With a title like Space Marine it was hard for this game to pop up on my radar. How many more marines in space do we really need? Fortunately this feeling fades quickly, as Space Marine is a well polished and enjoyable experience whose missteps are easily overlooked. From a developer who has primarily stuck to real time strategy games, this is an excellent debut into the action genre.
Game: Warhammer 40k: Space Marine
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Genre: Third Person Action
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), 360, PS3
You play as Captain Titus, a veritable badass leading a small group of Ultramarines to quell the Ork invasion of the Imperial Forge World Graia. Space Marine assumes you know your Dawn of War lore, and it doesn't care if you don't. It spends very little time explaining the world and characters around you. There's an assumption that you know at least a little about the Dawn of War universe. In fact after beating the game, I'm still not entirely sure what an Ultramarine is, who the inquisition are, and what exactly a "Xenos" is. The story on a very basic level will still offer up enjoyment, with a few twists and set piece moments that anyone could enjoy.
Whether or not you understand the lore or not, your objective is clear. Clearing out the Orks and securing the weapons and technology from the forge world. Titus leads a squad of two other Ultramarines, Leandros and Sidonus. These AI partners can kill a couple Orks, but the brunt of the killing will be done by you, while your partners soak up as much damage as they can.
You and your squad will make your way through a series of mostly linear levels with a few offshoots for secret's in the form of the tried and true audio recordings. Recordings offer a small glimpse at what was going on before you and your ultramarines arrived, but are overall forgettable.
You'll be slaying a lot of Orks and you'll need the right tools for the job. You have your standard Bolter which acts like an assault rifle, a pistol, and a chainsaw sword. At certain points they will introduce new weapons such as sniper rifles, new melee toys, and a very awesome plasma shotgun that burns away anything in front of you. You'll be able to carry four weapons in total not including your melee weapon. Two of those slots will be interchangeable with other weapons at small armory areas littered throughout levels. It's a bit of an annoyance that you can't choose which weapon to swap out though.
Battles feel great and can get very tense at points. You will want to soften up your enemies from a distance then clean up with your melee weapon once they swarm you. This is true for almost every fight, but the varied arsenal will allow you to choose how exactly you want to approach each battle. Fights can get frustrating for a few reasons though. Enemies later on have an almost unfair accuracy, which is a real challenge since the only way to regain health is to perform an execution. Once an enemy takes enough damage they will be stunned, which you can then run up to him and execute him. You can still be attacked and damaged by other enemies while executing, which makes it tough to get health when you really need it since the animation is about 5 seconds long. You can easily be taken from full health to death in certain situations. Towards the end of the game you'll also be facing a lot of long range enemies which makes it even harder to find an opportunity to regain health.
While not the most technically impressive out there, Space Marine will not disappoint in visuals or sound. The Ultramarines feel heavy and powerful when running around and slicing greenskins up. Guns sound and look great, which is good considering they are being wielded by 9 foot genetic super men. The great attention to the little details, such as smoke trailing from each bullet of your bolter, give real impact to each skirmish. Actual level design is interesting enough but is generally overshadowed by some gorgeous backdrops. I want to point out that this is a very "brown" game, which will definitely anger some. It does fit the setting well though, and I never reached a point where I was tired of my surroundings. Add in some really impressive voice acting across the board, and the presentation is pretty wonderful.
Probably the most disappointing thing about Space Marine at the moment is it's multiplayer component. Currently there are only two game modes, Team Deathmatch and Capture Point. While both work fine, there should definitely be more. There was a moment in the campaign where a bunch of Orks came down the side of a wall like water, which made me think some version of Horde mode would be awesome, yet that's also absent. Personally the lack of co-op for the campaign doesn't bother me too much, but I can see how others would find it's omission upsetting, considering most of the game you are accompanied by two squad mates. For those willing to deal with a somewhat bare multiplayer landscape, there is plenty of unlockables to gain, ranging from new weapons, to perks, and even new styles of armor. In fact, the robust customization of your multiplayer avatar is the highlight of the entire experience.
With about an 8 hour campaign, a story that will lose anyone who doesn't know their Xenos from their warp energies, and a multiplayer campaign that could use some work, it might seem like this game isn't worth your time. Fans of this genre would really be missing out though, and should at least give the game a chance. (There is a demo available, at least for PC) For those looking for a straight up action game with high production values, check out Space Marine. You might not understand exactly what's going on, but that doesn't mean snapping the jaw of a giant Ork is any less satisfying.
BONUS LINK!: This blog makes an excellent point about one of the minor characters, Lieutenant Mira. It's a great read and a real eye opener for those who may have written her off.