A fun 40K Love Letter
Relic/THQ has built the first installment in what should become an excellent franchise that does justice to the 40K universe and fan service to those who love that universe whether it is in digital or tabletop form.
Space Marine's narrative is nothing extraordinary but the genre does not beget great story telling. Where it does succeed is creating the right feel and atmosphere for 40K. the Imperium of Man has been described as Ancient Rome in Space, but the real inspiration comes from Victorian British Empire. The gothic architecture replete with arches and buttresses mixed with the religious iconography and totalitarian overtones are spot-on perfect in keeping with the 40K universe. And a really nice touch comes whenever an Astartes stand next to a mortal man: one can see the difference in size and proportion is subtle yet clear and this is the first video game where the proper scale of an Astartes has been portrayed. To add to that Relic has done well to lend weight and heft to the character. You can feel the weight of each footstep yet the raw athleticism of Titus is believable.
Gameplay wise there is nothing new here. The lack of a cover system is a style choice that I neither agree nor disagree with but the combat certainly forces one into close quarters. Health can only be regained by executing an enemy which is fine, but the animation locks you into a vulnerable position which will result in the player dying while trying to re-up on health which is not unreasonable, but annoying. Here is a character where regenerative health is actually written into the lore and mythology. The design choice is to keep with the gameplay but I would have preferred regenerating health and perhaps damage to the armor that would require repair packs or help from a Techmarine etc. In the end it is small complaint.
Multiplayer wise the game is not limited, but the learning curve can be a little steep. There is the obligatory leveling up system with perks and upgrades and be prepared to get your head stomped in for the first ten levels or so until you unlock some better hardware and upgrades. There is a co-op multiplayer mode being released as free DLC which is nice and based on the gameplay systems and setting one can expect the co-op mode to play like a first person version of Last Stand from Dawn of War which is very promising especially since the leveling system and armor customizer will lend to a sense of ownership and permanence in a way that we come to expect from shooters these days.
On PC the sound and hi-res graphics look fantastic. I have not come across any stability issues either.
+Fun and brutal ranged and melee combat
+Awesome fan service and atmosphere
+Longevity extended by MP meta game
-Health system is more annoying than beneficial to gameplay
-No upgradable equipment/traits or permanence for SP a la Dawn of War
Bottom Line: Great game that is more fun to play than what was initially expected. A must buy for fans of the universe and enjoyable by those who are not fans. MP game is a nice change of pace for shooters. Here's to hoping that the next iteration changes the health system and imbues some sense of character development like the SP games of DoW.