Based on Games Workshop's popular tabletop collectible miniature game, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine (THQ and Relic Entertainment, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated M for mature, $59.99) is a third-person shooter packing a stress-relieving punch for players looking for a bloody, epic battle set in a science fantasy universe, not starring Marcus Fenix.
So, Space Marine Captain Titus a muscle-bound tough guy with the appeal of Russell Crowe encased in armor comic book illustrator Rob Liefeld might have designed (remember X-Force's Cable or Spawn's Chapel?) is on a mission with fellow Imperium of Man warriors to protect humanity from the Ork and Forces of Chaos in the 41st century.
Stuck in yet another world ravaged by war (I really hate typing that), a player takes control of Titus and violently hacks and blasts his way through a five-chapter story, slaughtering enough green Orks (with British accents), to make Bilbo Baggins break out into a sweat.
For my tastes, any over-the-shoulder shooter of this variety lives and dies by its weapons selection, mix of melee and ranged attacks, and its poetic flow of combat.
Despite a smoky, muted, dirty visual design that doesn't stand up to its contemporaries (its often reddish tint does a disservice to some of the slick locations), developers did a solid job with the action.
Under weapons, a mix of assault rifles, pistols, machine guns, sniper rifles and plasma arms (I think you know what to do with a Meltagun) are standard.
Brutal melee weapons get tossed in to amp up the mature bloodletting. Those include a big sword with a chainsaw flying around the blade, a glowing power ax and a Thunder Hammer. Let your imagination fill in what these can do to the body of a tunic-wearing Ork.
For those looking to eviscerate the enemy in slow motion, a handy Fury meter fills up to unleash devastation and it's often a jaw-dropping moment as the 700-pound lug cuts through dozens of foes.
How about taking cover from that mass of enemies? Cover? You don't need no stinkin' cover. Somersault away from the masses a bit, then pull out a big gun and walk right into enemy fire, skewering an Ork along the way to regenerate health and leaving a pile of body parts in your wake.
Thankfully, other computer-controlled marines who often are at Titus' side are of little help, so the player doesn't have to worry about them hogging all the action.
Those tired of a rather lengthy campaign can move to an online, multiplayer component that incorporates some fun eight-versus-eight battles among a select number of space marines.
Modes including combat for points or a reaching a certain number of kills as players work toward a coveted customization feature to tweak armor, color and weapons of their character. It's not exactly like sitting at a table and painting a collectible miniature figure, but it's a tip of the Heavy Bolter (a devastating Gatling gun) to nostalgia meets game high-tech.
Lest I forget, I have to wonder which THQ executive uttered the classic Moe Howard line "I don't know. It was my idea but I don't think much of it" after releasing Warhammer 40,000 two weeks before the arrival of one of he most anticipated Xbox 360 games of the year, Gears of War 3.
The design similarities between the two are undeniable (though Warhammer can't possibly compete) down to the logos of an Ork's mug sprayed on crates, just like the red Gears' COG skull logo adorning numerous surfaces. Remember, however, that chainsword was a staple of the world of Warhammer well before a Lancer ever gutted a Berserker. Despite Gears' crushing presence, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is still a real adrenaline rush and quite the sweaty adventure.
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