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Review: Warhammer 40k: Space Marine

Game: Warhammer 40k: Space Marine
Recommended price: bundle/$0
Metacritic Score: 74
Completion Time: ~5 hours
Buy If You Like: Warhammer 40k, mindless 3rd-person action

Something about the juxtaposition of religious iconography and high technology gets the juices flowing.

Something about the juxtaposition of religious iconography and high technology gets the juices flowing.

Let me start out by saying that I am a huge fan of the Warhammer 40k universe. The setting gets a lot of flak for being grimdark and violent and possibly even juvenile, but whenever I start hearing phrases like “Adeptus Mechanicus” and the “God-Emperor of Man” I put on my game-face and settle down for some fun. Up to this point, I have almost religiously played the Dawn of War games and all the expansions up to Space Marine and generally loved them all (Dark Crusade being my 200+ hour ultimate favorite).

After the ending credits to Space Marine, I came away… well, curiously disappointed.

You take on the role of Captain Titus, one of three Ultramarines sent as vanguard to the fleet coming to the rescue of a besieged Forge World. The basic game structure is 3rd-person mayhem in the styling of Devil May Cry/God of War without the fighting depth, or Darksiders without the exploration/puzzles. Part of the promotional campaign involved making fun of other 3rd-person cover-based shooters (“Cover is for the weak”), but around the 30% mark it becomes quite clear that the health regeneration from executing stunned enemies won’t, ahem, cover the increasing volume and severity of ranged fire. In fact, in the late stages of the game, you will be reduced to peaking your head around crates to take pot-shots at uber-laser troops while actively running away from anyone trying to melee you.

There are a few cool moments for 40k fans, and the levels where you get access to Jetpacks really cements the feeling that I’d love an MMO or more free-ranging game in this universe. In between these moments of fun, however, are about 60+ thinly-veiled elevator loading screens, repetitive battles, large empty spaces devoid of any reason to explore, and a vague sense of hollowness. Darksiders gets away with long stretches of nothing happening because you’re solving a puzzle, but here you’re frequently just stomping around for 5+ minutes inbetween the small pockets of button-mashing. Watching my hero units in Dawn of War felt more exciting than playing as one in Space Marine.

Bottom line, if you were primarily interested in Space Marine because you like the Warhammer 40k setting, you can safely skip this entry into the franchise and have missed nothing of note. If you don’t care about the 40k setting, well, you aren’t missing anything either.

Reviews: Sequence, DE:HR – Missing Link DLC, Dawn of War II – Retribution

Game: Sequence
Recommended price: $2.50
Metacritic Score: 70
Completion Time: ~11 hours
Buy If You Like: Playing DDR on your keyboard… with RPG elements

It’s actually a bit more fun than it looks.

Sequence is definitely one of those “out there” indie games in which the initial concept sounds unappealing, and yet the game is mostly redeemable fun. The premise is that the main character is abducted into the bottom level of a tower, and he must fight his way to the top by crafting keys from the dropped loot of monsters killed by three-panel DDR rhythm battles. The three panels correspond to Spells which you cast to heal/buff yourself, or damage/debuff the monster; a Mana panel which just constantly flows with arrows, with each successful arrow refunding 2 MP for use with Spells; and an Attack panel which represents arrows you need to match, or suffer damage. You lose the battle by either running out of HP before killing your opponent, or if you run out of time. Successful battles gives you XP and item drops, the latter of which can either be equipped right away or combined via “Synthing” into usable items, new spells, or the keys to unlock new floors.

I had a healthy level of skepticism coming in as to how a rhythm game would feel being played on a keyboard, but I can tell you now that Sequence handles itself rather well. I used WASD for the arrows, Q/E to rotate the three different panels, and 1-6 as the Spell buttons. Just like any good rhythm game, there is a decent variety of songs with differing tempos and general arrow densities. The RPG elements of the game also do a decent enough job at making sure you aren’t bored out of your mind in fighting the same enemies over and over again (only 3 different monster types per floor). There is definitely some possible frustration though, insofar as the item drops you need might have a 20% chance and then you end up grinding the same monster 11 times in a row. Also, learning some of the later Spells requires you to achieve a 95% accuracy in a 5 minute song or get 120-note combos (e.g. no mistakes), with failure resulting in losing a ton of XP (since you spend XP to get a chance to learn a new Spell).

Overall though, I had a decent enough time with a fairly unique indie game. I have heard some other reviewers complain about the irreverent storyline filled with pop-culture references, but I enjoyed it. And while my recommended price is $2.50 (which I bought it at during a sale), the default Steam price is just $5. Sequence isn’t necessarily a must-play game at $5, but it definitely will add value to whatever indie bundle it ends up getting attached to in the future.

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Game: Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Missing Link (DLC)
Recommended price: <$5
Metacritic Score: 73
Completion Time: ~4 hours
Buy If You Like: Four extra hours of DE:HR

Oh, how I missed this.

To be honest, the Missing Link DLC to Deus Ex: Human Revolution was one of the first DLCs I have ever played which felt like a legitimate “deleted scene” from the main game. This is both a good and bad thing. Good in that it feels like a relatively seamless addition despite being on its own 2gb installer and featuring the vastly overused (gaming) trope of the hero losing all of his/her powers. Bad in that, well, most deleted scenes are deleted for a reason.

Taking place in the midst of a fade-to-black scene change in the middle of the original game, Missing Link does not add anything of plot value to the game proper aside from, well, around four more hours of gameplay. While you end up getting access to most of the weapons/augments from the main game, I definitely experienced a mental disconnect between the choices I was making, knowing that none of it mattered since no data was going to be transferred. Want to explore every nook and cranny? Okay… but why? No data, no XP, no weapons, no credits, nothing will endure past the final encounter.

Which, incidentally, takes the form of how all the boss battles in Human Revolution should have played out. I was actually kind of surprised when I discovered that I had inadvertently killed the last boss, thinking it was just another dude shooting at me.

Aside from that, and a frustrating amount of pointless backtracking past a 20-30 second in-game “loading screen,” Missing Link is a good enough dessert to the main course that was the original game. Provided, of course, you can snag it for less than the outrageous $15 retail price. Less than $5 or included in a Game of the Year edition would be ideal.

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Game: Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War II – Retribution
Recommended price: $0/bundle
Metacritic Score: 80
Completion Time: ~11 hours+
Buy If You Like: Dawn of War II, RTS games minus the resources/base management

Drop pods while inside another ship probably makes more sense than the rest of the game.

In the interest of fairness, I absolutely despise the direction the Dawn of War series took when it dropped the base-building and resource management arms of the RTS genre into Dawn of War II. The original Dawn of War was a groundbreaking work of beauty – to this day, almost all other RTS games feature infantry units as little squads, so they can be shown to be killed individually by vehicle units. I played DoW: Dark Crusade for something ridiculous like 200+ hours.  Dawn of War II was fine on its own, and DoWII: Chaos Rising was alright. But as I headed into this particular installment, I began to tire of the 4-5 squad “tactical” gameplay that ends up feeling like a WoWVille iPhone app.

As I understand it, there are six “campaigns” in Retribution, but after completing the Space Marines, it appeared as though every other race uses the exact same scripted maps in the same exact order with perhaps a slight difference in the faction you are fighting. For example, at the end of the first map as Imperial Guard you fight a Tyranid hero; at the end of the map as Tyranid, you fight an Imperial Guard hero. While each race has access to different units and general fighting styles, the heavy emphasis on terrain “tricks” (shoot these barrels, take cover here, approach the turrets from behind, etc) means each map plays out identically no matter what you play as. Technically the same could be said about, say, Dark Crusade, but the difference is that a resource/base-focused RTS at least can play out much differently each time.

While many people dismiss the importance of story in Warhammer 40k’s grimdark setting, I genuinely enjoy that sort of thing. And here again, unfortunately, Retribution fails to deliver. While it wraps up the Blood Raven arc (hopefully for good), it lacks any of the subtlety of even Chaos Rising, let alone Dawn of War II. I can only imagine it was so truncated specifically because they felt it necessary to shoehorn all six races into the same story on the same maps in the same order. Even if there are redeeming plot points in the final chapters of the other races’ stories (which I doubt), I am thoroughly unable to bring myself to slog through the game again to reach them.

I just hope against hope that Dawn of War 3 is more like 1 and not 2.

Insert Coin

Random!

  • Beat Deus Ex: Human Revolution a few days ago; the more formal review will be forthcoming. Short version is: game was goo… *crash to desktop*
  • Steam holiday sales annoy me to an extent. You see, what is the point of having entire catalogs on sale from 33-50% off, when they routinely turn around and toss up seemingly random selections from those same catalogs for 75% off? The only purpose I can ascertain is to piss people off.
  • For example, Space Marine was 33% off for the pass week, now is 50%. Torchlight was 50% off for the past week, now is 75%. I learned my lesson when I was burned in this way a year ago, but it still boggles my mind they pull the same shit year after year. All it encourages me to do is to wait until the very last moment to buy anything lest it go on sale a day later, and thereby potentially miss the deadline entirely and not buy anything.
  • I generally avoid the stupid Steam contests that involve you having to (re-)download multiple 10 gb games you already purchased but haven’t played yet in order to unlock achievements that result in lumps of coal. I did however do so on a whim with the Orcs Must Die! one. I have been playing the game every since.
  • Sometimes I hate buying shit off the internet. There are two monitors on Amazon, both Viewsonic 24″ widescreen LEDs: the VX2450WM (originally $368, now $179.99) and the VX2453MH (originally $270, now $189.99). For the life of me, I can’t seem to understand the difference. The latter has 30 million: 1 contrast as opposed to 20 million:1, is “ultra thin,” can be turned into a picture-frame looking thing for god knows what reason, and weighs 0.9 lbs less. The former can be mounted on a stand or something, and has roughly three times as many reviews (both are 4.5/5 stars).
  • My first instinct, I shit you not, was the former simply because “You Save: $188.01 (51%)” vs “You Save: $80.24 (30%).” With logic like that, I’m surprised I haven’t already ruined the Monster cables hooked up to my Alienware by spilling Grey Poupon all over them. Good thing I’m still covered under my Black Tie GeekSquad 5-year Best Buy warranty, ya?
  • Grey Poupon. Poupon. Poupon.
  • You now have an angry French guy in your head. You’re welcome.

Have a happy whatever you celebrate or not celebrate, as the case may be.