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Relic Entertainment applies its plentiful Warhammer 40K experience to a third-person shooter...
It's perhaps a little surprising that it's taken this long for a publisher to use the term 'Space Marine' explicitly in the title of one of its games. For years now, the industry has used the term generically to refer to the likes of Gears of War, Halo and their many pretenders; sci-fi shooters that star heavily armoured soldiers pumped with military grade testosterone whose primary objective is to fight off hordes of warmongering alien beasties. And so it comes down to THQ and its Warhammer license to make that jump. In all fairness though, the term was used throughout the wider Warhammer 40K universe long before Epic unravelled the tales of a group of frat boys known as the Delta Squad and, in effect, the title is only being translated into Relic's game as a by-product of the canon.
You see, Warhammer 40K's Space Marine is as tough as they come. Each Space Marine not only suits-up like a small tank but has even been genetically modified for the job with multiple hearts (just in case one of them is corroded by the acid reflux of a bile-spewing alien foe, presumably). Very much in the vein of Trojan soldiers then, their only goal in life is to fight. They don't have hobbies like mountain biking or stamp collecting. When they do have time to eat, they'll probably just chow down on an unfortunate deer that happens to be prancing around nearby or, if it's just a snack they require, some kind of high-fibre energy bar that would turn a lesser mortal's bowels to concrete. They're pretty hard fellas, then; men who are unlikely to engage in small talk about the weather or read a magazine during their tea break.
In Warhammer 40K: Space Marine, you play as Captain Titus. He's a by the book kind of guy who's flanked by other Space Marines bearing titles with similar links to Roman mythology; the likes of Leandros and Sergeant Sidonus. This air of ancient world symbolism continues into the dialogue between the main characters - pig-Latin is dished out at any given opportunity ('observation room' becomes 'observatorium' and so on...), making for a familiar and predictable tone to the overall sci-fi conceit. Before going hands-on with the game, Relic Entertainment took us through a few bullet-points on the game, explaining its aesthetics and some of the core mechanics. The developer was also quick to proudly embrace a phrase that's been coined to describe the game: 'Gears of Warhammer'.
And the analogy is fitting - at least, to an extent. There's a definite post-apocalyptic style to some of the environments, while controls provide a similar feel to guiding Epic's Marcus Fenix. The dash command, for example, results in a similar shaky cam presentation on-screen that successfully endows Capatin Titus with quite a weighty feel. Weapons also bear similarities, particularly where melee combat is concerned. Space Marine's 'Chainsword' makes for some pretty obvious comparisons to the iconic Lancer, albeit without the gun part. As the name suggests, it's a sword that's also a chainsaw, which predictably results in some gory methods of dispatching Warhammer 40K's alien Orks. Elsewhere, guns are a touch more generic side of things (rifles, pistols, plasma guns, and various projectile launchers) - perhaps not quite as imaginative as Gears' arsenal but entertaining enough nonetheless.
But it's in the combat that the two series start to diverge. Relic was quick to point out that Space Marine focuses more on open fire-fights against large numbers of enemies - Gears, on the other hand, has traditionally favoured tight, cover-based combat that encourages flanking. Space Marine really does throw the enemies at you thick-and-fast with markedly less opportunity to duck into cover for a breather. To balance this though, Relic has developed a couple of gameplay features that soup-up your marine's powers. Successful kills bolster Captain Titus' armour (effectively a forgiving health meter of sorts) while also building up his Fury meter, which can then be dispatched as either a more powerful melee attack (one hit, one kill) or a short period of bullet-time to ratchet off a volley of ranged kills.
Much of the game's appeal can be found by using these powers in conjunction with the many weapons to dispatch enemies in the largest possible volumes, while a wide variation in these enemies also helps to keep you on your toes. On the Ork side of the battle, there's the tricky Bomb Squig (a wee-beastie strapped with explosives that runs at you suicidally), rocket propelled Storm Boys, or the riot shield issued 'Ard Boy. And then there's the Forces of Chaos, which Relic likens to the Sith in Star Wars. We came up against a Bloodletter Daemon during our hands on - a devilishly quick Chaos foe that can warp over short distances - as well as the levitating Tainted Psyker with its psychic abilities and powerful balls of energy as ranged attacks. All the various Forces of Chaos are former Space Marines or Imperial Guard soldiers that have been corrupted by the Chaos gods, so in other parts of the game (not featured during our hands-on) players will come up against the likes of Chaos Space Marine Raptors and Chaos Space Marine Lords.
As you'd expect from Relic, Space Marine is impressively loyal to the Warhammer 40K lore, which should be news to the ears of table-top wargaming fanatics everywhere. The decision to opt for open fire-fights featuring swathes of Ork and Chaos forces as opposed to tighter, cover-based combat is what will essentially make or break this title. There was clearly a lot of refinement left to do on the pre-Alpha build we played but, in terms of the core mechanics and overall design, Space Marine is an eye-catching prospect at the very least.
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