The ultimate question for fans of the Warhammer 40,000 universe: does Space Marine work as an action, third-person shooter? Simply put: yes, it does.
Unfortunately for this product, and maybe for fans hoping for something more than a basic shooter with a few twists, its effort can't be considered nearly as strong as its RTS counterparts from Relic Entertainment. That studio handles the Warhammer 40k gaming line, and they've managed to do so beautifully in its original strategy genre. Here? Their effort was okay.
Space Marine (that's what we're going to call this title from here on out in this review) is a fun game at its core. And, before we even get into its faults, understand that gamers looking for a good time around a decent story will find their needs met. You will have fun with Space Marine, despite its flaws, but it won't be the best game you play this year.
The story itself focuses on three Space Marines and their quest to rid the Imperial Forge World of its Ork invaders. This is the Warhammer 40k universe, so, without giving the twists and turns away, expect members from the Imperium, Ork and Chaos factions. At its onset, Space Marine appears to be about little more than squashing an Ork infestation. However, the game does move away from that initial premise and into a much more twisted and unique plot. By the time the credits roll, you probably will not have seen the end coming.
And for a shooter, that's a great feature.
Possibly the best part of Space Marine is its blend of melee and shooting action. Players can take down ranged enemies with a small host of weaponry like machine guns, pistols, sniper rifles and basic explosives. And while none of the guns are all that remarkable, players can start to have real fun when combat gets personal. You'll be able to engage in light, combo-based combat whenever an enemy gets close enough. And, given the hording nature of the Ork race, you'll be able to beat back waves of baddies in CQC almost constantly.
The combat works at a base level, and you're constantly given new weapons throughout the campaign. You'll move from a knife to a chainsword quickly, but you'll also have your time with an electrified battleaxe and a giant hammer. Each weapon has its drawbacks and benefits, so there is actually a need to switch back and forth when presented with a weapon cache.
The downside? Health regeneration is a major problem. You can only regenerate when you activate your, essentially, special move or by performing an execution. You're special isn't always available, and you can only execute enemies that have been stunned. Now, the problem stems from the fact that executing enemies engages an animation that can't be canceled. The animation lasts a few seconds. During that time, you are not invincible. So, if you go to execute an enemy when you're already low on health, assume that you'll be dying in a matter of seconds every single time.
This single health restoration issue lead me to quit on the game several times. In fact, I'd probably have finished it whole days earlier had I not given up due to the significant frustrations executing enemies brought me.
But, then came the jump packs. My god. They don't happen often, but some sections of the game have players strap on a pack that boosts them straight into the air, provides some gliding space and lets them smash down onto foes below. It's fast, it's fun and I wanted the whole game to feature the mechanic. In fact, if the whole game did feature jump packs, it would have been amazing.
The multiplayer side of the operation is actually solid. Will it kill of Gears, Halo, Call of Duty or Battlefield? Absolutely not. But I don't think that was its goal. The competitive combat serves simply to extend the value of the game for owners. If you enjoyed the style of gunplay you experienced in the campaign, the multiplayer section will continue to fill that need. You won't be engaging in the same style of melee combat, but you will be able to use the jump pack once you unlock it.
Space Marine is a great game for anyone looking to switch off and enjoy a healthy heap of violence and decent gameplay. It has its frustrations that may occasionally tear you away from the experience, but the sum of its efforts make it an overall fun title. Don't go in expecting it to blow your mind and you'll switch it off after every session feeling rewarded.
Full Disclosure: CraveOnline went out to a store and purchased this copy of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine for the Xbox 360 with Joey's own damn money. We played the game on multiple difficulties, completed the campaign once and experienced roughly four hours of multiplayer on each mode.