The Warhammer 40,000 universe is perfect videogame fodder, and this is the way to do it. Ignore the twenty-sided dice and papier-mâché foliage side of things, and focus solely on the factions of heavily-armed men trying to make each other not exist.
40K's tag-line is "In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war." Only war. And that's what Relic has brought us with Space Marine - and it turns out future war is pretty damn entertaining.
This conflict involves the titular marines - well-equipped defenders of the good - battling the orks, a ramshackle bunch of green-skinned miscreants whose default reaction to anything is kill it, smash it and eat it.
The opening sequence - which somehow manages to be grave and sincere without going over the top - sets the scene: an ork force have invaded Forge World Gaia, seemingly with designs to steal a warlord-class Titan, a kind of giant walking fortress. You're one of the space marines making sure that doesn't happen.
Warhammer fans might be disappointed to be playing as the goodie two-shoes Ultramarines rather than the vengeful Blood Angels or the more emo Dark Angels, but their regal nature works well here - everyone you meet is in awe of you.
What will please fans is how authentic everything looks, from the marines' chunky shoulderpads through to the desolate landscape which calls to mind pretty much every piece of the tabletop game's artwork.
You have your familiar kit: chainswords, bolter rifl es, jump-packs, which again all works perfectly in a gaming context, and familiar foes: the ork troops include gretchin and nobs (stop giggling). You even get to ride to the rescue of dullard faction the Imperial Guard, who surely no-one in their right mind would've collected.
It's important that a game like this sits comfortably with its source material, and Space Marine certainly does, with the developer having thrown in enough mentions of codices and the Emperor to satisfy even the most ardent dice-botherer.
But what's obviously more important is how it plays, and thankfully Relic has succeeded there too. It's not class-leading, and there are some sloppy elements that let it down (which we'll come to), but the overall experience is as satisfying as you'd hope.
It plays out from a third-person perspective, like a cover shooter, only minus the actual cover... because cowering behind a rock is not behaviour befitting the Emperor's finest troops, who don't so much laugh in the face of danger as give it a wedgie and kick it down the stairs. Instead you fight head on with just your ruddy great suit of power armour to protect you.
Initially the combat seems slightly simplistic: the shoulder buttons aim and shoot, square/X performs a melee attack, and tapping it a few more times performs a few more melee attacks. But it quickly reveals some depths which mean that, while it's never going to be troubling Arkham City, there is a tactical element to proceedings.
While your power armour recharges when out of battle your health doesn't, and there are no first aid kits scattered around these far-future battlefields (it's only war, remember? Not only war and health packs).
Instead, to gain health you must 'execute' enemies by first stunning them with triangle/Y and then tapping circle/B. It both forces you into close-range combat (which is more enjoyable), and means you can't ever afford to let yourself get overwhelmed.
There's the odd gameplay variation - such as jump-pack sections, detachable gun turrets and the like - but mostly it's a process of wading in and turning everything on screen into ork jam, and it's all chunky and satisfying enough to be consistently enjoyable.
The game is let down by being slightly repetitive in several ways - the orks' relentless Cockney-geezer dialogue is incredibly irritating in particular - and it's glitchy in places, with some truly awful checkpointing.
Yet generally it looks and feels exactly as a Warhammer 40,000 game should and, most notably, has enough merit of its own to appeal to people who've never once painted a 28mm fi gurine. Despite it's flaws, it seems 'only war' is just about enough.
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Brash and bloody, Relic's action-centric take on Warhammer does nothing extraordinary but delivers more fun and quality than the average shooter
- Satisfying combat
- Faithful to Warhammer lore
- A solid romp
- Some rough edges