Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How many ways can THQ?s Space Marine game rip off Gears of War?

The second I looked at THQ’s Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine video game, I figured I had seen it before. The sci-fi game may be set in the fabled Warhammer universe, but the style and game play look so much like Gears of War that it’s embarrassing.

Sure, I understand that this kind of homage happens all the time in video games. The grunts in Gears of War (pictured right, whose third installment comes out this fall) are derivatives of the U.S. Marine Corps soldiers, re-imagined in a sci-fi universe. So THQ’s game is really just copying Microsoft’s Gears of War game (made by Epic Games) which is copying something out of the history of marines. It’s moments like this that make me wonder about the dearth of creativity in video games, especially among big publisher that feel like they have to match somebody else’s hit franchise to cash in on the profits. It’s similar to complaints people have about Hollywood action movies with car chase scenes.

But the similarities between THQ’s third-person shooter game, developed by its Relic Entertainment studio, and Microsoft’s Gears of War third-person shooter series, developed by Epic Games, are just piling up by the dozen. Start with the over-sized armor and bodybuilder physiques of the marines. When you aim a gun in Space Marine, the target reticle is huge, just like the target reticle in Gears of War. The guns are huge and they feature a chainsaw blade that can be used to slice enemies in half, execution style. It so happens that the “chainsaw bayonet” of the Gears soldiers is quite similar.

The blood spatters are also quite similar. The guns shoot in a similar fashion and the Space Marines wield a big giant hammer that resembles the blasting hammers not from Gears of War but from Microsoft’s other sci-fi franchise, Halo.

When I asked the THQ folks about this, they immediately pointed out that this game was set in the Warhammer universe, which has its own rich and original lore. In fact, this universe predates the existence of Gears of War, so you might argue that Gears of War copies Warhammer 40,000. There’s also not a lot of emphasis on taking cover in the Space Marine. The combat in Gears is very focused on taking cover because you die if you don’t do it. There is more emphasis on melee fights, or hand-to-hand combat, so the engagement range with enemies is typically farther than it is in Gears of War. There are also more enemies on the screen at any given time. Of course, since the THQ guys had a handy explanation of the difference so readily available, it seemed like they knew they were going to get asked that question.

The bad guys are the green Ork enemies from the Warhammer world, and so they bear. Of course, their very name does bear resemblance to the “orcs” in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but we’ll ignore that for now. The THQ folks also pointed out that their melee system, which includes the chainsaw weapon, works a lot better than Gears of War’s does. Gee, I hope so. If you copy someone else’s game, you don’t want to copy the bad parts of their game.

In my own copycatting of Captain Renault’s famous quote from Casablanca, I have to say, “I’m shocked, shocked, to find that copycatting is going on here!”

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