Game Workshop's Warhammer series of tabletop strategy games spawned a bunch of spin-offs and spin-offs of spin-offs. First launching in 1989, Space Hulk took the sprawling sci-fi setting of Warhammer 40K and shrunk it down to the small claustrophobic corridors of many a derelict spacecraft. These were known as Space Hulks, and that premise begat a rather successful videogame franchise, including this second entry from Electronic Arts; Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels.
The Blood Angels are the oldest chapter of space marines, monastic mercenaries with a mission to stop the parasitic Genestealers taking over entire planets. Think of it as a contractually distinct version of Aliens and you're pretty damn close to the backstory. The Genestealers sure share more than a few similarities with the xenomorph.
The opening cutscene narrates a brief history of the Genestealers and the Terminator
mech suits like the world's most foreboding Natural History programme.
Other than the hulking mechs known as Terminators (no relation to that other James Cameron property), the main difference here is that the aliens themselves are super easy to kill. At least one on one. The explode in only a few small hits of your basic weapon if one gets close enough for hand-to-hand combat, you can mash the attack button stab it. Despite this, Space Hulk is a notoriously difficult game, and the reason for this is the sheer number of enemies you may have to fight through. The likelihood of success in those close combat sections decreases after each successive encounter and if you fail, you'll be dead in one hit. If you're going to have any chance at surviving 'til the end, you'll need to use tactics.
To be fair, the game does ease you in with a false sense of security. To begin with, you play as a lowly grunt, unable to give orders so it plays more or less like a first-person shooter. Something of a poor one, to be honest, so don't go in expecting it to be more like Space Hulk: Deathwing from a few years ago. Your mech moves and turns slowly giving you little chance to shoot that approaching Genestealer before it reaches you, but at this early stage they're still a pushover.
Some of your objectives include burning areas (left) or finding artefacts (right)
When you get promoted to Commander, that's where the real fun begins. You can now give basic orders to the entire squad or even take direct control of them. Whether it be defending a spot on the map, picking up artefacts or burning down libraries, they'll perform your tasks to the best of their abilities. This change in direction comes thick and fast and makes for a very steep learning curve. You'll have to learn to lose direct control over some mission objectives and just let the others do it, otherwise, you could face death.
One of the early objectives given to you is to close off a few doors so that the pesky lifeforms cannot swarm through. Some of these orders are given to others, leaving you to focus on your singular objective without fear that the other doors will remain open. When you become commander, you have to give these orders and can easily let in an unwieldy number of alien spawn so you really have to think about it all.
You'll be looking at your map a lot, not just to get your bearings
but also to review your objectives and issue orders to your squadmates.
You give orders via the map screen, which you have limited access to. A timer will count down while looking at it and only regenerate slowly when you've put it away. This forces an urgency to your decision making and to its credit, it succeeds at that goal without becoming overly annoying. While on this screen, you can give direct orders your team, see your objective markers, enemy spawn points and the location of all known marines, aliens and items. It's a useful device that you'll be referring to often.
Once you close the map, you'll take control of the last marine you selected. He'll even carry out any orders you may have given too, though can still cancel and override this by taking the reigns directly. This will solve some of the stupid AI they appear to be encumbered with. Vengeance of the Blood Angels was first released in 1995 for the 3DO so I can't be too harsh in this respect, but it will often become an issue. Any troubles they have in pathfinding or defence is best learned through trial and error and you'll be going through a lot of error before you understand their limitations even slightly.
Some of the tougher enemies in the game. Here we have a Magus (left)
and a Chaos Space Marine (right).
Some terminators specialise in certain weapons. Some can carry assault weapons or flamers that give them extra attack types, but their ammo can decrease quickly if you're not careful - another undesirable feature of their limited intelligence. Some of these abilities are needed to complete a level, such as the aforementioned book burning, so you'll need to keep a close eye on them.
Once you're bored of the main campaign, there are a number of 'virtual training missions'. Here, classic levels from both the original game on PC and the tabletop game can be found, complete with updated visual and controls. It's a nice thing to have, more than doubling the number of playable levels, but I'm convinced a fair amount of them are impossible to complete.
The opening menu. The left door is the many 'virtual training missions'
and the right is your campaign (left). Whatever you choose, you may succumb to cheating (right)
I never could complete the campaign, or get very far. For this review, I typed in 'ineedhelp' at the main menu and found myself with a number of cheat options, including invulnerability. Now, I'm not above cheating in games but more so than any other, I felt a tinge of guilt playing this way. Space Hulk thrives on its difficult tactical gameplay and turning this mode on removes that. You don't need tactics if you can't die and it quite frankly ruined the entire experience. It also left me at something of a conundrum, because I still couldn't get very far. Farther than I did back when I first played it on the PlayStation in 1996, but still not far in the grand scheme of things.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy my time with Space Hulk. I did. I'm just not very good at it. I certainly don't have the time and patience to play enough of it within the timeframe I gave myself to write this review. I'm sure the series has a large number of past and future fans that will revel in the challenge, and for that, I guess I should recommend it. If the thought of something insanely difficult puts you off, though, steer clear.
To download the game, follow the link below. This is a custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses dgVoodoo in conjunction with DxWnd to run on modern systems. Manual included. Run the Setup shortcut or HULKSET.EXE in the 'DxWnd/SHVOTBA' folder to change the game settings. Tested on Windows 10.
27.09.2023 - Version 2 - Tweaked DxWnd game configuration to help with crashes.
File Size: 379 Mb. Install Size: 536 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Watch the Video Review!
Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels is © Electronic Arts
Warhammer, Warhammer 40K & Space Hulk are © Games Workshop
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me