Warhammer 40K aficionados keeping an eye on Space Marine will be well versed in the action shooter's single-player campaign: a mix of third-person gunplay and rugged hack-and-slash melee on a war machine factory planet, with you in the giant stomping space boots of Captain Titus, Ultramarine. But never mind carving up orks in an eight-to-ten-hour story mode. What of multiplayer?
The game's multiplayer is based on eight-versus-eight online team combat, pitting good-guy Space Marines against traitorous Chaos Marines. You progress through 41 levels, flitting between three classes and murdering your way across five maps in two modes: Annihilation, a first-to-41-kills frag match, and Seize Ground, in which teams fight to capture and hold map control points. Though two multiplayer modes and five maps seem an undersized offering, we're told to expect further maps as downloadable content (some free, some paid-for), and there is compensation in the breadth of character progression, by means of a stream of unlockable weapons, perks, and cosmetic customisation options.
The three Space Marine classes are assault, tactical, and devastator. Tactical is the most versatile breed, with eventual access to the most weapon types. Devastator is the heavy-weapons guy: a lumbering, walking turret who can plant himself on the spot, forfeiting all mobility for a higher rate of fire. But assault class (known as raptor class on the Chaos Marine side) is our favourite so far. This is the most mobile, melee-focused of the bunch, specialising in up-close brutality with the iconic chainsword, for instance, as well as the mammoth power axe. Assault class marines also come equipped with jump packs: short-burst jetpacks that let you jump high and glide down--or crash down hard, with a disruptive area-of-effect stomp attack. In our time with the game, we had the most fun ground-stomping from on high into small knots of marines and then clubbing away with a bulky melee weapon.
With the exception of the story mode's cinematic execution moves and the class-specific abilities in multiplayer, the control schemes in single- and multiplayer closely resemble each other, including the ramming sprint attack for quickly charging into a fray. A character's health comes in the shape of a slowly regenerating life bar and a separate energy shield with a quicker recharge time.
The multiplayer maps are inspired by locations from the story campaign, combining grim and gothic aesthetics with heavy industrial, battle-shredded scenery. One map is set across a partially wrecked bridge, cluttered with debris; another moves you belowground, into a network of gloomy concrete vaults. Hab Center takes in the ruins of the factory planet's residential district. Basilica and Manefactorum, meanwhile, feature cathedral-like factory buildings and more open areas. The mix of open, outdoor areas and confined spaces with low ceilings and overhangs tasks you with playing to your class's strength; jump packs are all but useless in cramped interiors but are handy for hopping to higher ground outdoors, and devastators do well finding a defensible spot from which to rain down fire on a choke point.
Progression and customisation are where Space Marine's multiplayer has the most depth. As you accrue experience points (the sum of your basic XP for regular kills and bonus XP for skill and variety-based challenges), you rank up towards the level cap of 41, gaining access to new armour pieces, weapons, and perks. Each armour element has numerous style and colour options; developer Relic boasts of 1.8 billion possible combinations of cosmetic choices, and heck, a good few million of those wouldn't even be multihued, mismatched eyesores (bronze greaves, magenta vambraces, lime shoulders). For those with a taste for Warhammer 40K canon, on the other hand, there are complete armour sets for official Space Marine chapters--among them Black Templars, Blood Ravens, Space Wolves, and Ultramarines. The same goes for Chaos Marine warband armour, with the armour set selection including those of the Iron Warriors and Emperor's Children.
Canonical Space Marine weapons are similarly plentiful, among them the chainsword, thunder axe, plasma pistol, flamethrower, bolter assault rifle, and heavy bolter, with the booming heavy weapons reserved for the devastator class. Among the grenade types are nifty blind grenades: flashbangs which turn opposing players' screens white for more than long enough to let you saunter up and slay their sightless character. And added to the weapon selection, the wide range of perks--which make weapons more powerful, or let you carry more grenades, and so on--turn the three basic classes into templates for customisation. The tactical class gets eventual access to the sniper rifle, for instance, letting you spec out your tactical marine with sniper war gear and accompanying perks.
As in the story-based single-player mode, everything feels weighty and grounded (with lashings of controller rumble), if not precise or elegant--fitting enough for hulking, one-tonne space soldiers. With just a couple of modes to play in, multiplayer might not make for a main attraction in Space Marine, but the game's combat system, a decent melee-shooter hybrid, makes for some brisk, boisterous player-versus-player.