Space Hulk Vengeance of the blood angels is a child of Games Workshop that began life in 1989 as a board game, one that proved popular as the series spawned a range of books and video games, thus expanding its lore and universe.
It must be said that the Amiga version was excellent and EA was doing good things with the acquired license. But when they created Space Hulk on the 3DO, they didn’t just create one of the systems best games, but one of the best video games in the Games Workshop franchise. The fact only one other game comes close to date, is testament to the developers craftsmanship.
Space Hulk draws heavy on its roots, utilising the cunning strategy of the board game, extrapolating the atmosphere from the novellas and creates one of the most unique and enthralling games I’ve had the pleasure of playing. And where Space Hulk excels as a game, is in the demands it makes of you as the player.
You command a squad of space marine veterans known as a Terminators. Terminators combine centuries of experience with some of the best armour and weaponry in the Imperium. Baring tactical dreadnought armor, they are revered as invincible, unstoppable walking tanks that never yield. They are the greatest and boldest of heroes from mankind. It’s your mission to stop a gargantuan, out of control, spaceship from coming into contact with the Imperial planet, Delvar III. Your Chapter, The Blood Angels, has the honor of diverting its course to save the planet.
The Space Hulk in which you traverse is home to something not of man, but beast. And these beasts, these Genestealers as they are known, know no fear.
The game starts with a list of A-to-B orders, under the guidance of a motion tracking map. Waypoints are marked and your sergeant communicates via radio chatter what objectives are assigned to you.
– Pick up item.
– Seal door.
– Cover position etc…
Should one of your comrades fall, their orders may be reassigned to you. So it’s in your interest to watch their backs whenever you can.
It soon transpires on the later levels no such guidance is given, and decisions must be made under pressure in real time. You no longer follow orders, but execute them, and as the battle conditions change, you have to adapt quickly to get your brethren from one mission to the next.
Your Terminator squad is equipped with different weapon load outs, so you’ll have to choose carefully how to manage them and decide if they move out in pairs, or hold back on overwatch. You will also need to manage space as these slow moving heavyweights can’t always move side-by-side in the tight confines of the environment.
The timed management map screen is fantastic – no indefinite pause to catch your breath, and later missions can have you plotting courses for up to 10 Terminators. Take too long, and the infinite spawn will resume and zero in on your position.
The long straight corridors provide a strategic advantage as you station sentries equipped with bolters, funneling the Genestealers toward a different route. Diverting the horde isn’t always easy – bolters jam, and your sentry can be forced into a Melee combat. Sometimes you can’t always take control as you may be dealing with another problem, and this can see carefully stationed troops out flanked causing more carnage.
Seeing your brothers cut through reiterates how big a threat the enemy presents and how just letting one of your marines fall victim can let the mission fall apart in seconds. Those moments are gut wrenching as you see well laid strategy plans unravel around you and then you know it’s only a matter of time until the horde comes for you.
That threat, that pressure, is a constant force in the duration of the game, much like a deep sea diver spiraling downward into an abyss, the pressure intensifies the further into the recesses of the hulk you go.
This feeling is one of the greatest strengths in Space Hulk, and something much missed in recent releases of the series. It’s this in part that makes Space Hulk such an excellent game, because it understands and respects the source material while presenting it efficiently in a video game format. The atmosphere is electric and it makes the game very addictive.
There are three dynamic scenarios, the map screen, the first person viewpoint and the hand-to-hand combat. Each is well presented, with the melee combat sections being a visual highlight.
The map screen is an overhead view of the environment where spawn points and objectives are marked. Fog of war is present on some and you’ll have to explore the wreck to make those areas visible. You can zoom in and out, select troops and place orders – and even while moving from the soldiers vantage point, the map remains present.
Moving around through the eyes of a Terminator is excellent. They feel somewhat cumbersome but powerful, and slow turns bring to light just how fast the enemy can bare down on your position. Textures and sprites are well drawn. Animations are smooth and the AI, even now, still surprises, catching you out and forcing you to engage in a tense battle hand-to-hand. Weapons range from Bolters to Flamers and each comes with its own risks. Misuse of a Flamer can see more than one fatiality on your side.
The pre-rendered animations of the Genestealers look fantastic, even today, and further enhances the visceral nature of the combat. Each encounter presents a different animation, and you have to time your parry, with the ‘B’ button, to deflect blows. Time them wrong and it’s instant death.
The sound design is some of the best. Each character is superbly voiced with one calling the next by their kin, asking them to move if their path is obstructed. Battle cries can be heard over chatter as can the dying breaths of the fallen. The environmental acoustics echo a sense of dread, as well as the beep of an incoming foe.
All the above culminates into an encapsulating atmospheric experience that has you moving through detailed 3-D environments, constantly under pressure and overcoming the impossible. You feel great reward when you complete missions, and relief when you survive an encounter. This game is an outstanding achievement by EA and their developers. They should be applauded for their work and translation of Space Hulk universe.
It’s a real shame the Playstation and Saturn ports were poor and sales for the 3DO weren’t up to scratch. Many missed out on what is one of the best titles for the 3DO and one of the best games of all time.
This remains one of my favorites, and I highly recommend retro gamers dig this old gem up.
Space Hulk Vengeance of the Blood Angels rating breakdown explained here
Space Hulk Vengeance of the Blood Angels review by Ash RGB_RetroBlog
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