When I first saw Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine at E3 2009 I became a bundle of excitement. I wanted that game in my Xbox right the heck now and the idea of waiting at least a year was sheer blasphemy. Luckily Dawn of War 2 managed to fill in the time, thank you Retribution. In the interim the game has gone through a few changes, notably having removed some RPG mechanics, but overall it's still the game that had this reviewer salivating two years ago.
And it. Is. Awesome!
Let's get the unimportant stuff out of the way Space Marine follows Captain Titus of the Ultramarines in his attempts to repel an Ork invasion on the Forge World Graia. An Orbital Bombardment might suffice but Graia is too important as it is responsible for creating Titans, gigantic piloted robots that bring incredible firepower to the battlefield. Humanity needs these weapons for their never-ending wars but they clearly can't let the Orks take them so in come the Space Marines.
Overall the story is quite good. It's fairly straightforward with only a few twists and turns but the direct nature works in the games favor. There marines are only doing what they have to at every step and there's no point where you just want to scream at your television as they do something monumentally stupid. Unless that is you have played the Dawn of War series. Then you will automatically be suspicious that some events will occur and they do. But it's not annoying enough to ruin the experience. What may annoy some is the ending which is such sequel bait it's almost painful but even this fairly bleak ending is in tone with the Warhammer 40,000 fiction.
Now, the real reason that you're here the combat. This is exactly what most fans of Warhammer 40k would be looking for and it's incredible. Every aspect of the combat just works very effectively making for a very smooth, responsible experience.
Captain Titus can carry four guns, one melee weapon and frag grenades. One gun will always be your Bolt Pistol which is good as its incredibly accurate, kills with a single headshot even on the hard difficulty and has infinite ammo. Your second gun will always be your Bolter (a two handed automatic machinegun) which is good at both long and short range so it's a good standby weapon. The melee weapon starts out as a Combat Knife, gets upgraded to a Chainsword (a long sword with a chainsaw for a blade. Yes.) and can then be replaced with a Power Axe if you want raw power over attack speed.
The final two guns can be picked from a wide assortment of guns, be it a type of remote detonated grenade launcher, a sniper rifle, heat blasting shotgun, insanely powerful laser sniper rifle or a semi-automatic plasma rifle. All of these weapons have their own uses and knowing which ones to carry during particular scenarios is important to prevent large amounts of frustration.
The guns are always at your disposal but then again so are your melee attacks. These are assigned to two dedicated buttons, one for basic attacks and one for stunning moves, so these can be used at any time even right after shooting your gun. No weapon switching here. Hot-swapping between melee and ranged combat is really important in most fights as you try to manage enemies at various distances but you must always be careful.
Melee combat is dangerous due to the sheer amount of damage individual enemies can deal. Any individual melee Ork can do a ton of damage if you get caught unaware and while you have a good deal of health and a regenerating shield meter you'll be surprised at how fast Titus can go down. Thus melee combat will be full of quick attacks, diving away, stunning enemies and then going in for the kill. It's actually pretty exhilarating. The first time you wipe out a group of enemies without taking any real damage will be an exciting time.
Complicating matters is how you heal: Titus' shields regenerate after avoiding damage for long enough but your health never regenerates. The only way to heal is to perform executions on enemies. This is both awesome and fairly annoying. It's awesome in that to heal you have to stun enemies (a requisite to do the execution) then slam them to floor, stomping their face into gravy. Or gutting them with. Or slicing through their midsection like a hot knife through butter. While doing this blood will be splattering all over Titus leaving him looking like he bathes in gore. But on the downside Titus can still be damaged while performing executions so if you're in dire need of healing a melee rush or sharpshooters can still bring you down as you desperately try to heal.
Last but certainly not least is the online multiplayer. It's fairly basic, pick from either a death match game mode or king of the hill and pick from a few maps. Next choose one of three classes; one specializing in heavy weapons, one focused on rapid melee strikes and one that is a mix of the two. Each class can have its load out specialized and there's an incredibly in-depth character customizer that lets you really create your own special look for your character. It's pretty awesome. Since more unlocks over time higher level characters can have wildly varied weapons and equipment.
Overall it's... well its fine. The thing about the gameplay of Space Marine is that it's not all that fast. Sure, you can run pretty fast or dodge but when trying to exchange gunfire characters move incredibly slow. What this means is that the combat is very much oriented towards the melee side of the equation. Sprinting into melee range or using a jump pack to get in close are far more effective than staying at range. This is doubly frustrating as the main damage dealer, the Devastator, has to stay completely immobile to use his heavy weaponry at full effectiveness. This leaves him a sitting duck for people to close in and take him down.
Graphically Space Marine is quite the heavyweight. All of the main characters and most enemies are quite detailed down to the smaller markings on their power armor. When pairing up the solid visuals with the fluid character animations it only enhances the impact of the combat. But what really sell the visuals are the environments. Whether it's the ruined beauty of a city, its gothic architecture in shambles, or the rusted splendor of a manufactorum (factory for you laymen) it really feels like you're fighting your way through the 40k universe.
The audio is a bit weaker than the graphics but not by much. The score for this title is suitably epic, swelling at all of the appropriate points and fitting every scene it's used in. Things become a bit dodgier with the voice work though. Captain Titus is voiced by Mark Strong, most people will know him as Frank D'Amico in Kick-Ass or Sinestro in the Green Lantern movie, and Mr. Strong puts in a very convincing performance. All of the voice work is of high quality although Titus does really stand out.
Having played the game on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC we can honestly say that the experience isn't really different on any of the consoles. Aiming for headshots is obviously a bit easier on the PC if you're skilled with a mouse but those are the only differences that we noticed. You're in for a solid experience regardless of your choice of platform.
Overall Space Marine is an awesome experience. The game lasts for about 12 to 15 hours which is just long enough. Due to the well paced story and well handled upgrades to your equipment this running time gives you just long enough to mess around with all of the goodies before it's time to move on to the multiplayer. While it isn't much to write home about getting some levels there will help with the free co-op Exterminatus DLC coming next month. Plus the final boss fight is just awesome; it really has to be seen to be believed. So, in the name of the God Emperor, get your game on!