Videogames owe Games Workshop more than they're ever likely to admit - the archetype of the power-armoured sci-fi man-mountain has at least some of its origins in decades-old tabletop game Warhammer 40,000 (aka 40K). It's taken an awfully long time, but now the genetically modified super soldiers get to be front and centre in their own action game.
While 40K has seen quite a few rather splendid strategy videogame adaptations, there's one thing they've generally got wrong. Space Marines, fanatical, fearless warriors determined to protect humanity from alien and other-dimensional enemies at all costs (and to the point of open and merciless xenophobia), are not bog-standard soldiers to be gunned down in droves. Each one is capable of holding entire armies at bay, and that's finally realised in Space Marine's singleplayer.
While there are superficial similarities to something like Gears of War or Halo, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is a game about being right in the thick of it, mowing down legions of enemies with blade or bullet. Protagonist Captain Titus is regularly swamped by a horde of Orks, and is more than up to the job of dispatching every last one. At all times, you can fight with guns, with knowingly over-powered melee weapons or a combination of both. Running low on health? No problem - stun an enemy, then perform an execution move. The glory of the righteous kill will restore your hitpoints there and then. Well, unless something else is attacking you at the time, in which case your inability to move during the lengthy execution animation might prove to be the death of you.
You'll pick up new weapons as you go along, such as the fearsome portable napalm equivalent that is the MeltaGun or the gloriously destructive Thunderhammer, but at all times you're able to tweak your loadout to however you prefer playing. If you're more of a sniper, for instance, go for the LasCannon or Stalker bolter. If you like to get up close and personal, the Thunderhammer will be your toy of choice, though you can't wield any of the bigger guns at the same time as it. Crucially, the game does not force you to play any particular way, though a mix of styles does become more vital when a second, far more deadly type of enemy arrives late in the game.
If only they'd arrived sooner, because there's an awful lot of repetition in the middle stretch of this 8-10 hour campaign. Initially, staving in a dozen ork heads in the space of a few seconds is glorious, but then it goes on and on and on and on and on. You'll have seen each of the great animations thousands of times over, you'll have heard an Ork shout 'Space Marine!' hundreds of times over, and still it goes on. There's an occasional boss fight and too many long, flat cutscenes. I played through the game in just a couple of sittings for the sake of a prompt review, but you might be best to span it over more to try and keep the ennui at bay.
When the new enemies finally turn up, things liven up again, and the variety so missing over the last four or so hours is restored. The game's sensible enough not to overuse its new threats, which means your tactics against them don't become rote. Alas, it's far too miserly about the best toy it has, the jump-pack. This short-burst jetpack enables you to leap over tallish buildings and slam into packs of enemies at speed, and it's deliriously entertaining. But you only get to use it three times, and only for a few minutes. At least it doesn't get boring.
The jump-pack's given the attention it deserves in Space Marine's solid but small multiplayer mode, wherein you can pick a class (balanced, heavy weapons or jump-pack and melee), customise your character's appearance and load-out and then either doggedly stick to a certain play style or mix and match based on what stuff you unlock as you level up.
The freedom to use the jump-packs especially is wonderful here, though it's a little annoying that most of the cool weapons you've already used in singleplayer are locked until you puts tons of hours into the multiplayer game. The emphasis on personal rewards also means the squad mentality that would have so suited a Space Marine game is somewhat absent. You're fighting in team, of Space Marines vs Chaos Space Marines, but only as a means to your own ends.
Multiplayer too could stand more variety, as Space Marines and Chaos Space Marines are identical in everything but appearance, which means a lot of the singleplayer's relative breadth of opponent is absent. Still, it's a decent enough stab at turning 40K into an online all-action game, and enough to make it the whole package a decent value proposition.
Space Marine lays some excellent ground work for a Warhammer 40,000 shooter and offers some of gaming's most spectacular fights. It's too thin on the content to feel like the definitive 40K action game, however.