The premise of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine (Xbox 360, PS3, PC) is titanic on a couple of fronts. A third-person action game taking place in a brutal, 41st millennium science fiction setting, it puts you in the shoes of Captain Titus, leader of the human Ultramarines, the Emperor's chosen armies in an ongoing battle for the survival of humanity.
It's your job to defend the forge world of Gaia, a strategically important planet dedicated to the production of weaponry, vehicles and tools used in battle. Work has ground to a halt on the planet due to the arrival of Ork invasion forces, while legions of Chaos Daemons, also keen to put the boot in and bring about the fall of mankind, lurk on the periphery. The Orks' main goal is to steal a Titan, a giant, walking robot fortress that could turn the tide of battle in their favour.
The game features eight or so hours of visceral combat sure to satisfy action fans, while developer Relic's dedication to the Warhammer license will delight followers of its source material, Games Workshop's Warhammer 40,000 tabletop miniature war game. Everything looks and feels authentic, from the detailing of the marines' armour to the scorched, futuristic war-torn environments.
Captain Titus is basically the ultimate military badass, nine foot of superhuman meat adorned in power armour as heavy as a car and equipped with a selection of weapons primed to eviscerate anyone who stands his way. The game plays out from a third-person perspective and brings to mind Gears of War, minus that franchise's acclaimed cover system - Space Marines don't do hiding behind rocks, they charge into battle head first.
This is a tactic you'll employ nine times out of ten when faced by hostiles. As well as allowing you to turn opponents into red mist, it's also essential to keep you alive as performing close-quarters 'execution' moves recharges your health. You'll storm in, stun enemies and then finish them off with a swipe of your chainsaw, a stamp to their head or a spine-cracking axe blow to the back. It's brutal, uncompromising stuff, but a mechanic that makes for one of the most satisfying health pick-up ever.
Executions also build up a 'fury' metre that can be used to increase your melee attack abilities or slow down time if used when you're wielding a ranged weapon. While they aren't the game's primary focus, Titus has access to a number of weapons that can be used from a distance. You can carry up to four guns, from satisfyingly powerful assault rifles and grenade launchers to more exotic fare like a plasma gun that emits bursts of ionised gas and another which handles like a fire-spitting shotgun.
Titus also has a rationed Jump Pack move which lets you boost high into the air before crashing into the ground and shattering anyone standing nearby. Needless to say, in this hyper-violent world you're never short of ways to tear enemy limbs off or turn foes into wisps of superheated dust with the minimum of fuss.
Something for everyone
Relic gets Space Marine's pacing just about right. Some players will occasionally find the endless battle nature of proceedings a little repetitive, while others will probably be irked by an inconsistent check-pointing system which can unnecessarily result in sections having to be replayed. However, the developer breaks things up with a couple of big set pieces like defending a train and a ruined bridge, and with a few (but arguably not enough) of the always fun Jump Pack sequences.
There's plenty to like here, but perhaps the biggest achievement in this bloody, action-centric take on the franchise is that it looks and feels exactly as a Warhammer 40,000 game should without alienating newcomers. Its presentation, story and characters offer a great amount of fan service, but its gruesome action gameplay will also appeal to people who've never played the tabletop game before.
+ Warhammer universe is brought to life.
+ Brutal, satisfying combat and weapons.
+ Cool new take on the health system.
- Orks' cockney-geezer dialogue wears thin.
- Some poor check-pointing.
- Could do with a few more big set pieces.