WARHAMMER 40,000: SPACE MARINE at Ten Years - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace revisits Forge World Graia.
The Adeptus Astartes are the face of Warhammer 40,000, even to those who have never interacted with the setting at all. They are the platonic ideal of the concept that can be traced all the way back to Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers: a mobile soldier in the cosmos made for rapid response and swift punishment of the enemies of those to whom they have sworn loyalty. In our world, they most parallel the United States Marine Corps, which has a particular service as the ‘State Department’s Army’ (similar formations in other countries are more limited in size and scope).

But even the American marine that revels in the sobriquet would not devolve to the sheer savagery of Warhammer 40,0000: Space Marine. This game is a third-person hack-and-slash set in the grim darkness of the far future, where there is only war. That marketing tagline fits here more than in many works of 40k media; this game is the apotheosis of slaughter. This is a bloodletting that puts a smile on the face of Khorne (loathe as the protagonist would be to admit it).

Released in 2011, Space Marine is not a flawless game. The story itself is rather basic, with several plot twists visible a mile away. It concerns typical 40k fair: xenos (a word always said with the sneering contempt of real-life racial slurs) invade an imperial planet and the armed forces of the Imperium are deployed to fight them off. This is the plot of many novels and is doubtlessly the setup for many sessions of the tabletop game. The characters are flat, practically archetypical. Some promised spectacle never fills out in the way I would have liked, given how much of the story concerns this particular element. Stories set in this grim darkness are at their best when they go beyond these common forms; unfortunately, this game does not do that.

There are times the game can drag. It is set on Graia, a forge world, a sprawling, smoky ecumenopolis that is not so much Coruscant or Trantor as it is Geonosis. The actual terrain seems to be a desert, given the natural locations, and your manmade locations are either the interiors of dark factories or the ruined husks of what once were cities. You fight legions of Orks and Chaos minions through these permutations of environments, and I will admit there were points that I wanted a little more variety (an interesting bit set on a transport plane notwithstanding). Similarly, a lot of the combat will go into a short session where you are out of control, and it can break the pacing of a fight. There are also some minor yet irritating camera angle issues.

But these things don’t dent the central appeal of Space Marine. It is the transgressive thrill of having your pauldrons coated in the blood of your enemies. It is the horrific joy of seeing the environment littered with the corpses that you personally brought into being. It is the primordial jolt that comes from ripping out the meat from your prey while it still breathes.

This game is visceral. You ramble about Graia hacking your enemies to death with a chainsaw-sword hybrid (the sort of lunacy that would be ridiculous anywhere else, but this setting runs on it), a hand axe, or a literal warhammer. You can use a variety of guns to dismember your enemies, and there are times when they are what must be used, but it is the hand-to-hand combat where this game really shines. It makes a fantastic choice in how you restore your health: you must perform a certain combo on whatever enemy whose blood will serve as your ichor. You stride through Graia like a living god, seeing your enemies defeated and driven before you (but there are no women of theirs from which to hear lamentations).

If there is any reason to play Space Marine, it is for a caveman-like sense of catharsis. It is punching a great deal of vividly animated punching bags in quick succession. This is a game that requires you to unleash your inner beast, your inner primate, to succeed. It is violent, and it is bloody as anything you could name. But in terms of satisfying that uncivilized urge that civilization tries to get rid of, it succeeds spectacularly.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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