Warhammer 40,000 lore has had a long history and has served as the progenitor for many of our modern interpretations of “Space Marines”. Surprisingly Relic Entertainment‘s Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is our first time actually playing as a Space Marine outside of the strategy genre recently, but this entry certainly makes up for any previous lacking of action games. The gameplay of this third-person shooter perfectly captures the spirit of being a 7-foot armored titan, wading into your foes with sword and axe just as effectively as you bring them down with a hail of gun fire.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine tells the story of Captain Titus of the Ultramarines and it’s up to him and his battle brothers to secure key assets on the Ork-invaded forge world before the rest of the fleet arrives to retake the world. Titus is joined by a pair of AI controlled marines, Sidonus the veteran sergeant, complete with scars, and Leandros, only recently elevated from novice, who still fervently clings to the Codex Astartes rulebook. Eventually the forces of Chaos, comprised of traitorous Space Marines, Imperial Guardsmen and Daemons, also jump into the fray to further complicate matters. If all of these terms leave you scratching your head, Space Marine isn’t here to drop decades’ worth of tabletop backstory on you. For fans of the series it will be enjoyable immersion with lots of little details and call outs, but even if you don’t know what the Codex Astartes is, Space Marine does a good job of laying in enough context for you to get the gist.

Overall, the story is enjoyable and will continue to compel you to want to play more, and Mark Strong lends a calm and commanding voice to Captain Titus. There are some great epic moments like jump-packing onto an Ork ship, a massive aerial battle as you race to reach a key location first and fighting down a bridge shoulder to shoulder with squads of space marines. The overall story arc does ring annoyingly similar to previous Warhammer 40,000 videogame narrative structures, i.e. Orks invade, Space Marines are sent in and then Chaos gets involved. In the end, the single player campaign will take you around 8 hours to finish if you scour all the corners of the levels for audio logs. Though it’s for the most part a linear progression through each level with only the occasional side area or passage containing some extra ammo or audio logs. Space Marine will have you fighting from room to hallway to room again.

The fighting is spectacular though as Relic Entertainment nails the feel of being massive armored death dealers that are equally skilled with ranged combat as they are in melee, and the third-person camera transitions seamlessly between the over the shoulder weapon firing and pulling away for melee. The game actually rewards and requires you to mix it up with chainsword and other deadly close combat weapons rather than keeping your distance. While you have a regenerating shield, your health can only be refilled by executing foes. This promotes a style of play that really hasn’t been seen in the third person shooter genre, forgoing cover to take the fight to the enemy, but it is an excellent fit for the Space Marines. All of the elements of animation, visual cues and sound design come together incredibly well considering this is Relic‘s first venture in the genre. The game does an excellent job in spacing out gameplay mix-ups as well, just when you think you might have had enough of fighting waves of enemies there might be a section where you fire a turret from a train at a drop ship or the game lets you take the fight vertical with a jump pack. The sections with this rocket jet pack are especially satisfying as you crash into the ranks from above in massive shockwaves just to rocket back into the air to do it all again. There is no fuel to worry about and you’ll have the jump pack until you finish with that section, so use it to your hearts content. When Titus inevitably removed the jump pack as the game moved towards the next level, I was always a little sad and wanted it to continue because those sections are way too much fun.

Once you’ve gotten a feel for the game in the single player campaign, you can jump into Space Marine‘s multiplayer mode. There are currently only two game types and a handful of maps for each, but Relic Entertainment plans to release a cooperative survival mode in the coming weeks that should help flesh out the rather bare start. With Space Marines being able to take quite a bit of punishment, the overall feel is much weightier than the modern military shooter trend, with sustained accuracy tipping the balance more in importance than pure reflex. As you level up and complete challenges you’ll unlock new weapons, armor and perks. Regrettably, the balance does start to feel a little off with some of the unlocked weapons and perks, especially in relation to what you start with, but you always have the option to copy the load out of the person who killed you. The coolest aspect, especially for fans of Warhammer 40k fans, has to be the armor customizer. It’s certainly the most robust system to date short of breaking out the paint set and miniatures. You can easily get lost in mixing and matching the unlocked individual armor sections, changing symbols and adjusting the paint scheme on each piece. There are also a number of pre-generated Chapters and Warbands, so it’s easy to jump in if all you want is it to represent your favorite force.

Bottom line: Space Marine combines gameplay elements to nail the feel of being a 7 foot armored tool of destruction. The game will simply leave you wanting more in both good and few bad ways.

Recommendation: If you are a fan of Warhammer 40,000, even Ultra-smurf haters, you should pick up Space Marine. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the lore, Space Marine can still be a fun romp.

[rating=4]

What our review scores mean.

No Pity! No Remorse! No Fear!

This review is based on the PC version of the game.

Game: Warhammer 40k: Space Marine
Genre: Action
Developer: Relic
Publisher: THQ
Platform(s): PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK)

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