There is a big misunderstanding going on in the critical reception of Relic’s outstanding Warhammer 40.000 game Space Marine. While most critics—and probably most players—think is that Space Marine is a solid videogame experience that incidentally features some people whose job description is the same as the description of half a bazillion of video game staple heroes.
There are a lot of games featuring space marines. Gears of War being the most prominent example. Halo maybe another. Both those franchises features protagonists who—at least judging by the game mechanics alone—are nigh invincible and could (and do) take on an entire planet of hostile angry aliens all by themselves.
The one mistake is that a lot of people mistake space marines for something they are not. That is Colonial Marines. Which is basically just a silly little nerdy semantic, but bear with me here.
It is commonly accepted, that the movie Aliens is one of the most important pieces of pop culture when it comes to games. The Colonial Marines in Aliens with all their machismo and overbursting attitude serve as the archetype of almost every military squad in gaming history.
And they are not Space Marines. They are Colonial Marines—which are Marines, however they do service across space.
Space Marines however are an entirely different thing. Not to show disrespect for the United States Marine Corps and their fictional fellas of the Aliens franchise—but they only come close to Space Marines when the game they’re featured in features unlimited ammo and regenerating health.
And that’s the otherthing that the game critics got wrong about Space Marine. It is that it’s not another videogame featuring space marines. It’s the other way round. Every other video game is trying to deliver that experience, being a Space Marine. An unstoppable war machine that can single handedly wipe out an entire population of angry aliens. It’s just now that Relic got around finally delivering that experience with the proper license to show.
Actually it’s a no brainer. The Space Marines of the Dark Future Where There Is Only War – the Warhammer 40.000 universe—are the perfect videogame heroes. The fiction they come from paint the Space Marines as (slightly, only ever so slightly) silly science fiction gods of war. In the truest sense of the word—some worlds of the Warhammer universe indeed revel the members of the Adeptus Astartes as gods, or at least divine spirits serving the immortal God-Emperor of Man.
Space Marines are Nietzschean Übermenschen. They are created from the most genetically fit human men across the universe. Those outstanding individuals are then boosted, genetically enhanced and molded into true war machines on two legs. Space Marines are immune to poison. They don’t have to sleep. They can’t die naturally, growing hundreds of years old if not killed in battle. Their bones make them almost bulletproof. Even if critically wounded, they will not die, but hibernate. They can spit corrosive acid. See in the dark. Throw cows. And that’s before the power armor comes on. They are superhuman. They are every adolescent power fantasy come true.
The thing is, the Space Marine of the Warhammer universe is something most video games depict with their mechanics without having the lore to back those mechanics up. The lore of the Space Marine seems to have been written to make these guys into video game protagonists. And that’s a job Relic did surprisingly well.
The best? In one of the interviews leading up to the game’s release, one of the lead developers summarised the design philosophy of the game like this: There is no cover system in Space Marine. A Space Marine does not retreat. A Space Marine does not seek cover. A Space Marine is in the midst of battle. That’s where he belongs. Not behind a chest high wall. And with that, they absolutely got what’s needed for a Space Marine game.