A good few years ago most would associate Relic Entertainment with franchises like Company of Heroes and Homeworld. However, over recent years the company has been recognised as the flag bearer for the Warhammer 40,000 video game adaptations. Channelling well over a decade of top tier experience in the strategy genre, predominantly on the PC platform, the studio delivered an almost unprecedented level of polish and depth with Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, as well as its various expansions. Not only were strategy gamers satisfied with the quality of real time strategy gameplay, but Warhammer 40,000 fans were overjoyed at the level of detail and accuracy to their beloved tabletop universe.
For their second outing with the Warhammer 40,000 franchise, Relic Entertainment got a little closer to the action. Though Dawn of War II was indeed a sequel to the original, sharing some gameplay mechanics, it also did plenty in its own right to establish the experience as unique and refreshing. Again, real time strategy fans, particularly those who enjoy squad -ocused gameplay were satisfied, as were Warhammer 40,000 fans with the universe again receiving a faithful digital imagining.
Not content with stopping at two games, Relic Entertainment are back for yet another Warhammer 40,000 universe title. Just as Dawn of War II bought players closer to the action than Dawn of War, the latest title, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, looks to get truly down and dirty with the intellectual property. Base management? Scratch that. Controlling armies? Gone. Space Marine is about the Space Marines, and Space Marines are all about action.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine follows the story of Imperial Space Marine Captain Titus, a no-nonsense warrior of the highest standard (we're talking Ultramarines class of badassery), caught up in an devious ork plot to steal a Warlord class Battle Titan for no doubt sinister anti-Imperial reasons. He can't let that happen, so it's up to him and his team of Space Marines to make a right mess of all this orkish and then some. Expect a lot of intense action, and a lot of crazy violence.
Unlike the previous Warhammer games by Relic, which focused on real time strategy and squad management, Space Marine is a third-person action game. Camera perspectives and controls will be immediately familiar to anyone versed in third person shooters, while the visceral action and intense carnage associated with such games makes itself right at home here too. However, unlike many stop-and-pop cover based third person shooters, Space Marine is less about hiding behind waist high walls and more about getting into the thick of it.
Such a task would be impossible without reliable equipment, and there's no doubt that Captain Titus is packing the right heat. Standard run-and-gun firearms serve as the backbone for mowing down enemies, and players can look forward to landing headshots with sniper rifles, chewing through countless machine gun rounds, and using shotguns to turn ork into swiss cheese. Meanwhile, getting up close and personal with enemies allows Titus to make use of the iconic chainsword. Yes, it's exactly how it sounds; a sword and chainsaw hybrid that makes lightsabers look like fairy wands. This is going to get very messy, very quickly. Naturally, grenades and other explosives top off the arsenal list, making sure you always have the option of simply blowing things up, whenever you're not shooting and slicing.
When it comes to presentation, we found Space Marines mostly impressive. Just like the strategy games, Warhammer 40,000 characters, creatures and enemies have been rendered faithfully to their original art, while the change in gameplay direction and thus closer camera perspective allows for extra graphical detail on all of the above. Special effects are quite impressive, and the game does a solid job of presenting Captain Titus and his crew as lean, mean killing machines, and the ork as perfect targets. We've heard that Chaos faction will be making an appearance in the story at some point, and expect them too to be faithfully rendered, either for friendship or for slaughter.
Finishing up with Space Marine, we couldn't shake the feeling that it was perhaps a little unoriginal. Action-packed as it might be, and certainly quite polished, our play time none-the-less demonstrated that this is exactly what anybody would come to expect from a third person shooter. Perhaps there is more depth to be found in the complete game, and perhaps there are twists we haven't experienced, but the formulaic design was quite noticeable, and whether or not this will be enough to steal the attention of your average gamer unfamiliar with Warhammer 40,000 remains to be seen.
That being said, Space Marine certainly does a solid job of what we played, and the faithful recreation of the Warhammer universe will no doubt be of worthy interest for Warhammer 40,000 fans. We just hope after all our chainswording, fun as it may be, that there's a little more meat on the bone.