With a lore as rich, deep and complex as Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe, you’d expect to see more triple-A titles belting out of developers’ stables chronicling the colourful, violent war between the Imperium of Man and their numerous grotesque and outlandish enemies.
Many developers have tried, many, many have failed, and one or two have succeeded. This year, Relic Entertainment hope to join the latter group in producing a title worthy of the glorious Warhammer 40K heritage in Space Marine, a new third-person, squad based action game published by THQ.
For those not in the know, the W40K franchise is set in the 41st Millenium and focuses on the machinations of the Emperor of Mankind and his army of 8-foot-tall, genetically enhanced super warriors, the Space Marines. Sworn protectors of humanity and the Emperor’s law, these superhuman powerhouses have their enormous armour grafted to their bodies and display a fanatical devotion to the Imperium.
In Relic’s game, you take command of Captain Titus, a decorated warrior of the Ultramarines Chapter (in W40K lore, the Ultramarines are the Emperor’s favourite sons). When Space Orks invade an Imperial Forge World (a huge, planet-sized weapons factory), Titus and his squad of hardcases are sent to investigate and neutralise the threat. Unfortunately, it turns out to be more complicated than that, as the Orks are there to steal a Warlord Class Battle Titan – that is, a “Metal Gear” style walking tank that stands hundreds of feet tall. Added to this, it looks like there’s a disturbance in the Warp – the home of the Gods of Chaos – and a whole host of demonic nasties have been unleashed as a result.
Although plot details are still few and far between, even the paper-thin summary above would serve as reason enough to spend eight to ten hours in the company of Titus and Co., laying the smack down in the name of humanity. For one thing, it certainly doesn’t look like Space Marine is even going to acknowledge the existence of the word “subtle” – and nor should it. Space Marines simply don’t do subtle; they don’t do stealth; they don’t do cover. They do destruction, as swiftly as possible and as brutal as necessary.
Instead of employing a cover mechanic, Space Marine will encourage you to get stuck in as much as you can. Titus’ HUD comes equipped with two meters, one for his armour’s power and one for his health. Ducking and hiding will allow either bar to regenerate – as per every shooter since 2001 – but if you want to recoup health quickly you’ll have to notch up some kills. Tearing Orks to pieces or messily obliterating Chaos demons will see your meters refill fast, always keeping the onus on offensive tactics. Ducking and hiding is for the Sam Fishers of the videogame world – Titus plays more like a ‘roided-up gorilla encased in 800 lbs of armour. With a migraine. Not that I’m complaining, of course. Sometimes you need a game to tone down the finesse and dial up the mania – it worked brilliantly for Bulletstorm, after all.
To keep the action fresh and varied, Relic have brought a host of classic W40K armaments to the game – such as the iconic Bolter and Chainsword, weapons that can be wielded simultaneously to allow a mix of ranged and melee combat at all times. With such a heavy emphasis on offensive play, this is an incredibly smart move – much could have been lost by putting too much focus on the ranged weaponry. By striking a balance between popping off shots from afar and charging in like a madman, Relic have hopefully created a game that will avoid by-the-numbers pacing and repetitive corridor shootouts.
A release date is yet to be confirmed but Space Marine is expected to blast its way onto the shelves sometime in the summer. Until more details of the gameplay and plot emerge, all we can do is speculate – but provided Relic can nail the sense of incredible empowerment that should come from playing as an Ultramarine without making the game a mindless button-masher, there’s every chance that Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine will do the source material the justice it deserves.