Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine will undoubtedly hold the most appeal for players of Games Workshop’s miniatures wargame of the same name. The action game is steeped in its parent game’s mythology, and features many of the units and weapons that fans have spent hours lovingly painting. Fortunately, it isn’t pure fan service: It offers a fast-paced, gory start to a promising new franchise.
Players control Captain Titus, a biologically enhanced, power-armor-wearing Ultramarine. The Space Marines have been deployed to stop an Ork takeover of a Forge World, a planet-spanning factory that makes the weaponry for humanity’s endless wars. There really isn’t much to the story, but you do get little updates from NPCs and audio recordings as you murder your way through the ruined landscape.
Space Marine is part third-person shooter, part hack-and-slash. Knowing how to balance your play is the key to survival. Titus picks up an arsenal of mêlée weapons and guns along the way, with ammo and grenades generously supplied. Though you play one of humanity’s mightiest soldiers, you’re surprisingly fragile in mêlée, and a small swarm of Orks or one raging Nob can quickly take you from full health to dead. The peril of close combat is particularly pronounced given that the primary way to heal is by stunning and executing foes, which produces a highly satisfying animation where you tear through them in a welter of blood as your health bar goes up. Executing one enemy leaves you vulnerable to the attacks of others, meaning it’s common for you to lose the health you regained almost immediately: You’ll want to soften up your foes as much as possible with ranged assaults. Doing damage from afar also helps you build up your Fury, which you can unleash to regain health and increase your mêlée attack power or slow time for your ranged attacks, giving you a brief but delightful chance to really let loose. The nuance and difficulty of the combat is important, since the scenery and opponents can get tedious.
Multiplayer adds a lot of value to the game, with competitive play available now and co-op to be released for free in October. Players can choose to control a mobile mêlée, ranged, or balanced marine in the eight-vs.-eight games. Playing more games lets you level up, which unlocks new weapons and improves your base stats. The sense of progress makes multiplayer more addictive, but it also means you can be facing opponents who are not only more experienced, but will always hit harder and take more punishment than you.
While it certainly has its weaknesses, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is well-done overall. The animation is sharp, and the autosave and lack of load-screens keep players engaged and pumped-up. The voice acting is solid, but the sound effects are really standouts, from the heavy thud of Titus’ armored boots when he jumps to the silence and ringing that follow a nearby grenade explosion. Space Marine is an impressive first outing that has the potential to greatly expand the original Warhammer 40,000’s appeal.