Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine demo showdown

Digital Foundry analysis of the PS3/360 demos.

THQ's Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine may well have picked up some bizarre, unflattering press recently for its superficial similarities to Gears of War, but our experience of the recently released playable demo is almost entirely positive with the game offering up an intriguing spin on the established third person shooter formula.

In terms of the core gameplay, Space Marine's approach is almost completely at odds with Epic's franchise: for a start it's not a cover-based shooter, instead melding third person blasting with highly satisfying melee combat a touch reminiscent of Dynasty Warriors. Visually, the game may not have the same level of technical finesse as the Gears of War 3, but it has its own charms - like an unshakably solid in-game frame-rate, a core component in why the game feels so good to play.

The majority of console games target 30 frames per second, but it's safe to say that some are more successful than others. A lot of the time we see screen-tear, dropped frames or both, depending on engine load - fitting the rendering of the frame into a strict 33.33ms window isn't easy.

Edited highlights of Space Marine's first demo level, establishing its rock-solid performance.

Space Marine is remarkable in that in our tests we saw a locked 30FPS with v-sync throughout the entirety of the in-game action. The game doesn't really seem to be too ambitious in terms of environmental detail, but it can throw a hell of a lot of enemies at the player, and there are some pleasing blending effects that kick in during the heat of the melee action. The locked frame-rate remains no matter which console you're playing on: both 360 and PS3 are remarkably solid throughout.

Space Marine's sheer consistency is a great asset: controller response feels good and there's no lag regardless of how much is happening on-screen. The developers understand that the more enemies there are on-screen, the more annoying frame-rate drops can be: when the action is at its most intense, consistency in update and response becomes that much more important to the player.

Another differentiating factor between the various 30FPS games we see on console comes down to the implementation of motion blur. Blending frames together produces a more lifelike, smoother image, mimicking the kind of look we see in TV shows (many of which are shot on film at 24 or 25FPS). In this regards, Space Marine also delivers a smooth, polished presentation with a very nice motion blur implementation.

The jetpack stage suggests that Space Marine has some interesting tricks up its sleeve to add some variety to the gameplay.

The demo offers up two different levels, the second of which sees you equipped with a jetpack-style contrivance you can use to jump, glide and power smash down on opponents, which adds some variety to the gameplay - either pick off enemies from afar or swoop down and annihilate the horde with some gravity-assisted justice. Once again, performance is remarkably solid on both platforms.

We spent a little time comparing the two versions of the game outside of basic performance. We saw some minor lighting differences, and some odd, very minor differences in the way that textures are handled, none of which are in any way noticeable during the run of play. Overall image quality is good, though the post-process anti-aliasing seemed a little old-skool compared to the FXAAs and MLAAs we've been spoiled with recently, and sub-pixel detail didn't look so great in the demo. Resolution-wise, it seems that 360 does have the advantage here - we reckon it's 1200x720 on the Microsoft console, while PS3 seems to be closer to 1152x640. Perhaps it's down to the anti-aliasing which in some ways actually seems to emphasise "jaggies", but in motion both versions do look very similar.

In all, we had a good time with the Space Marine demo on both platforms. The overall experience is as close to like-for-like as we've seen in recent times - a good sign for the final game, which is set for release on September 9.

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