A game based on a sophisticated strategy franchise, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is a big, dumb, variation-free shooter.
Marketing teams have evolved a survival technique for logic-defying situations such as these: it consists of repeating words like "unabashed" and "guilty pleasure" while rolling your eyes determinedly at anyone who points out that being thick as a brick sandwich is worth blushing over. But Space Marine's key flaw isn't, oddly, that it tramples its brainy heritage to mush. It's that the game doesn't trample hard enough.
The premise is titanic - an Ork invasion, with the legions of Chaos lurking on the periphery - but the execution is surprisingly tepid. You can tenderise Ork heavies with their own shields and chainsword demons in the molars, but these jaw-slackening splashes comprise a foundation that's never really built on. The weapons are mostly to blame: they're agreeably chunky but also unadventurous. Stand-outs include the Vengeance grenade launcher, whose sticky explosives make great remote mines.
At its simplest, Space Marine is a Gears clone with a hair-raising health system which sees you healing by performing execution kills. Given how flagrantly Relic apes the Epic juggernaut elsewhere - weapons are swapped via the same D-pad system - being unable to stick to cover feels unnatural at first, but you soon acclimatise. New cannons and a Fury mode unlock at half-hourly intervals as you progress through corridors and arenas, nabbing Servo Skulls (Warhammer's audio diary of choice) to flesh out the plot's few secrets.
A couple of big setpieces - defending a train, then a dropship, then a ruined bridge - and a few (too few!) jetpack sequences jazz up the formula. Relic's background as a PC strategy developer shows itself in the deep, testing composition of enemy waves: you'll find yourself trading bullets with Renegades while rolling under Ork mortar shells, mulching hordes with one eye peeled for kamikaze Squigs.
The closest you'll get to the madly customisable sprawl of Warhammer proper is slapping faction-themed paintjobs and accessory kits on your Marine in multiplayer. Multiplayer itself is spectacularly broken, with massive class imbalances and confusing melee, but winds up being memorable for just that reason. We only wish the campaign were equally outrageous. For all its craggy egotism, Space Marine is too cautious to really shine.
Not as thunderous as it looks
- Proven shooter design
- Unusual health system
- Respectable degree of spectacle
- Charmless guns
- Too few "wow" moments