Purge the Unclean - Gameplay
There’s a bit in the previous 40k game, Dawn of War 2, where the marines are talking about how going into battle starts off as a great thrill but over time becomes something purer, where they go to a place where body and spirit are one. During Space Marine’s peaks, it reaches a place like that, or the video game equivalent. It’s just so unashamed and honest; it’s a game about messily, mercilessly cleaving aliens and heretics in half and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. It’s also the antidote to the recent glut of cowering behind wall simulators.
Individually, most of the gameplay elements are satisfying and well implemented, but together they’re more than the sum of their parts. Thinning down an oncoming horde with ranged (and authentic) 40k weaponry blends organically into visceral, intuitive melee, as foes pile on and encircle Titus, only to be smashed aside.
It can be very frustrating though. Executions can take a lot of time to perform, and you still take damage during them, so while Titus is busy showboating, that’s plenty of time to end up dead. It’s reasonable that you aren’t invincible and that you be aware of your surroundings, but it’s still annoying. I also find it difficult to believe that Space Marines, masters of combat they are, don’t know how to block. Surely part of being an invincible warrior is learning how to counter attacks? Yes, part of the novelty is that Titus can shrug off near any blow, but its absence is glaring at times.
Ironically, these issues come back to the haunt the game during its last third when you are forced to use cover, because Chaos doesn’t mess around (you knew they were coming anyway, stop complaining). Thematically it makes sense, but you definitely feel less like an invincible warrior, because you’re fighting other invincible warriors, so it’s a mixed bag in the sense that it offers a better challenge and is logically consistent in terms of the lore, but compromises the game’s strong points in some ways. Fighting other marines can be a war of attrition over a clash of skill. Lastly, the final boss battle, though it looks good, is disappointing. There’s an extremely challenging, well designed run up to it, then an extended quick time event. This is the game’s biggest missed opportunity.
Most of these shortcomings vanish in the multiplayer however, which aside from irritating lag issues, is focused and honed and very compelling. It could do with more game modes and a greater range of maps, but the core experience of class based combat between devastator (heavy), tactical and assault is fast paced, well balanced, vicious and offers a wide range of workable play styles. Even if you write off the single player, the multiplayer has lots to offer.
The game as a whole has shortcomings, but the underlying tenets of the design are rock solid.