In the grim darkness of the far future, there is nothing but war. But in the nicely decorated offices of Relic in downtown Vancouver, there is nothing but love. Love for Warhammer. Plastic and lead space marine miniatures are carefully arranged on almost every desk, monitor and cubical divider; there are entire rooms set aside for lunchtime games of 40k; and the lobby's home not only to a giant Blood Raven space marine whose sawblade we all diligently pose our necks against for photos, but a nine-foot statue tribute to the god-emperor of mankind.
So while it's something of a surprise to discover that the largely PC-focused studio is developing a Warhammer 40,000 console action RPG in a similar vein to God of War, it's really no surprise at all.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is a third-person, over-the-shoulder action game with RPG elements. In the grim darkness of the far future, Relic's writing a new story, in which a space ork army has taken over one of the Imperium's Forge worlds - where it manufactures everything that makes up the imperial war machine - and it's up to you, playing as a single space marine in a squad from an as-yet unidentified chapter, to go in and take it back. This you do by taking a blade or a bullet to everything that's green with a pulse.
During the in-game scenes shown at Relic's offices, space marines from the Ultramarine chapter (placeholders for now) chomp through masses and masses of orks, using jetpacks to propel themselves into the thick of them and spread them out by crashing down with a splash damage attack, before wading in with sawblades and hammers. Up against larger Nobs and Warbosses, they grind their blades against limb armour, or crash them into midriffs. From distance, they rely on their guns, emphasising their versatility, and Relic explains that the control scheme (although, again, just a placeholder) currently spreads melee attacks over face buttons and ranged ones onto the shoulders. Using Relic's new Phoenix engine - custom-built for the game - the enemy numbers, model quality and scale are every bit in-keeping with the 40k image that Games Workshop so valiantly asserts.
One genuine surprise though is the vantage point. Flying out to the studio with scant information to go on, I expected something closer to Diablo III, diverting off the route taken by Dawn of War II's single-player campaign in Blizzard's direction. On the contrary, producer Chad McFarlane almost bristles at the suggestion, and THQ's Sean Dunn emphasises the discretion. Dawn of War II and Space Marine are not seen as two sides of the same coin. "Diablo III is all abstracting combat," he says. "You click your mouse on a guy and your character goes and does his combat moves. Whereas this is a console action game where you're controlling every swing of the sword."
One thing Space Marine will have in common with DOWII though is the latter's newfound love of wargear, and that's where the RPG elements come in. "Definitely we're going to have progression and customisation be a big part of the game," says McFarlane. "So you're going to be able to upgrade your armour and weapons and gain powerful abilities."