The latest edition of the Warhammer 40,000 rulebook is a weighty tome; 288 pages of background info, racial statistics, to-hit modifiers and all manner of vehicle, weapon and spell stats - enough to send those unfamiliar with Games Workshop's tabletop battle system running for the hills.
Of course, this excludes the small library of supplementary Codex manuals - one each for the main combatants, the many dozens of novels and, of course, the monthly hot-fixes applied via the ever-present White Dwarf magazine. It wouldn't be stretching the truth to say that, apart from Tolkien's, George Lucas's and our own, few worlds have been so mapped, written about and fought over as those which play host to humanity's struggle in the 41st millennium.
Yet as you may already be aware, distilling this wealth of information into something more interactive has been a thankless task for a number of games developers over the years; most, if not all of the more memorable efforts being direct translations of the tabletop hobby. But these titles have never fully realised the universe in which they're set. This is because, in faithfully minimising the exhaustive rules for a smaller playing field, they've generally ended up as convenient revisions of the real thing, their exclusive benefit being that you don't have to invest time and money in a lead army to play them.
Theatre Of Blood
In transposing the strategy of Warhammer 40,000 from tabletop to desktop, Dawn Of War developer Relic has approached things differently and focused more on the iconic imagery that punctuates the rulebook, rather than the rules themselves.
Moving from a turn-based model to the antithesis of real-time - meaning whole chapters have been ruthlessly culled - is a brave step sure to irk the purists. However, after we finally managed to distract ourselves from painting the miniature figures to actually play Dawn Of War, we reckon even the most battle-hardened tabletop trialists would be lying if they weren't impressed by the visuals. Here, for the first time we get to witness the true brutality of the 40K universe.
You gawp in wonder at squads of Space Marines unloading their bolters into ranks of advancing Orks, dreadnoughts with power saws slicing through crowds of melee troops and whirlwind missile launchers peppering the landscape. Before, you needed dice and a tape measure to appreciate the carnage.
However, not only is Dawn Of War the most visually impressive game ever with the Warhammer moniker, it's certainly the most violent. Indeed, few first-person shooters offer as much in-yer-face gore - when you slow down the action, it's almost balletic as arteries are opened, drenching the screen in arcs of claret.
In terms of the gameplay on offer, Dawn Of War isn't quite as distinctive. Resource management is kept to a minimum, with points earned through capturing and holding victory locations. The more locations you hold, the quicker your points rack up and the more units and structures you can bring into play.
That aside, the mechanics of the game will be familiar if you've played a RTS in the last few years. Warcraft III is the closest in scope and setting, as upgrades to current units and ever more devastating units become available as your field base expands with new and upgraded buildings.
I Wanna Be A Marine
But of course, this being Warhammer, it's the units themselves rather the manner in which they come into play that's most important - and we have to say that we've rarely enjoyed such a diverse spread.