It is better to die serving the Emperor, than live serving yourself.
Blah, blah, blah. That's not video games. Video games are all about indulging yourself. Video games are about slaying and murdering thousands, and then boasting about those digits, having them displayed on global leaderboards. Who cares about the emperor when you're a 700-pound Space Marine wielding a chainsaw sword?
Captain Titus of the Ultramarines, that's who. THQ's Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is filled with blood, guts, violence, and hoighty-toighty accents. You play as Titus, who leads a squad of Space Marines against the hordes of Orks that are trying to take control of a manufacturing planet, home to Imperial Titans and other unstoppable warmachines.
The game's plot is as threadbare as they come. You'll come across Chaos Space Marines in addition to the Ork hordes, there's some kind of mythical power source, and metric tons worth of destruction and wreckage. What's remarkable about the game isn't the narrative or who you're fighting, but how nearly every environment feels like a tabletop, complete with hand painted scenery. Filling the environment with enemies and friendly units only furthers the feeling of stepping into your local Games Workshop and shrinking down to miniature size.
Combat is fast, furious, and most importantly fun. Mixing third person shooting and visceral hack-and-slash fighting is buttery smooth and instantaneous. You can carry four varied weapons at anytime, but the chainsaw sword and other melee weapons will get the most use. Some enemies can be stomped instantly while others have to be worn down before attempting a grapple.
The cinematic grapple is the only way to regenerate your health, so leaving a straggling opponent behind is a smart way to go about progressing from battle to battle. The screen shakes violently and the action slows down accordingly, but the enemy reactions really sell these animations. Fighting crowds of enemies is easily the best part of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine.
The worst part? Fighting crowds of enemies for hours and hours with little change. The linearity and predictability of the campaign border on mind-numbing. Just follow the green lights to the next open door, elevator, or generator. Then kill more enemies. If there isn't a green light in front of you, just run forward and kill more enemies. Now repeat that for about 10 hours.
Only a few times in Space Marine's long campaign do you get control of the wonderful Jump Pack. It's a massive jetpack that will propel your Ultramarine into the stratosphere before you slam back down to earth and into a gathering of enemies. Not only is the increased pace of combat a welcome distraction, but the verticality makes for a nice mix. If only the developers gave you the keys more often!
Space Marine's sound design is excellent, with the soundtrack providing thoughtful moments during the brief quiet and intense war-drumming as you charge down enemy Orks. Really, the music just goes well with everything. It invokes the Warhammer branding, but treads firmly away from Science Fiction scoring. The sound effects and environmental cues more than account for the the other-worldly setting.
The Orks themselves sport hilarious cockney accents. They'll try to taunt you and call you out, but their grunts of pain and silence of death is the real treat. Other enemies call out orders and shout "Kill the Ultramarine" with metallic twangs through their helmets, but the Space Marines themselves take the cake. Their tactful repose, and silence in battle make them transcendent allies. Titus himself is the most soft-spoken of the bunch, borderline comically so.
The only remaining issue with the single-player campaign is the fact that you never get to take control of the Titan (shown above). You simply ride it for a few measly seconds while it's shown firing its cannon in a cutscene. The entire time, the campaign teases the use of the Titan. One Ultramarine comments that it takes 400 soldiers to operate. How could you not give players control of the behemoth?
Space Marine's multiplayer on the other hand, I can't speak to. If I were judging the game by it's single-player campaign alone, the grade wouldn't suffer as much here. I've tried in multiple locations, with multiple internet connections. I've connected my system wirelessly and wired. I've opened my NAT to its fullest and played other online games, but I have not been able to connect to a single multiplayer game of Space Marine. What's the point? Why include the mode if it doesn't work? I will concede that it looks fun, and I'd love to take on human opponents, but someone from THQ or Relic Entertainment needs to contact me and help me connect to a game.
In the end, Space Marine makes for 700 pounds of fun that wears a little thin by the end of the campaign. With an unreachable multiplayer experience, I can only recommend the game to people in serious need of a distraction or the most diehard Warhammer fans out there. With incredible sensitivity to the brand, Space Marine lets you pound thousands and thousands of Orks into the ground, it just doesn't know when to quit.