues. One bit midway through the campaign is so tortuously banal that by the time the Orks finally come flooding back I went to embrace each of them. Rookie error. Turns out Orks don’t do love.
Here’s some more things the Space Marines incant:
The campaign lasts somewhere in the region of eight to ten hours which doesn’t sound like a great deal, but when the game has shown its hand within the first half hour the ensuing chapters become a real grind. A few hedonistic boss characters and a couple of narrative twists aren’t enough to keep things flowing; it’s button bashing in brown-hue country from the word go.
By now I’m sure you’ve cottoned on to the fact that I know sweet nothing about Warhammer 40K. I’ll concede, the lore, the bit where Titus shouts ‘We’re Space Marines! A few Orks are no problem’ and the “WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH” thing, that’s totally lost on me. But a dull game is a dull game no matter how big your shoulder pads or how wooden your voice-actors, a dull brown factory is a dull brown factory and a game in which combat boils down to pressing square until everything is dead is… well it’s a dull game.
Look at it this way, my interest in Batman was minimal until I played Arkham Asylum, but while playing that I fell in love with the guy and all the lore that came bundled with him. Mr. Ork and his confederates don’t do a good enough job of selling the 40K lore.