Space Marine eventually falls into a predictable rhythm: you plow through the multitudes that infest the game's endless corridors, occasionally pausing to hear a bit of plot exposition and ride some elevators. And then it all happens again. Some of these corridors are actual facility hallways; others are the kinds game developers create out of debris that just so happened to have fallen in such a linear way. It's a familiar trick to be sure, but it stands out here because there aren't many attempts to make these passages feel like anything more than passages. In fact, this is one of several ways in which Warhammer 40K: Space Marine relies on the tried-and-true elements of shooter design, but fails to inject them with an amount of creativity that matches the amount of bloodshed. The legions of Chaos arrive in time, but not before hours of greenskin butchery in which one sequence feels much like the last sequence. And even when Chaos Marines and daemons replace or join the Orks, you needn't do a whole lot that is different from before. There's too little to break up the pace. The boss fights are few, and the only one that veers from the "shoot it until it dies" mold--the final encounter--is an easy quick-time event, not the breathless battle this ferocious universe screams for.
Meet 'plot device 1' and 'plot device 2.'
That doesn't mean there isn't an occasional change of pace, and though they are welcome, you wish there were more such detours. At a few different points, you're gifted with a jump pack. With this equipment strapped to your back, the joy of flight enhances the standard combat, allowing you to slam into the ground and destroy your foes, or at least cause them to stumble. The open environments and freedom of movement make the jump pack sequences a hoot, but it's such a pity that the pack isn't standard equipment. These moments are over before you know it, and you're back to the usual gunning and slashing after the game offers its excuse for ripping the jump pack away from you. (There's no room to fly in this cave! You ran out of fuel!) A short excursion upon a gargantuan war machine has you fending off some airborne sentries, which is fun. But like the rest of the game, Space Marine never takes the next step to go from standard to spectacular: no thrilling battle aboard this massive entity as it trudges toward its destination, or no chance to fight alongside it, for example.
Online multiplayer at least helps mix things up, and like the single-player campaign, it captures the tone of the universe but never goes the extra mile. There are two modes: Annihilation (team deathmatch) and Seize Ground (capture and hold). The modes (and maps) are few, but Space Marine's shooting mechanics and explosive weapons make for an amusing online distraction. Before you begin, you choose a loadout, and as you gain multiplayer levels (which happens at a good clip), you earn more loadout slots, as well as the ability to customize your loadouts with more weapons and equipment. One such bit of equipment is the jump pack that graces the campaign, which makes it fun to zoom into a combat hotspot, down a few foes, and then soar back into the air, possibly doing some additional damage to the remaining combatants with your thrusters. If you prefer to sacrifice maneuverability for firepower, you can take the heavy bolter along, and even brace yourself in place for greater accuracy.
A rare moment of variety in a single-minded game.
The large maps feature plenty of architectural elements to break up your line of sight, giving both close-range and long-range specialists a chance to make a difference. And like in many modern shooters, you earn perks that improve your firepower, armor regeneration, and so on. But even if you're a low-level flunky, you still get the chance to stand up to the big boys: you can adopt the loadout of your killer before respawning, which is a great touch that keeps the early hours from being overly frustrating. The paint-by-numbers modes aren't inspiring, but at least what's here is solid, if not particularly top-notch.
Speaking of painting, you also get to customize your online avatar with various patterns, emblems, and colors. The ability to unlock more assets might be the strongest reason to stick with Space Marine's online play--certainly if you're a seasoned Warhammer 40K fan who has lost countless hours to painting miniatures. In fact, it's the "Warhammer" part that Space Marine does best. You get to don the famous armor and fend off the forces of Chaos, bolter and chainsaw in hand, on battlefields where rusted structures puncture the clouded orange sky. If only the game had done more than send endless waves of Orks and daemons toward the dangerous end of your meltagun. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is a good start, as mindless as it is. Let's hope that the intimated follow-up takes the Ork extermination to the next level.