Who'd have thought that transplanting The Lord of the Rings (we mean the grimy books, not the glossy movies) into space and the far-flung future would have been so successful? But in a sense that's what Games Workshop did with its Warhammer 40,000 universe.
Starting life as a tabletop role-playing war game in the mid-eighties, it's since expanded (like any healthy universe should) to encompass spin-off games, modelling and painting pursuits, novels, computer games, clothes, comic books and even a record label.
So the arrival of Warhammer 40,000: Glory in Death on the N-Gage was, perhaps, inevitable. Why it's taken so long to arrive is less obvious, debuting as it has in the twilight of the handset's days. But there's a delicious irony in the game's title, regardless.
Set on the war-torn battlefields of the 41st millennium, Glory in Death places you in charge of a force of Space Marine, Ork, Eldar or Chaos Marine troops. Over the course of four individual yet interwoven storylines, you'll need to achieve various objectives and fight off your enemies in order to save the day and/or please your twisted masters.
Play as the Imperium's finest, the Space Marines, and you'll assume the role of a Space Wolves commander investigating an ominous radio silence from a far-flung outpost, for example. Sign up with the raucous greenskins, however, and you'll be embarking on a 'Waaagh!' (Orkish for a good scrap) for the sheer pleasure of it.
Consequently you arrive at the nucleus of the W40k universe, a tabletop-like playing experience that's turn-based and viewed from above. In fact, it's impressive how faithful the developers have been to the original miniature model-based game, whilst simultaneously adding enough modern video game touches to make it attractive to those of us who wouldn't know a Gretchin from a Genestealer.
The individual battles that you fight, whether they be part of a campaign, a Bluetooth or hot-seat multiplayer game or a quick skirmish, are strictly regimented and follow a set order.
To begin with, you choose the troops that you're going to fight with from a selection including commanders, tactical squads, fast attack soldiers and heavy support units. Each class boasts a handful of different troop types; when you're picking from the heavy support class, for instance, you can choose from a selection of tanks or heavy-weapon equipped foot soldiers. They all have varying qualities and, more importantly, they consume different amounts of your tokens.
These tokens are a key component of Glory in Death – they determine the size and strength of your forces by placing a ceiling on how big any one army can be in a battle. In the campaign mode this forces you to tailor your troops to the objectives that must be achieved; in multiplayer battles it ensures that neither side grossly outnumbers the other.
When the armies have been chosen, each side deploys them on the battlefield in a designated area. Then, based either on a random decision or the scenario being played out, one player starts first and takes a turn. Beginning with a movement phase, you advance your troops into position before firing at the enemy and, finally, engaging in any hand-to-hand combat that's arisen.
It's then the opposing side's turn, then yours, then theirs and so on, until one side reaches their objectives or the turn limit that features in certain scenarios expires. As dry as it sounds, it makes for an involving and unique playing experience, one that's far removed from the turn-based action seen in Pathway to Glory.
Tactics and strategy are pushed straight to the fore. Will you keep your troops hidden, or make a run for the ruins that you need to capture? Will you stand your ground and fire, fully-automatic, at the charging enemy hoards, or prepare to meet them in hand-to-hand combat?
It's this element of Glory in Death that'll appeal or repel you. If you're a casual strategy gamer, you'll feel far more at ease with the 1940-set antics of World War 2 as opposed to the intergalactic conflict of the year 40,000.
But if you're a W40k fan or someone who's after a tougher challenge than that offered by the Pathway to Glory games, Warhammer 40,000: Glory in Death really is a perfect strategy swan-song for the current N-Gage.
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