Managing your health becomes a huge component of the single player game I found myself cowering behind cover in many of the later levels, desperately waiting for my overshield to recharge. The marketing team behind the game pushed the lack of a cover system. It’s too bad our fragile protagonist desperately requires one. If developer Relic had just made the player invincible while performing an execution, the problem would have been solved.
The other major issue with Space Marine’s single player campaign is the absolute failure to hide the fact that it’s little more than an arena shooter connected by long hallways. Most shooters are plagued by this design, but Space Marine seems to revel it it. After a strong opening sequence the game quickly degenerates into a simple formula: enter an arena, kill up all the baddies, slowly walking through a hallway, get a little exposition, enter another large room, repeat. The lack of environmental variety; bland industrial settings, and the fact that there are only two boss battles doesn’t help with the oppressive repetition.
The characters themselves seem bored with the story, which itself will come off as overly esoteric for newcomers to the series. I know that the 40k universe is constantly at war, and this is just another day at the mall for most of these characters, but does everyone have to be so damn aloof?
Despite these flaws, the single player campaign is still a fun ride. Once you’ve mastered the health system, you won’t get killed mid-execution nearly as often. The soundtrack is just epic enough, and the weapons are deliciously brutal. The game really hits its stride during the final bridge sequence, where fellow Space Marines from other chapters join in the fight. You all look like total bad-asses as you square off against the forces of Chaos. It was here that I felt this game would have played much better as a squad-based shooter. That’s where the co-op comes in.
It's about damn time.
I know, I covered a lot of the single player mechanics, but I had to do that to adequately explain the co-op portion of the game, or more accurately, explain where the co-op mode is lacking. The single- and multiplayer versus modes of Space Marine were obviously the focus of the development team. The co-op mode, called Exterminatus, was launched as free DLC 50 days after the game originally launched. To call it an afterthought would be... well, extremely accurate.
Exterminatus is an online-only horde mode for up to four players. You can play it by yourself, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You’ll need all four players to have any hope of completing one of the "missions." You can expect more of the same when it comes to Space Marine’s formula of room clearing and hallway walking. There’s only two missions, so once again, don’t expect a lot of variety.
Exterminatus plays more like the versus mode than the single player campaign. This means you’ll have access to the awesome armor customizer, allowing you to make your own personal Space Marine, complete with multiple weapon loadouts. This also means that the health system and melee combat are nothing like the single player experience.
In both the co-op and versus modes executions have been totally stripped from the gameplay. Your health regenerates as it would in any other shooting game. The melee combat feels random at best, broken at worst. Only the Assault Marine class has access to the real melee weapons, such as the Chainsword, or Thunderhammer. The Tactical Marine has a combat knife. The Devastator has, well, a stomp kick and bad intentions. Since there is no lock -on, players will find themselves flailing about with their melee weapons, desperate to produce results. Once you have the mastered close-ranged combat, it is impressive, but there is a serious leaning curve.