Hold On To Your Jumpjets Spayce Muhreen, It's One Hell of a Ride
It really feels like Relic set out to do one thing while developing this game: Make the player feel like the kind of hulking badass that is an Ultramarine. They drive this home with virtually every firefight and enemy encounter across the game, delivering an experience that is not only challenging and fun, but extremely and primally satisfying.
Warhammer 40K: Space Marine opens with Captain Titus of the Ultramarines and his small squad being sent to Planet Macragge, a designated Forge World where the humans of the universe create some of their biggest and baddest warmachines: The Titans. The captain and his compatriates are charged with heading off a massive Ork invasion and keeping the weaponry out of enemy hands. The situation is grim and it's made clear from the the get go that it is on. The Orks clearly harbor no love for the "SPAAYCE MUH-REEENS" (a phrase you should be prepared to endure literally hundreds, if not thousands of times) and will throw everything they have in to a fight, using their sheer numbers to try and take the squad down.
It is in these moments that the game feels truly satisfying. Captain Titus is incredibly able in combat, dishing out punishment left and right. In a shocking twist in this day and age, no cover system is implemented in Space Marine. Instead, the Captain is made resilient enough that the player should (almost) never feel the need. Damage is measured in two depleting bars: The power armor, which will regenerate over time if damage is avoided, and health, regenerated in a vampiric style by performing executions on enemies. The executions tie nicely into the fairly simplistic melee combat system that is implmented. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, you'll perform the same light-light-light-heavy combos throughout the bulk of the game and the number of execution animations is fairly limited, but it somehow manages to still just feel GOOD.
The melee shines primarily in the first half of the game, after which the enemy buffs start to mount against the player, forcing them to keep their distance if they are to survive. Fortunately, the game makes the Ultramarines just as deadly at a distance as they are up close. The weapons, though aethetically pleasing, are a bit cookie cutter and fall in to the tropes you'd expect from a shooter: This one is the sniper rifle, this one is the shotgun, the grenade launcher and so on. The Bolt weapons are truly satisfying, making it disappointing to lose one of them through the game's upgrade path as it's replaced by a plasma weapon. The shooting itself is fairly tight and is balanced extremely well in such a way that the player only misses shots on account of their own use of the guns.
While all of this makes for an incredible package, it distracts well from one issue that I ran in to personally with the game: I'm not super familiar with Warhammer lore, 40k or otherwise. The game presents the player with this situation and story, but fails to give much context for those who are not already moderately to avidly invested in the universe. Things can be extrapolated to a certain degree (for example, Orks don't like humans and the Inquisition is unsurprisingly shady), I found myself wondering about what kind of importance these characters have canonically. Does Captain Titus have importance outside of this game? How about the Ork Warboss? What IS the Warp and Chaos? I spent the last third of the game fighting an enemy I knew virtually nothing about until the game pushes itself quickly towards it's tidy conclusion, leaving many questions to a lightly informed part unanswered.
None of that detracts in any major way from the game as a whole however. Enough of the story is apparent and decipherable that it's worth seeing it through to it's end and the combat is just intangibly satisfying. This is a tremendous game and an arguably quintessential experience, able to balance difficulty while simultaneously refusing to be another third-person Gears of War derivative, that has been and will continue to be sadly overlooked due to the lore and marketability of Warhammer to the masses.