DGS Games

Space Hulk – PC Game Review

Bless your armor and consecrate your weapons as Grogheads boards the Sin of Damnation with Veteran Space Marine Craig Handler leading the charge.  Find out if Space Hulk, the latest PC game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, is worthy of the Emperor’s praise.

Developer & Publisher: Full Control Games

First, A Shameless Disclaimer:

For purposes of full disclosure, my love affair with all things Warhammer 40K began in the latter half of the 1980s, when I stumbled upon the first edition of Rogue Trader and a box of plastic Crimson Fist Space Marines at my local hobby shop.  Since that day, there has been no turning back.

For the next decade, I was an avid player of the table top game.  I fielded large armies of loyal Space Marines, Imperial Guard, and at one time, I even dabbled with the Eldar.  Although I no longer play the game on a table top with minis, I am still hopelessly obsessed with the universe, reading as much of the fiction as I possibly can, and pre-purchasing any game released electronically on PC or console.

Despite the above, somehow, I still managed to avoid buying or playing Space Hulk, the board game. I knew of its existence, but I suppose I preferred the wide open table-top battlefield to the confined corridor style maps encountered in a game of Space Hulk.

So, while I am admittedly biased towards loving everything Warhammer 40,000, I am a relative neophyte to the world of Space Hulk.  This, combined with my faith in the Emperor, I hope will permit me to approach this review with the love of a dedicated fan, but with the objectivity of a newcomer.

Note that some images have been lightened to show details.  It’s a pretty dark game, after all.

Brothers! War Calls You. Will You Answer?

PC Games set in the foreboding universe of Warhammer 40,000 are few and far between.  When news breaks of an upcoming title, excitement quickly reaches a fever pitch. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Space Hulk, the new strategy game developed by Full Control Games raised the hopes and expectations of 40K fans around the world.

For those of you who may live under a rock, Space Hulk is based on the best-selling board game first released by Games Workshop in 1989.  Space Hulk, the PC game, is a 3D digital turn-based tactical game that, according to the people at Full Control, “recreates the classic claustrophobic board game experience for single player and multiplayer cross-platform play.”

In Space Hulk, players control squads belonging to the veteran First Company of Blood Angels Space Marines as they assault deadly Tyranid Genestealers infesting the Sin of Damnation, an ancient conglomeration of derelict space vessels drifting aimlessly for centuries through the warp.  However, there is far more at stake in the upcoming battles than merely cleansing Imperial space of xenos taint.  Rather, the honor of the entire Blood Angels Chapter hangs in the balance.

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Behold! The Sin of Damnation

Each Space Marine clad in Tactical Dreadnought Armor (more commonly referred to as Terminator Warplate) is bound by blood oath to avenge the shame of a defeat which occurred six hundred years earlier, when nearly the entire Chapter was decimated aboard a similar drifting hulk.

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Sergeant Lorenzo and his Squad

Like the board game before it, combat in Space Hulk is set throughout the dark labyrinthine corridors and isolated chambers of the ancient space faring vessel. The action promises to be sudden, violent and extremely up close and personal. Although Veteran Terminators are unquestionably the toughest warriors within the legions of Space Marines defending humanity, they face a deadly challenge against a cunning enemy.  Each Genestealer possesses lightning-fast reflexes, a thick chitinous hide and formidable claws capable of tearing through even the toughest Terminator armor like tissue paper.

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The Forces of Good

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The Forces of Evil

Does Full Control’s adaptation of Space Hulk afford the Blood Angels with a chance to regain their lost honor, or must this venerable Chapter, and fans of the Warhammer 40,000 franchise, wait another six hundred years for chance at glory and redemption?  Read on, if you possess the courage, and find out.

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Xenos Taint Must Be Purged From This Galaxy

Into The Fires Of Battle! Unto The Anvil Of War!

Installation through Steam was quick and painless, with a rather small local space requirement of 1312 MB.  After numerous hours of play, I am pleased to report that I have not experienced any game stopping bugs or crashes to desktop.   There certainly are some minor bugs and glitches which Full Control appears to be attempting to redress.  As of this writing, Full Control has released three (3) small patches bringing the game to version 1.03.

These patches, which are automatically applied through Steam, address the most serious bugs, such as a reported memory leak, mission logic fixes, overlapping interface menus and some in-game graphical clipping issues and oddities.  Still, as of the current build, I do continue to experience some clipping problems (ie. observing Genestealer limbs through walls and doors) and some sound issues (i.e. absence of gunfire) on rare occasions.  As noted above, however, these issues are relatively infrequent and do not detract much from the gameplay experience.

It is reassuring that Full Control is actively supporting the game post-release and speaking with the community in public forums. Per a recent post in the official game forum, Full Control is committed to releasing small patches quickly and regularly.

As it is written in the Codex, so shall it be.

The manual and rules are contained within the game itself and are accessible through the main menu system.  The manual is broken down into three (3) sections, including, basic concepts, units and weapons.  Each section is brief, but Space Hulk is a relatively simple game with straight forward rules, so a large treatise is hardly required.

That being said, it would have been nice to have a .pdf manual to print, so that the rules could be accessed mid-mission. Moreover, Warhammer 40,000 lore is so rich, that having a fully-featured manual with imagery, technical specifications and history of the Blood Angels Chapter, veteran Terminators and  alien threats would have been a welcome touch.

In addition to the manual, the game comes with a three (3) mission mini-campaign which serves as a tutorial and introduction to the core game concepts, such as action points, command points, ranged and melee combat, overwatch, melee guard, sustained fire, and jams. By the time I was finished with the tutorial, I felt ready to take on the greater challenge of cleansing the Sin of Damnation in the main single-player campaign.

The Roar Of Engines, The Recoil Of Cannons. That Is Where The True Joy Of Battle Lies.

Space Hulk’s production values are reasonably good, but the introduction sequence and user interface unavoidably leave a low budget impression, especially when compared with prior Warhammer 40,000 games such as THQ’s Dawn of War and Dawn of War II.  The opening cut-scene, which is made from part CGI and part in-game sequence, does manage to succeed, although just barely, in capturing the cold darkness of the Warhammer 40,000 universe and the challenge which awaits the player in purging the Sin of Damnation of a Genestealer infestation.

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Down This Corridor, Evil Awaits

Unfortunately, that “lower budget” feel continues as the intro sequence comes to a close and the minimalist menu interface is loaded.  On the plus side, the menu system is simple and easy to navigate, and graphically, it is projected from the appropriately gothic bridge of a Blood Angels’ Strike Cruiser; the ominous Sin of Damnation can be seen floating off in the background.

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The Menu

From the menu, players can select a single-player campaign or mission or a multiplayer game via hotseat or internet.  Players can also view achievements, review the game manual and tinker with a customizable personal banner, all from the Librarium.

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Customize Your Own Banner

Unfortunately, Full Control really missed out on a great opportunity with the Librarium, which could have been used to satisfy the hordes of zealous Warhammer 40K fans, as well as to draw new initiates into the fold.  Instead, the Librarium is noticeably bare.  There is no Chapter history, no information regarding the lore of the First Company or the individual Terminators involved in the mission, no details regarding 41st millennium technology, weaponry or biological particulars of the enemies aboard the Sin of Damnation.  There is not even any detail regarding the relationship of the Blood Angels to the Sin of Damnation, or the importance of the mission to the Chapter at large.  As previously mentioned, the richness of the Warhammer 40,000 franchise cannot be overstated. Therefore, Full Control missed a golden opportunity to take advantage of the wealth of information which has been developed through decades of fiction and gaming.  Warhammer 40K fans would have appreciated this added “historical” touch, and it also would have encouraged players to really sink into the atmosphere of the game.  With just a little more creativity and effort, Full Control could have molded Space Hulk into something more than a PC adaptation of the old board game.

Everything Has a Purpose, So The Emperor Ordains.

Space Hulk provides the player with a few modes of play, including a brief three (3) mission single player training campaign and main single player campaign to retake the Sin of Damnation. There are also several different ways to connect with friends for multi-player games, including by hotseat and over the internet with friends, or random players.

The Sin of Damnation campaign is essentially the same fifteen (15) linked missions that shipped with the original board game.  While the mission objectives vary drastically, there is no real relationship from one mission to the next other than a brief narrative which attempts to set the stage for the next mission.  Indeed, other than the fact that each mission must be completed in succession in order to unlock the next in the chain, the missions could generally be played out in any order.  In fact, once all campaign missions have been successfully completed, the player can return to each mission to replay in any order.

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Selecting A Campaign Mission

Adding to the board game’s original missions would have been another way for the developer to make Space Hulk a game that really excites.  Instead, Full Control has again stuck to the same old formula.  Despite the fact that the missions are inherently varied and interesting, the game would have been much more immersive and strategically appealing if pre-mission load-out options had been included.  The pre-mission briefings are done well, but there is no option to select individual squads or Terminators, and no option to select gear and weapons.  In fact, other than melee and ranged weapons, there is no other gear to select or use within missions.  Something along the lines of pre-mission load-out options from SSI’s Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate would have been phenomenal here. Instead, each mission is played with the same Terminators, the same squads and the same pre-set weapons each time.  There is no variation and no ability to customize any detail or asset.

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Sergeant of the Squad, Accept Your Orders

Further reducing the player’s emotional investment in the game, Space Marines do not earn battle honors, experience, perks, or skills.  Their acts and deeds in battle are not recorded or tracked in any way.  Each Brother Marine has a meaningless name, and is utterly expendable in battle yet may be seen again in the next mission.  It does not matter how many Marines are lost in one mission (unless unit preservation is actually a mission objective) since they do not carry over to the next battle in any event.   Depending upon the mission design, players will always have a full roster of Space Marines to use in each mission. Prior victories, defeats, or losses simply make no difference.

Aside from the straightforward campaign missions, there is no skirmish mode, no quick battle creator, and no mission editor.  It would have been great if players could design their own maps and make their own missions.  Creating maze like corridors and then adding squads of Terminators and hives of Genestealers with the ability to then share new custom missions with friends would have opened up the game to tremendous replayability.  Again, Full Control let this opportunity simply pass by, perhaps in order to stick closely to the successful original board game formula (or, perhaps to release these features in a subsequent add-on, cha-ching!).

You Carry The Emperor’s Will As Your Torch, With It Destroy The Shadows.

In game graphics are well done.  In particular, the Terminator warplate is very detailed, making each Terminator look like a distinct individual with a unique history.  Heavy chains, parchment, and battle honors signifying past deeds all sway as Terminators lumber down corridors.  The Terminator models are definitely faithful to the franchise and it is certainly one of the things Full Control nailed down tight.  Muzzle flash from weapons’ discharge creates bright flashes which light up the dark corridors of the space hulk, as cascading bolter shells rain down to the floor below.  Force weapons like power swords, force axes, and power fists discharge crackling blue lightening, as they make righteous contact with the closing Genestealer brood.

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Die, Heretic!

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A lot of Jewelry For A Marine

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Feel The Emperor’s Wrath!

The corridors and chambers which make up the Sin of Damnation are well done, too.  Notwithstanding the fact that every battle is fought over sections of lengthy corridor and within small chambers, there is still a commendable amount of variety in tile sets. Some areas of the drifting space hulk are colorful, while others are dark and dull.  Debris, bones, and ancient relics are scattered about lending some impression that the space hulk has been drifting through space undisturbed for eons.

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A Dimly Lit Section Of Hulk

Genestealers, on the other hand graphically leave a bit to be desired. There is absolutely no variety amongst them, and quite frankly, while they look suitably alien and menacing, they just do not scare me.  The Genestealers should repulse the player, and cause feelings of dread as they are revealed to rush at unsuspecting Terminators.  Instead, they move clumsily, and seem to just flail about when stationary.  Fortunately, it is visually satisfying when Genestealers die.  When they are blown apart by bolter shells, body parts burst in all directions against a backwash of red gore.  Corpses pile on the deck, until either a Marine or another Genestealer passes over the fallen, causing the stacked dead to splatter. Purifying Genestealers with flame is equally satisfying, as a well-timed spray from a heavy flamer can incinerate hordes of incoming xenos.

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Bolts Blessed By The Omnissiah

 

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For Sanguinius!

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Boom!

The camera controls are fairly good and permit a high degree of flexibility with rotation and zoom.  With a little bit of tweaking, it is possible to get all necessary angles to assess the tactical situation, or capture the perfect screenshot.

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Brother Librarian In Action

Speaking of cameras, although this is a top-down isometric turn-based strategy game, each Space Marine has a live video feed displaying in first-person perspective his field of view.  The image quality is purposefully grainy and at times broken with interference.  This camera view which is set off to the top right of the screen has no tactical or strategic value, but is a little detail that adds to the immersion of the action. It is one of the few aspects of the game where Full Control broke with the tradition of the board game, and made this iteration of Space Hulk distinct in order to take advantage of the digital format.

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Brother Valencio’s Video Feed

In addition to the video feed, Space Hulk has an action camera.  Each time a Space Marine engages in combat, the view switches to one of several possible perspectives, giving the player a close up picture of the action.  These views are usually placed well, but on occasion, the player may get only a partial view of the action due to the placement of a wall or corner in relation to the perspective of the camera.  The action camera can be activated to trigger on every action, intermittently, or can be shut off altogether.

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Wait For It…

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 Action!

As noted earlier, there are some graphical clipping issues and abnormalities.  Frequently, Genestealer limbs are seen moving through doors and walls.  Additionally, bolter shells some times are sprayed through walls.  While this does not violate any line of sight rules, or substantively impact upon the game, it is a graphical abnormality that moderately detracts from the atmosphere of battle.  Some people have also complained of the slow movement animation of each Terminator Marine.  This does not bother me, as it adds to the impression that Terminator armor is massive, heavy and cumbersome.  As a practical matter, the player can move squad members while others are still moving into position, so the slow movement animation does not technically cause any delay.

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Ghost Bolts

With respect to sound, Space Hulk is a mixed bag.  Bolter fire is loud and pleasing and the whir of the spinning barrels from an assault cannon will bring a grin to the face of any 40K fan.  The heavy ceremite boots of each Terminator echoes against the metal deck as the Marines move through the hulk.

Genestealers screech as they are killed, and Space Marines shout a litany of curses to the falling aliens in deep monotone voices.  All of these sounds echo throughout the dark hallways of the space hulk giving the impression of solitude and emptiness. It is a strong auditory effect.

A tremendous oversight, however, is in-game music.  There is no sound track whatsoever in Space Hulk.  The right martial music played at the right times would have added deeply to the immersion.  Another missed opportunity by Full Control.

Through The Destruction Of Our Enemies Do We Earn Our Salvation!

Space Hulk succeeds where it matters most.  The game is fun to play and possesses that addictive magic that compels the player to go for “just one more round.”  Not unlike a game of chess, Space Hulk is played with a simple set of basic rules.  However, there is a lot of strategic depth hidden underneath the simplistic surface.

Players first deploy their Space Marines in pre-designated deployment zones.  When deploying multiple Space Marines, the order in which each unit is placed on the board can make the ultimate difference between a chance at victory, or near certain defeat.  For instance, some missions require the use of a special weapon, such as a heavy flamer, in order to complete a specific task.  Therefore, the Terminator armed with the heavy flamer must be placed in a location within the deployment zone that offers security and flexibility in movement.  Placing the mission critical Marine in the vanguard or in the rear position will most likely lead to mission failure. Compounding the issue is the limited amount of ammunition some weapons have. For instance, the heavy flamer only carries enough fuel for six shots.

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Deployment

Once deployed, the player is free to begin moving his squads of Terminator Marines.  Each Space Marine has four (4) action points which can be used to move, shoot, engage in melee combat, open or destroy doors, and activate special modes (ie. overwatch/guard, etc.)  In addition to action points, the player has command points that are available for use by any Space Marine.  Each turn, one D6 is rolled for command points providing the player with anywhere from one (1) to six (6) command points.  These points can be used by Marines for unanticipated emergencies, or to take additional shots at oncoming Genestealers, make additional moves, and get into that final overwatch position.

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 SGT Lorenzo

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Brother Zael and a Flamer

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Glowing Barrels Of An Assault Cannon

Genestealers also have predefined spawn locations, usually scattered on numerous sides of the map.  Spawning from these zones appears to be random.  When Genestealers appear on the map, they first take the form of a “blip.”  Each blip can represent anywhere from one (1) to three (3) Genestealers.  This number is supposedly known only to the Genestealer player and/or AI.  However, the blips actually appear as outlines of one, two or three Genestealers, so this information seems to be displayed to the Imperial player.  This is either a bug or an oversight that strips the Genestealer player of a critical strategic advantage.

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A gaggle of blips

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Classic TBS

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Active Genestealer Spawn Locale

The maps vary in size and shape, but each map is small enough to ensure initial combat within two (2) to three (3) turns. Blasting apart multiple Genestealers charging down a corridor in single file never seems to get old.  However, it can get frustrating.  The aim of each Marine seems to be better when firing on overwatch.  In my experience, Space Marines scored far more repetitive ranged kills under overwatch conditions, than when firing using action/command points during the Space Marine turn.  It is annoying to see a Terminator Space Marine expend all of his action points and any remaining command points firing at a Genestealer at near point blank range, only to miss repeatedly. In addition, Space Marine heavy bolters jam far more than one would expect from 41st millennium technology.  Although it only costs one (1) action point to clear a jam, this single point can be critical in permitting an onrushing Genestealer to get into melee range.

Obviously, Genestealers excel in melee combat where Space Marines are at a distinct disadvantage.  Some Terminators are equipped with specialized melee weaponry, such as lightening claws, thunder hammers, or power swords. These weapons provide bonuses and increase the Terminator’s chance of survival in hand-to-hand combat.  However, most Marines have only a power fist, which although capable of smashing through the thickest steel, still is usually insufficient to overcome the powerful and lightening fast claws of a Genestealer.

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Intense Melee Combat

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Death By Force Axe

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More Melee Action

The Genestealer AI seems to be a mixed bag.  In truth, there is not much for Genestealers to do, other than close the relatively linear distance to the Space Marines and attack.  However, on occasion, I’ve seen Genestealer traffic jams. At times, Genestealers are closing from two (2) different locations which meet at one point to form a single corridor.  If the single corridor is blocked, for instance, by flame or force wall summoned by a Brother Librarian, it is possible for Genestealers to just stand there trapped, waiting over a period of turns for the blockage to clear.  Other times, I have observed the Genestealers turn around and go back from the way they came in an attempt to find an alternate path around the blockage.  It is at these times that the game shines and the AI presents the greatest challenge.

Speaking of challenge, there is an optional turn timer for the Space Marine player.  However, I have never felt the need to use it, as I enjoy plotting my moves thoughtfully, without the stress of a time constraint. Others, however, may enjoy the adrenaline rush of being pressured into action. The timer may be activated at any time through the options in the game menu.

Only Faith In The Emperor And The Training I Am Going To Give You Will Save You On The Battlefield.

To sum things up, I believe this game was developed with the intent of recreating the suspense, anxiety, uncertainty, and fear described by fans of the classic board game.  This is a difficult task to accomplish when adapting a board game over to a digital format.  A large part of the appeal of a board game is the social aspect of sitting across the table from your opponent.  This is something that is unavoidably lost when playing in front of a PC (unless you are playing hotseat).

In addition, Full Control missed too many opportunities to transform Space Hulk into a really immersive stand-out title.  By adding just a little more complexity, such as pre-mission load-out options and the ability of Space Marines to gain experience and develop special skills, Space Hulk could have transcended the original board game to become something so much more.  Moreover, without a mission builder and/or map editor, the fifteen (15) included missions will eventually become stale, and as a result, replayability is limited.  With luck, Full Control will release additional content including map and mission editors.

Nevertheless, despite these few shortcomings, and a couple of technical glitches, Space Hulk really is a fun game to play. I have played for over six (6) hours and have still not completed the single player campaign (I got stuck on mission VII for a while).  Space Hulk is the kind of game that you may play for forty (40) minutes, here or an hour there.  It is easy to pick up, get a quick fix and then move on to something else.  Then, when the urge arises, come back to it just to try that particularly difficult mission one more time with a different strategy that was revealed while lying awake in bed.

 

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Purge the unclean

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Burn!

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The Purity Of The Flame

Space Hulk is a good turn-based strategy game that should appeal to diehard Warhammer 40,000 fans, but also is easily accessible to sci-fi strategy game enthusiasts in general.  At $29.99, I think Space Hulk is worth the price of admission.

Now, bless your weapons and go.  The Emperor commands it.

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PC System Requirements

Minimum Specs Reviewer’s Specs
Windows XP2 GHz Dual Core2 GB RAMNVIDIA GeForce 8600GT/ATIRadeon HD 2600 XT or greater2 GB available HD space Windows 8
3.4 GHz i7 Quad Core
12 GB RAM
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 Ti2 TB HD space

About the Author

An unreconstructed Texan by birth, Craig currently resides behind Yankee lines near New York City working oppressively long hours as a commercial litigation attorney. Turning his passion for military history into his own personal reality television show, Craig joined the military, but quickly learned that playing soldier is a lot more fun than cleaning bathrooms and filling sandbags. When his civilian work and military obligations permit him to come up for air, Craig enjoys playing PC and console games, reading, drinking Grey Goose, staring at his firearm collection and spending time with his lovely wife Amy and daughter Amelia.

 

2 Responses to Space Hulk – PC Game Review

  1. Brant Guillory says:

    Great review and awesome screenshots

  2. David Hoskin says:

    Really makes me want to get into the Warhammer 40K universe. Nicely done!

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