Fun and Thoroughly Unfinished
Space Marine is a fun and thoroughly unfinished game. The entire experience is continually beset by visual problems, clipping, shoddy animation, awkward sound, and the general feeling that Relic had a deadline to meet and THQ made damn sure they met it. But it is still rather enjoyable.
I suspect your enjoyment of Space Marine will be somewhat contingent on your enjoyment of the Warhammer 40K universe. Prior knowledge is not a perquisite, but certainly helps, both to appreciate the overall design and to understand the story. For the uninitiated, the titular space marines are genetically enhanced warriors who battle on the behalf of the Emperor of Man, a psychic ruler of the Imperium of Man. They find themselves deployed to stop an ork invasion, which they do with great gusto. Incidentally, this small description of the initial set-up is slightly meatier than what the game presents, but it’s also fairly irrelevant to the story. Fans will already know and understand the battle between humans and the other factions, while newcomers will very quickly learn to kill everything onscreen and hate anything other than a few humans. There are maybe half a dozen named characters that genuinely matter once the action begins, all distinct enough in character and appearance to easily follow without understanding the lore. The core mechanics of the universe essentially don’t matter to most of the onscreen action, which works in the game’s favor, keeping the story easy to digest yet interesting enough to propel the game.
The core of the game is made up of reasonably simple melee action with a decent variety of firearms to mix up the engagements. Players constantly find ammo and seldom have any incentive to slow down during fights - though there is a small shield that recharges, health is only recovered through executing stunned enemies. This creates some fairly thrilling battles with a nice consistent pace to them, broken up by scenic walks or cutscenes. Occasionally, players stubble across upgrades or jetpacks, and sometimes the game initiates long range battles requiring precision aiming. This is rare though; large melees bookended by story sequences comprise the majority of the title.
Considerably less rare are the myriad of glitches and unfinished scenes that permeate the game. Clipping seems incredibly common, as though little to no testing was done. Virtually every premade execution animation done with even slight proximity to a wall will send the enemy right through the structure. Once, a kill took both me and my foe into a nearby metallic box, forcing a restart form the nearest checkpoint. Less scripted kills are less problematic, but the canned animations (which occur during most deaths, executions or otherwise) lack punch to them. Dismemberment is particularly unsatisfying, as the game simply deletes parts of the foe and replaces them with blood sprites; the end result is a jarring shift from polygon model to red particle effect that dilutes the visceral feel of the combat. Additionally, many cutscenes are marked by awkward transitions or apparently missing animations. Faces hardly move, and an important connection will sometimes be omitted as the game moves from one environment to the other. I would wager Relic meant to polish these scenes further and develop the visual storytelling more, but ran out of time.
So Space Marine obviously has problems, but it’s also fun. Simplistic and unfinished, clearly, but the former attribute works in its favor and the latter isn’t enough of an issue to kill the game. Space Marine is 6 to 8 hours of decently well written and designed combat, particularly likable by fans of the license. Go play it.