In terms of actual gameplay, at first glance there is little to mark Space Marine out from other third person action titles. As we started to plod through the first level, we realised we were the rat in a familiar maze, treading a very linear and predictable path. Thankfully, it wasn't long before the levels started to open up a lot more, either through more interesting set pieces or through the introduction of the jump-pack - a short range jet-pack designed to get you into the fray in a quick and devastating manner.
Space Marine has three features that really serve to mark it out as an above average third-person action title, though. First of all, there are no cover-based mechanics, and no chest-high walls to hide behind. In Space Marine, you're wearing the cover. You don't have to crouch behind things. Things crouch behind you.
Secondly, Space Marine excels in the simplicity with which you go from ranged to melee combat. There's no awkward weapon switching, no change of stance or modes, the melee and shooting are just mapped to different buttons. The best part is that this feels like a game that was designed for both, not one with the other thrown in at the last minute. The guns and the melee weapons all feel as weighty as the marine himself, and the variety means you will soon find a combination that suits you.
Click to enlarge
Thirdly, the best way to regain health in a tight spot is to wade deeper into the action and perform executions in melee. This introduces a bizarre and counter-intuitive mechanic in which you must jump further into danger to stand a better chance of recovering. The execution animations can get a little repetitive after a short while, and the noise of a chainsaw rasping through an ork's chest can only stay fresh for so long. However, as the primary way of regaining health, it's an incredible design decision.
Warhammer 40k fans might be disappointed that the game focuses on certain 'safe' elements of the setting, such as the Ultramarines chapter, but what Relic has shown so far is pitch-perfect in tone and visually faithful to the miniatures. Even the multiplayer side of the game is surprisingly impressive due to the mind blowing level of customisation available for your character. The ability to colour your armour as you see fit does create a difficulty in identifying teams, but it's mitigated by the fact that it has hilarious potential.
There are, of course, unavoidable parallels to other games and we wouldn't be surprised if gaming sites crack open the 'Gears of Warhammer' or 'God of Warhammer' puns once the game is released. Anyone unfamiliar with the canon might also fall into the trap of thinking that the 'Iron Halo' upgrade is a cheeky reference to Bungie's game series when it's really not.
From our time with Space Marine it's become clear that this is not an attempt at a quick soulless cash in, but something that has been given a huge amount of love and attention. There's enough attention to detail to appeal to the Games Workshop crowd, but there's also plenty of entertaining action to make it appealing to others too.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine will be published by THQ, and is set for release on PlayStation 3, PC and Xbox 360 on 6 September, 2011.