The fictional universe of Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 IP is a place rife with madness, violence, lurking horrors and a representation of mankind that is far from being “the good guys”. A universe that is so bleak, so nihilistic to the point of parody would mean that it is rife for some grand tales of horror. Yet, most horror in Warhammer 40,000 is indirect—simple gore, demons, and bad endings for all involved. Direct horror stories are a relatively new venture for Games Workshop (their novel publishing house Black Library now has a dedicated horror vertical and the forthcoming Eisenhorn television series will undoubtedly be soaked in horror motifs) and their video game licensing has yet to see a true horror experience be born. But that does not mean that there aren’t chills and terrors to be found in Warhammer 40,000 themed video games. In fact, here are five of the scariest Warhammer 40,000 video games that you should play and, in turn, be scared by.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine (2011) by Relic Entertainment
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is a deceptively simple video game (and a rather blunt game-title). In it, players control a titular space marine—gene-enhanced humanoid beings of war and ruin who are clad in thick power armor and use larger-than-life weapons—sent to a forgeworld beset by cockney-accented Orks. Players shoot and slice their way through the green menace leaving only body parts and viscera in their wake. It all plays quite well and still holds up swimmingly, and it is a real shame that it is not backward compatible. And at face value, not much of it seems scary. Yet, once Chaos marines (evil space marines) and daemons of the warp get involved, things take a turn for the phantasmagoric in the creepiest ways possible. Oh, and the fact that every step of the way, the space marine story is filled with fascistic turns that will make anyone (including the story’s main character, Captain Titus) think twice about their in-game actions.
Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor – Martyr (2018) by NeocoreGames
An action RPG in the Warhammer 40K universe? Yes, please! Well, Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor – Martyr is exactly that. It is Diablo in space with oppressively grimdark visuals and lore. Far from a perfect game (just look at its name), Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor – Martyr does excel in making the player feel one with the 40K setting. Planets are desolate and in varying states of decay and ruin. Monsters are around every corner and they range from “just scary” to downright petrifying. But this is 40K after all, so they all pop and tear apart in appropriately gory fashions. In some regards, players become the true horror of the experience—an overleveled Inquisitor mowing down swarms of lesser foes is, well, a power-trip for the ages. But if the game tips the level system against the player, then combat becomes a scary exercise in attrition. Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor – Martyr is a delightfully eerie top-down experience that is imbued with horror from its very first screen—a gothic starship meandering through the miasma of space.
Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior (2003) by Kuju Entertainment
Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior is a deceptively run-of-the-mill early 2000s first-person-shooter. Yet, players do not play as space marines or the Imperial Guard. Instead, players are dropped into the alien boots of the Tau—a blue, tall and lanky alien species who believes in “The Greater Good” and go to war in sleek, futuristic war machines. Playing as a Fire Warrior, war is fought with lasers and grenades. Rooms are cleared, enemies are put down, and all is as it should be in the dark future of the 41st Millenium. Fire Warrior only becomes truly terrifying when the player-controlled Tau face-off with space marines. We are so used to seeing this fictional universe through the lens of space marine’s helmet so it’s only right that we should experience what it must be like to be on the business end of their zealous wrath. And, well, it is wholly unnerving. These weapons of war are damage sponges whose weapons crack with apocalyptic fury, and as your fellow Tau blow apart all around you, you just might find yourself taking a break to catch your breath as the terror of war ramps up in Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior.
Space Hulk (1993) by EA
Space Hulk is a bonafide classic that is rarely talked about today. Released for the PC and MS-DOS in 1993, Space Hulk saw players controlling cumbersome space marines in bulky terminator armor as they fought to clear derelict spacecraft of the genestealer hordes. Genestealers are fast, near-feline alien creatures that live to slice, chomp, and reign brutal death on anyone who crosses their path. Based off of the popular tabletop game, Space Hulk is a slow and claustrophobic tactical experience that is imbued with such intense claustrophobic horror that each move becomes a mountain unto itself. Death comes quickly and victory has to be earned through blood and loss. The game is so steeped in atmosphere that it is almost easy to forget that, above all else, Space Hulk is a stellar tactics title Yet, unlike most tactics games, Space Hulk will make you fear what lurks in the dark.
Space Hulk: Deathwing (2016) by Streum On Studio & Cyanide Interactive
Like Space Hulk before it, Space Hulk: Deathwing concerns itself with terminator space marines ordered to purge genestealers from derelict ships. But in Space Hulk: Deathwing players experience the claustrophobic terror and brutally swift combat encounters in first-person. Yes, Space Hulk: Deathwing is a co-op first-person survival shooter that is a mix of Left 4 Dead with more exploration, as the game’s environments are large. But around most corners and behind most mag-locked doors lie hordes upon hordes of the genestealer menace. Combat is brutal. Space marines and genestealers rip and tear with unbridled fury and, well, limbs and innards cake every step of the terminator marines’ journey. When put into the first-person perspective the player experience of Space Hulk: Deathwing becomes all the more terrifying. Your field-of-vision is brought in and obfuscated by the heads-up-display of your terminator armor, and genestealers can attack from any and all directions, or from everywhere all at once. It is a claustrophobic experience in every regard no matter how open it gets, and on harder difficulties, it becomes a truly harrowing slice of horde-based survival horror.