Roll for initiative… For the Emperor!
The Warhammer 40k franchise is a universe, I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a very ardent follower of. But the name has been known to be associated with some good to great game titles, predating all the way to the RTS series Dawn of War from Relic Entertainment, as well as the spectacle action shooter that is Space Marine. Suffice to say, when relatively-unknown developer Full Control Studios decided to adapt Space Hulk, a WH40K turn-based board game, onto the PC and Mac – I couldn’t help but feel hopeful.
That hope quickly turned into spite, though. For all its intents and purposes, Space Hulk is precisely what it sets itself out to be – a digital representation of the board game its based on. However, there are certain elements that bring down this transitioning, things that while seem like small issues when viewed apart from each other, surmount to an overall package that’s just severely lacking and unpolished.
Its immediate from the start that there is no real narrative that ties missions together, so don’t expect to come for the story. You take control of the Blood Angels, a team of Space Marine Terminators who are tasked to reclaim their ship (aka the Space Hulk), which has been infested by a horde of Genestealers, a breed of the Tyranid race.
"Normally and understandably, you would come to expect that a turn-based game will require more time investment than most other games. However, Space Hulk makes you feel greatly aware of this more than any other turn-based game I have played in recent memory."
Visually, the characters themselves reminisce of the figures used for the board game, which is about as the most positive thing I can say about the visuals. Despite the inclusion of voice-acting for mission briefings and some repetitive sound bites, there is serious lack of personality for these long, arduous battles.
Normally and understandably, you would come to expect that a turn-based game will require more time investment than most other games. However, Space Hulk makes you feel greatly aware of this more than any other turn-based game I have played in recent memory.
Each squad member in your possession is given four command points to maneuver or face a different direction on the grid, along with options to attack, defend, open doors, reload, un-jam your bolters, or simply go into Overwatch mode (which is by far the most useful tactic you have against a wave of enemies that are primarily close-ranged). You’re also given an additional set of CP each turn at random, which acts as a shared pool for all squadmates.
These rules provide a necessary and welcome depth to how you can approach your enemies, but several factors can disrupt this flow. The game is quite difficult, even on the normal setting. Because of its board game roots, there are few things you’ll need to keep in mind when performing actions, such as the reliance on dice-rolling.
"Even if you can somewhat appreciate the various means of moving around your forces on the field from different locations, the constant slowdown issues when a high number of characters are on screen is hard to ignore."
Attacks can have a tendency of missing repeatedly, and if your bolter suffers a jam or you run out of ammo, you have no choice but to ride it out till your next turn. Thankfully, you can also play on an easier difficulty, which does away bolter jams altogether.
Its just a shame that despite providing an option to call back individual unit turns, there isn’t a way to speed-up the battles themselves. Characters move at an alarmingly slow pace, which seems like a deliberate decision in the game’s design. For people who want that authentic board game-like experience, they are more than welcome to have it.
For everyone else, it’s a frustrating exercise in patience, especially when you fail a mission and have to retry it. You can, however, move several units at once, but the game lacks a map-scrolling option via the mouse (you’ll have to use the WASD keys).
Even if you can somewhat appreciate the various means of moving around your forces on the field from different locations, the constant slowdown issues when a high number of characters are on screen is hard to ignore. Graphically speaking Space Hulk, while faithful to the look of what you expect in the WH40K universe, is by no means a looker or even demanding. Perhaps even more disappointing, is the music and audio design.
Too many times did I have sound effects go completely silent on me, which made the up-and-close camera shots of a Terminator mowing down a Genestealer incredibly awkward. Music for the most part seems non-existent, save for what’s played at the menu title.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Space Marine models remind of the figures used in the board game. Shoulder camera is a neat gimmick.
Punishing difficulty, even on Normal. Slow battles. Performance issues. Lacks the pizzazz of previous WH40K games.
If you're completely new to the Warhammer 40K lore, there's no reason to have Space Hulk as your first or even last experience. The price of admission is simply too high, and you're likely to have way more enjoyment from picking any of the aforementioned titles from Relic's reliable stable. Meanwhile, die-hard fans could probably pick it up on a sale, for the sake of either collecting or sheer boredom.