Warhammer 40K: Space Marine Review - September 12th 2011

So... 'Space Marine'? It's like calling a football game 'Ball Kick Goal', or a Michael Bay movie 'Explosion!', sounding more a scoff of derision from a sci-fi hating forumite sick of green-armored future soldiers than the name of a bona-fide THQ tentpole release. Look past the generic title, however, and you'll find a game which, while not necessarily coming up with any bold ideas of its own, satisfyingly meshes together a variety of styles in a lovely, polished mess.

Make no mistake, Warhammer is big, a global guilty pleasure full of massive guns, cockney Orks and burly men wearing bathtubs on their shoulders. You wouldn't bring it up at a party but, secretly, who doesn't want to be a space marine? The franchise started life as a miniature tabletop wargame, the skinhead brother to Dungeons and Dragons' slightly pale bookworm, since spinning off into Warhammer 40,000's dystopian future, and to the realm of fiction in Warhammer 40k: Apocalypse, comics like Bloodquest, and even PC MMO's (the latest, Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes, is due in autumn).

It's not hard to understand its popularity. Melding Tolkien-like high fantasy with sci-fi-sensibilities, the 40K universe has broad appeal; it's like giving Aragorn anti-tank missiles. That it's set in the 41st century basically gives anyone with access to the brand license to do whatever the hell they like. And Space Marine certainly doesn't let something silly like realism get in the way.

They could do with some bigger shoulder pads...

The Imperium is at war with the Orks, a fearsome race of green-skins whose tactics include breeding a lot and charging at people. Your job as Ultramarine Captain Titus (gruffly voiced by Mark Strong) is to stop their advance on Forge World, a planet geared towards war production and key to the victory. First mission: drop into battle - from orbit. Will you survive? Who cares - you get to shoot things!

Upon touchdown, you're greeted by a battle-scarred world on a colossal scale. Recalling imposing Stalinist architecture like the Reichstag and Warsaw Palace of Culture, half-destroyed baroque buildings loom large and burn threateningly on the horizon. This is a debris-strewn, smog-choked planet; it's fully engineered for war. Funny, because so are you.

Combining the heavy handling of Gears of War's Marcus Phoenix with more fluid beat-em-up mechanics for when things take a turn for the melee (take that, Dynasty Warriors), Space Marine picks from popular genres like they're penny sweets. Shooting feels meaty and leaves a mess, and blasting exclusively would make for more than enough game. Guns themselves aren't incredibly innovative when compared to Red Faction: Guerrillas' magnet and black hole standard-setters, but there are a few goodies: remote-detonated sniper rounds and an infinite-ammo pistol that packs a punch are best. But they're only half the fun.

You can choose a specific class in multiplayer. Next gen!

See that massive knife strapped to your leg? That's the other half. Dispatching two dozen Orks in a hail of blood, teeth and flying limbs just does not get old, and the amount of enemies you'll slaughter - all under a sumptuously smooth framerate - is mightily impressive. At times the game looks remarkable. The bloody, body-littered scene after a good massacre is as beautiful as it is disgusting, even if the one-button controls you used to make it aren't terribly deep. There are perhaps five combos in the game, all variations on pressing X. But ultra-gory finishers, which include sticking an axe in someone's mouth, and the chance to wield a Chainsword (take that, Marcus Phoenix) are nice bonuses.

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Relic Entertainment
Out Now
PC PS3 360