Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
Space Marine's greatest potential banana skin was always going to be the timing of its release. In a year that will see no shortage of epic, cinematic action shooters, it faces a tough gig to stand out from the crowd while conforming to expectations.
At a preview in Dublin this month, we're given a change to see how this rather charmingly over-the-top take on the genre is attacking the problem, and the answer is that developer Relic is taking the game's adopted nomenclature of 'Gears of Warhammer' in good humour and with no small amount of pride.
Certainly, as Gears of War works its way towards a boldly apocalyptic finale in a genre not known for its belly laughs (unless you count the GIANT WORM), a little unashamedly light yet violent relief will likely turn out to be a welcome addition to the release schedule.
We're given the opportunity to sample four of the game's levels. In the first on show, 'Best Laid Plans', we're tasked with accessing the control room of a towering crane, spanning the sky and acting as the key to control of the awesome weaponry produced on this factory planet.
It all starts predictably enough with an introduction to combat basics, seeing off the first few waves of the Ork invasion force as you trudge across the landscape. But what begins as a typical run-and-gun through swarms of enemies shifts abruptly as the floor collapses, taking you deep into an underground complex littered with broken metal and twisted shards of glass. We're in tetanus hell.
The combat in general is sharp and tactile, with finely tuned rumble feedback. Enemies are dispatched with blood-bursting ferocity and a continued onslaught increases the player's fury meter. Once you've filled this it's possible to unleash a particularly messy barrage of body blows.
Several corridors and relentless firefights later, we reach a group of lieutenants and what follows is a teasing glimpse of the potential for Space Marine. Rocket-launching Orks appear on the railings while your squad members report directional fire. From north, east, south and west, endless hordes of invaders congregate on your camp. It's a cackling, adrenaline rush of relentless action and proves very appealing.
But at this point it also becomes clear that there's some fine-tuning to be done around player awareness of the less exciting details – ammunition levels, for example. At the moment it's all too easy to find yourself too focused on the relentless action in front of you rather than the logistical disaster looming in the bottom-right of your screen.
Death, when it comes, is more often than not a result of an unexpected wave of rabble-rousing Orks coupled with a reload mechanism that's brutally unforgiving if neglected. Likewise, the health system smudges between green, amber and red while sat some way outside of your forward-focused tunnel vision.
And so while the checkpoint system is generous, it's also necessary at this stage of development. With a little tinkering, the pace of the action will match the developer's clear intent – to provide a rollercoaster experience, rather than the usual series of punishments designed to artificially extend a game's length.
While the game is currently in alpha, the frame-rate is astonishingly steady given the activity taking place on the screen: the invading Ork warriors, the delicate lighting and shadowing work that plays across the environments, and the excruciatingly complex dismemberment that hallmarks the action.
The game will ship with 15 different weapons and in 'Factory Approach' we get the chance to sample the Plasma Gun. A sticky, splashy method of dispatch, it nevertheless carries the same powerful sense of feedback as the other weapons, it's overheating mechanism rumbling ever more urgently in your hands.
The 'Adeptus Mechanicus Vengeance Launcher' allows the player to subtly plant up to five explosive devices on a group of enemies before drawing fire on the group, detonating the charges and switching to more reliable burst weaponry to finish off the stragglers.