The Warhammer franchise is a well-known if yet still surprisingly niche-like universe. A world of eternal war between races familiar and not, spanning over thousands of years of bloodshed in the name of conquest -- with thick British accents and an overt sincerity to character that most fiction would have trouble taking seriously. So when THQ (RIP) had Relic Entertainment, famous for the Warhammer strategy games, set to work making a third person action game around the iconic Space Marines, there was a bit of concern making it an action title might water down the universe to be a generic cover based shooter. How could it even work? Relic didn't have much (if any) experience making action games, and they even went so far as to reveal it would be a shooter-brawler hybrid. Obviously it could never succeed... or could it?

The following review is for the PC version of the game.

Master Chief, eat your heart out.

Warhammer 40k: Space Marine is one of those rare games that shouldn't work nearly as well as it does. It's a third person shooter without cover and the only way to regenerate health is by doing a button prompted special takedown of an enemy. It's a brawler without the ability to block and that has an over the shoulder camera and targeting reticule. Yet despite what sounds like an ill-designed game is one of the freshest experiences in action gaming to come out for modern consoles.

The controls work both with a controller and on keyboard with mouse. The third person shooting supports four weapons carried at once for the main campaign (three of which can be swapped out at any point) and up to three for multiplayer. You can aim down the sights, you can toss a grenade or aim it, and you can dodge incoming fire with the best of them. Cover cannot be taken, but there's a very good reason for that: "YOU ARE A SPACE MARINE!"  (as every Ork likes to remind you). You don't hide behind cover -- you are the cover for lesser men in shiny green armor as you charge into battle. You have both a layer of shields and a health bar, with the shield regenerating on its own while the health bar, as mentioned above, requires a special melee kill or Fury mode activation to work.

Speaking of melee -- you wield one of several melee weapons and can bring it to arms at any point, using a short list of combos to stun and clobber enemies with a hammer, axe, chainsword, or a combat knife. The system never reaches the depth of even the simplest fighting game and is certainly no DMC, but that works to it's benefit rather than detracting from it. With the fast paced action and the constant swapping of focus from brawling to shooting, any complex combos would be lost in the madness. Instead, the game sticks with a "simple yet deep" combat design, focusing more on variant strategies and character builds, especially in multiplayer.

So the only way to get women in practical armor is to make men tanks? Fine, whatever, I'll take it.

The game features a full singleplayer campaign, competitive multiplayer, and cooperative multiplayer -- the latter two of which surprisingly turn out to be the best parts of the game. No matter what you come for though, playing the campaign is necessary for getting a good grasp of the core controls and dynamics. The only problem is... it's also the worst balanced part of the game. I wish I could say that it all was perfect, that the game gets a 10/10, but it's this constantly bouncing and confusing difficulty curve of certain scenarios that has kept me from ever really wanting to beat the campaign. I've sunk over twenty-five hours into the game, but only six of those at most were singleplayer.

What doesn't help is that some of the most impressive equipment can be accessed almost immediately in competitive or cooperative multiplayer, whilst the singleplayer is just a linear, pick up guns/melee weapons as you go, swap for situation, maybe get a jetpack if lucky, linear affairs. Even the most open sections of Warhammer 40k: Space Marine are severely lacking, usually directing your chaos so much that it takes some of the epic scale and intensity out of it. As enemies begin to become more varied, you begin to find only specific ways of playing each section as any other method is death -- this is most obvious in a horrible hybrid turret sequence-boss fight combo that took over three tries  to beat. You're basically on your own even if AI teammates are supposedly following you – most of the time they'll jut fire off shots to look busy. Enemy AI, on the other hand, is decent but nothing above average. The same could be said for the well executed but rather insubstantial storytelling. Audio diaries in particular aren't worth listening to if you aren't a franchise fan or OCD collector of in-game items. The lack if regenerating health in singleplayer is most irritating when you have no nearby enemies to clobber and must depend upon your shields alone to keep you alive. The "Fury" (see: rage mode) ability is your only way of regaining health, but I rarely had any other reason to use it on Normal difficulty.

Jetpacks are awesome, but rarely available for any length of time.

Most of these problems are fixed or forgotten once you enter multiplayer, whether you choose Versus (PVP) or Exterminarus (Horde). Each uses the same loadouts you can customize, and each has an  attention to detail other games should hope to reach. Cooperative rewards teamwork, gives you versatile areas with multiple choke points and potential strategies, and places extra emphasis on finding your niche. It has four maps for each co-op campaign, and some even have custom scripted events or variant enemies. Surviving to Wave 21 also brings out a surprise new enemy sure to test even the most battle-weary veterans.

Competitive multiplayer on the other hand instead emphasizes skill, speed, and tactics. The game has three classes for both modes and they all play -very- differently. Melee focused jump jets, tactical foot soldiers, and heavy gunners all are perfectly balanced against one another. In addition, to even some of the edge for newbies in competitive multiplayer -- you can take the loadout of whoever killed you last, and use it as your next loadout. This only lasts for one life but can give you end-game unlocks at the start just to give you something of an edge against those who have been playing since launch. This, combined with the very well balanced weapon set, makes for one of the most rock solid MP experiences available. There is on kink in the system though...

"Do not give in Marines! We will survive this onslaught!"

Progression and character customization is severely lacking. Armor has lots of variants, but almost all of them require unlocking via specific grinding amounts, achievements in multiplayer, or any other possible way to drag it out. They don't even naturally unlock with your level like aesthetics did in Bioshock 2's MP, instead leaving you with a generic looking marine unless you spend hours upon hours grinding through competitive MP -just- for those unlocks, and a similar system is in place for most weapon perks/mods. The regular progression system also is a bit lackluster in that you can gain entire levels... and never unlock anything but a new rank. Seriously, you just get a new rank. They specifically wanted you to have to reach the rank of 41 at highest (apparently this is a Warhammer 40k reference), even though they only have about 28 ranks worth of content that you can unlock via leveling. Combine this with the fact that co-op has significantly less progression speed than competitive, and you've got a lot of grinding ahead if you want to be the max rank marine with the right armor and colors like you always wanted to be.

Nitpick: Another little thing against the multiplayer is that ammo isn't automatically picked up or dropped -- it drops at random from enemies and must be intentionally picked up (same goes for grenades). However, even if you have full grenades or ammo, you can pick them up, and prevent allies from picking them up. This results in teammates running to grab ammo in races just so that they can keep full clips. This system does not work well Relic -- please replace it if you make a sequel.

Still, even with these complaints, the game just works so well despite everything that I just can't give it a low score. Even after the initial thrill was gone, the game kept me enthralled and entertained. I still come back to it every now and then for the multiplayer, and am almost always rewarded with a pleasing experience that pushes my skills in ways other shooters wish they could. While it's singleplayer fails to truly wow (there's even a sequel bait ending), it sets the groundwork for one of the most exciting, challenging action games to come out in quite some time. You can get it on Playstation 3, PC, or Xbox 360 at your local game retailer. There are also two additional pieces of downloadable content that add to the multiplayer.

It may be brown, it may be third person, it may involve shooting, but this isn't a member of the gritty military wolfpack. A 9.75/10.

Paradigm the Fallen

OrksI Space Marine!OrksI Space Marine!OrksI Space Marine!OrksI Space Marine!OrksI Space Marine!OrksI Space Marine!OrksI Space Marine!OrksI Space Marine!OrksI Space Marine!

Trivia: It's pronounced "Oar-kcs"