About five minutes into my demonstration of Relic's Space Marine I realise what I'm looking at is a 3rd person shooter that draws heavily from Gears of War, so I ask an obvious question. "Is there some kind of cover system?" Relic man grins. "Actually, the team has an internal line about that. We say, 'Cover is for Pussies.'"
I don't take my eyes off the screen, but my ears do a double take. "We do have this though," says Relic man. With the press of a button he sends Ultramarine Captain Titus running straight through a low wall of cover like a wrecking ball, and begins hacking apart the orks on the other side with his chainsword. "Oh," I hear myself say, mesmerised. "Right!"
There's a very specific image of a Space Marine Relic are pursuing here, one distinct from the rules of the Warhammer 40K tabletop game or Relic's own RTS. It's the image of a Space Marine put forward by 40K's fiction, which I'll summarise.
Space Marines are given 19 extra internal organs to help them fight, including an extra heart and a bonus lung. Their bones are laced with a ceramic substance which also causes their rib cage to grow into a solid plate. Their Power Armour is inches thick, and the Marines interface with it through cybernetic fibres that grow into their chest. Plus, all Space Marines carry inside them the enhanced genetic material of the Primarchs, superhuman generals bred when humanity was at its zenith. Altogether a Space Marine weighs around a ton and is a legendary badass, said to be the match of 1,000 Orks.
Space Marine is a game of these terrifying men. You can leave any rules you know about Weapon Skill and saving throws at the door.
As such, Space Marine is the kind of over-the-top action game that I can't remember seeing on the PC in a while. For most of the time you don't need to worry about taking damage, just dealing it out, which is looking to be an enormously satisfying business. Your default Bolter rifle doesn't just fire bullets, it fires rocket-propelled slugs designed to detonate inside the target. And aside from being absurd in and of themselves, your melee weapons (chainsword, power fist, storm hammer) are all backed up by your Marine's mega-strength. And this is before we've gotten to the heavy weapons- one setpiece I saw involving a heavy bolter left behind a pile of ork corpses straight out of any piece of 40k artwork.
So, no, there's no cover system, and that's not just because it doesn't fit the fiction. It's also because Relic are trying to create a game that's precisely half shooting and half melee combat, and apparently they found out that if you have cover then people just hunker down behind it. Hardly ideal when every single piece of Space Marine art in existence shows them standing up. Come to think of it, I'm not sure how far they can even bend their legs.
Something else Relic have jettisoned since production began is most of Space Marine's RPG elements. When the game was first announced it was going to see you managing a squad and collecting all kinds of Wargear. All that's left of that now is a system whereby you level up your weapons by killing things with them, thereby unlocking new modes of fire and modifications. This is very much a pure action game now, complete with co-op and some other kind of multiplayer that's being kept under wraps.
Oh- and one final thing they've dropped is American voice acting for the Ultramarines. Turns out when people hear American voices, they think cowboy. So now all the marines are voiced by English actors.
"Hey," you may be mumbling to yourself around now. "These screenshots show a lot of orcs. Do you just fight orcs? I hate orcs."
Good point (although in 40K it's orks, not orcs. And the 40k orcs are awesome, with their mad, tribal adoration of technology and zero regard for personal safety). Space Marine is actually set on a single planet- a Forge World, meaning a kind of factory planet controlled by humanity's zealous machine priests, the Adeptus Mechanicus. This particular Forge World has been recently conquered by a massive Orc Waaagh, which the Warhammer 40K wiki helpfully describes as a cross between a Holy Crusade and a pub crawl. But this is a devastating development, because this lost Forge World manufactures Titans, the Imperium's city-sized (and therefore largest) engines of war. With the rescue fleet still weeks away, you play part of the Ultramarine force dispatched to the planet to provide what help you can. Except things rapidly get complicated, as an Imperial Inquisitor gets in touch to tell you the Forge World is hiding some prototype weaponry, which absolutely, positively cannot fall into Ork hands.
It's a plot which will have some twists and turmoil, I'm sure of that. Partially because the Relic man told me "It's a plot with lots of twists and turmoil", but also because when I asked whether you'd be fighting any other races he smirked and said they weren't announcing any yet. Also, when I questioned whether we'd be seeing anything of the darker side of Space Marine lore, he began watching his words very carefully and said that Titus would have to make some difficult decisions.
Interesting, no? Personally I'm just praying for any action sequence at all involving a Titan. The demo I saw already featured a couple of great sequences involving a fleet of Imperial transport ships being torn out of the sky by rocket-wearing Storm Boyz, and Titus trying to stop a massive train the Orks were using to smash open the door of the Titan facility. I was also promised that Titus would get some time in with the jump pack of an Assault Marine.
It is very difficult to imagine anything more awesome than playing Space Marine co-op, all of you with Jump Packs, all of you with chainswords, leaping as one and ripping apart whole crowds of Orks. I'm sure in no time there'll be footage of Space Marine doing the rounds on the Internet and you'll be able to see for yourself. Until then, take my word for it. Space Marine is the game of this:
And what could be more desirable than that?