Saturday, August 11, 2012

Orcophobia, or why 40k's Spacemarines are wusses

Let me sing my all to favourite song: I do not have a lot of money, I don't pay for games full price and I tend not to pirate my games. As such, I only play games when they are not so recent anymore. I only get to play recent games when they get a heavy discount soon after launch. This usually means there was something terribly wrong with the game. Imagine my surprise when I got to play Warhammer 40,000 Spacemarine.

This hedge needs some trimming.
Warhammer has a vast universe and a lot of dedicated fans. Dawn of war is one of the most beloved strategies of all time and Warhammer 40K has the honor of introducing the first Spacemarines before DOOM even came out. That last fact was probably the reason they created the 40K Spacemarine game into a shooter. Why did the original Spacemarine fail, even though it is a common staple in current game pop culture? I will not beat around the bush: the Spacemarines are total wusses in this game.

There is a lot more wrong with this game, but pussy Spacemarines is the biggest problem. It all stems from paint-by-number game design they probably copied from gears of war. Mind you, I have never played gears of war, I've only seen it, but it looked pretty similar up to the camera angles. To sum up the numbers of gears of war, a shooter needs:
  • Strong men in oversized armor
  • A dehumanized enemy
  • A mission to somewhere
  • Drama
  • Gore
And that's about it. For the dehumanized enemy the designers went straight to the orc race in the 40K universe and did not bother to check if that was a viable option. I know from the dawn of war series there are the Eldar and some religious fanatics, which I found fascinating, but apparently the designers did not. Again, I haven't played it, just saw a friend play it and even I know more than the designers, since they only threw orcs at me for the entire game. It's not that they wanted to restrain the player from slaying humans. The game has a PEGI 18 rating, you can do anything you like with that, but I'm still only slaying orcs. Nonetheless, lack of variety does not have to break a game's immersion, but then other things start to fall apart.

In a game the player and the protagonist need to have the same motivation, in Spacemarine it is a motivation for killing orcs. Orcs have broken through some borders and are now wrecking everything in sight. There were people on the places in the areas of the game, but they were all wiped out by orcs. If there still are people, you are usually to late to save them. You might gain a bit of ground in the story, but you might just as well lose it in the next scene. This hopelessness is meant to make you hate the enemy. If it was done right, it would, but let's compare both sides, shall we?

The Spacemarines or Ultramarines:
  • Motivation: "We fight for the honour of the emperor!"
  • Fly around in advanced ships
  • Full, heavy body armor
  • Well organized and strategic
  • Developed a perpetual energy source.
The Orcs:
  • Motivation: "Waaag!". No seriously, they call their motivation 'waaag'
  • Fly around in jet propelled meteorites called 'Rok'. Again, this is actually in the game.
  • Armor? A stove is good enough
  • Strategy: "Oi wont SHINY! Get Shiny! Spoicemarine not get shiny!" This is screamed at you during a scene in the game.
  • Research department: "Red paint makes stuff go faster." Actual upgrade in dawn of war.
Waaag! Mind you, spell it with 3 a's.
It would be nice if it was played silly, but they throw in constant drama with a "this is serious, you guys!" mentality. How, in all that is holy, did the orcs get the upper hand in this war? Strength in numbers only gets you so far. The Spacemarines are superior in strength, research and individual intelligence. The only reason you can be on the losing hand is shear incompetence and that is when the game starts to fall apart. Ever been rooting for the monster in a horror film when it's running after the damsel in distress? This is that situation!

Things get on their worst when the game tries to remind you how brutal the orcs are. In a flying scene, orcs take some of the aircrafts in your fleet down. Allegedly, a lot of men die. Tragic, if it weren't for the orcs flying by a rocket attatched to their backs and banging on the planes with wrenches. Everywhere else in the game you walk through devastated buildings, which are apparently raided by orcs. They could've done that, but the audiologs that are lying around also state that the workers weren't able to work together. They might've broken the stuff before the orcs came, you know.

Then there is the awkwardness when you find out that all the labourers you were meant to protect were practically held there as slaves. This is briefly brushed upon and it is meant to be normal. It's OK, it is all for the emperor! By the way, I never got to see the emperor. He's this unseen entity which justifies slavery and war. Living in a democracy, if I played for the glory of Kim Jong Un, I might have felt less awkward.

To make the marines look more incompetent, we have the jetpack sections. Someone thought it was a good idea to include jetpacks, since that game mechanic does well in polls. The jetpack sections are pretty awesome, but every section ends with the marine dumping the jetpack casually with a weak excuse, like too little room to fly or it suddenly being out of fuel. The protagonist can kill hordes of orcs with a single jetpack blow, but does not hold on to it, because it has just run out of fuel. You don't dump such a mighty weapon! You hang on to it in case you can get more fuel!

The incompetence reaches new heights when the Spacemarine party infiltrates one of their own facilities. In the base, turrets are shooting anything that moves, including you. Even though he is lower in rank, the scientist in your party orders you to go to a certain room where he can access the control systems. He turns of the turrets, which was unnecessary, since I blew them all to pieces. Destroying turrets was a pretty tedious task, since they don't come near me, being turrets and all. The scientist assures me all turrets are deactivated... up until this room. The next room is still full of bloodthirsty turrets. That was when I stopped playing.

The Tyranid is made from the same stuff as nightmares
It baffles me how a designer can get so much so wrong. When researching warhammer, I stumbled upon the Tyranid race. Those are scary! Why weren't they in this game? The box tells me I can "Experience the rich & violent brutality of the Warhammer 40,000 universe." It's not really rich, since only 2 races are in this game. Also, the box told me I can be a fearless Spacemarine. The Marines are not fearless, they are stupid and incompetent, because they got run over by some green men.

Whenever a gamedesigner gets to finish his work, s/he needs to take a look at the bigger picture and seriously consider if the "show, don't tell" rule can be applied. No matter how fearless you say your protagonist is or how evil the antagonist should be, if you reel a bunch of whiny brutes against a bunch of bloodthirsty clowns, you end up with Spacemarines looking like wusses. That's why your game is discounted.