If you’ve ever been exposed to the Warhammer 40,000 mythos, you’ll be aware that Space Marines are the business. They are eight-foot-tall, genetically modified super soldiers who can shrug off insane amounts of damage, wield destructive weaponry, and have a mythical presence in the greater Warhammer 40,000 universe. To be a Space Marine is to be a step above, and only a select few are ever given the distinct honor of joining their ranks. Perhaps a better way to describe them would be to combine all of the tactical acumen and precision of Master Chief with the brutality and presence of the Doom Slayer. It sounds powerful. It sounds unbeatable. But what if it wasn’t?
Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter
While many games within the Warhammer 40000 universe reinforce the legendary status of a Space Marine (Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine and Space Hulk: Deathwing, for example), there are few that actually put them on the back foot. After all, these guys are meant to do the killing, not the opposite. Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels abandons the gravitas and otherworldly capabilities of Space Marines by forcing them into an environment where they cannot operate at their peak, against enemies that are so lethal, so cunning, that not even their best armor can withstand a few hits. The game, while billed as a hybrid of first-person shooter and real-time tactical, plays more like a survival horror where the most powerful warriors humanity has to offer are ripped to pieces one by one in a cramped, labyrinthine spacecraft. It’s brutal, it’s challenging, and its terror-inducing elements elevate it from an action-strategy title into something more.
The Defenders of Humanity
Cast as a Terminator, an even more elite version of a Space Marine, the player must explore narrow corridors, issue commands to AI-controlled teammates, and keep their wits about them as Genestealers (think four-armed Xenomorphs) rush in from all sides. Bringing different weapons like a heavy flamethrower to block off hostile corridors or lightning-wreathed claws to enhance your melee capabilities will open new tactical avenues to better tackle missions. Regardless of how you outfit your team, the game demands that you use your brain (and not your Bolter) to complete objectives and come out in one piece.
While the gameplay isn’t fast, it is frantic. Your Terminators are ponderous and have none of the mobility that enemy Genestealers possess. Hallways require your team to move in single file and you better hope that the guy in the rear is equipped to hold the line when you get flanked. When rushes come, your fellow Marines will call out to you to indicate incoming enemies, weapon jams, or in sheer terror as Genestealers rip them apart.
Even when the gameplay has been mastered, Space Hulk’s difficulty will always keep you on your toes. It doesn’t matter how many Genestealers you kill because there are always more coming, and you’ll never know when your weapon will fail you at a critical moment.
Only In Death Does Duty End
Overall, the game feels reminiscent of Aliens. The tension is palpable, the threat could come from anywhere, and, when everything gets FUBAR, there’s a genuine sense of panic as high-pitched cries, thundering gunfire, and dialogue overlap into one jumbled mess. Every corridor you and your (more often than not) doomed squad navigate could be the last, and a grisly death is all but guaranteed if a Genestealer gets too close.
While some may not like the difficulty or the way that your squad might as well be a bunch of hapless grunts in armored coffins, the game does reinforce the grimdark nature of the Warhammer 40,000 setting. It’s not that your squad is incapable, or that your armor is useless; it’s that the threats a Space Marine has to go up against are so overwhelmingly powerful that it’s nothing short of miraculous that humanity has lasted this long. This is Space Hulk’s greatest lesson – it doesn’t matter how badass, how equipped, or how well-trained you are; your luck will eventually run out.