REVIEW: Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels

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Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels, based on an out of print Games Workshop board game (owing lots to the movie Aliens), is the sequel to an older PC game simply called Space Hulk, which I am also a veteran of. Putting all that aside, from here on, Space Hulk refers to Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels.

Space Hulk turns the board game into squad-based tactical shooter with lots of corridors. I would’ve really liked a nice direct turn-based adaptation, but actually, the game captures the feel of its source material well. You’re the boss of a space marine squad in the halls of a derelict ship infested with despicable clawed aliens that far outnumber you and pop out of the walls, swarm, and other bad behavior. Throughout the game you switch between first person view where you control a marine and shoot, and a map view where you command your squad. The first person portion suffers from unreliable hit detection, listless control, and jerky scrolling. This is fine by me, since then shooting becomes secondary to tactics. Usually I let the AI control my point men as much as possible. They can make better sense of the touchy aiming and mostly luck-based melee combat. With the computer doing your legwork, most of your time will be spent looking at the map (where the action still goes along in real time), worrying about your squad’s defensive position. It’s all very intense and suspenseful, especially the harrowing moments when you’ve got to break your formation and advance. The intriguing and stressful tactical choices never stop: Do you sacrifice half the squad to guard the advance of other half? How many marines will be enough hold no man’s land while the rest flank? Then there are all the parts where suddenly, there’s a gap in your defense, and what do you know, that’s it, everyone died

The stress is multiplied by the size and devious design of Space Hulk’s maps, each filled with lots of ways to be flanked, ambushed, etc. And when you some of the missions can take an hour (of course, with no mid-mission saves), the tenseness might be mistaken for frustration. The difficulty ramps up fast too, with the “Please god, let me live!” moments starting on mission 3. Sure, it feels unfair most of the time, but it compliments the atmosphere. If you were really in the middle of an alien hive, it wouldn’t be fair, and conquering those insane odds feels good. There is a lot of content too—dozens of one-off maps with cool names like “Suicide Mission” and a lengthy (and probably impossible) campaign.

Full of exciting tactical situations and ways to be killed, Space Hulk is equal parts fun and fury inducing. Until the board game gets perfectly computerized, it’ll do.

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