A tense, slow-paced tactic game that doesn’t mind wiping your entire squad at the drop of a hat.
The Warhammer 40,000 universe is a vast and sprawling place. The series has gone on for over 30 years. During that time, it has ushered in so many iconic factions, visuals, and quotes that its place in nerd culture is firmly cemented. There have also been games and over the years, tons of games based on numerous corners of the 40K universe have found their way to market, with varying success. And with this recent outing, Space Hulk could be getting the adaptation that it’s always deserved.
For those of you not in the know, Space Hulk: Tactics is an asymmetric turn-based strategy game where bulky armored Space Marines face off against a swarm of Tyranid aliens aboard derelict spaceships. Directly adapted from the board game, Space Hulk: Tactics may just be the most accurate recreation of the tabletop experience to date. More important than that though, it is a fun video game on its own, with a few setbacks.
"If you want to create a campaign to rummage through by yourself or with friends, it’s now possible and it really brings the experience closer to its tabletop roots."
There are two campaigns available to play: the Blood Angel side as well as the Genestealers side. Each comes with pretty comprehensive tutorials to get even newcomers started on their 40K journey and a decent amount of dialogue and story beats to keep you invested in the goings-ons. There’s a skirmish mode where you can go online to play missions other players have created or to even play against other people online. Though I was not able to find an online match, there’s no end of user-created missions for you to peruse. If you want to create rather than play, there is also a mission editor in place. If you want to create a campaign to rummage through by yourself or with friends, it’s now possible and it really brings the experience closer to its tabletop roots.
The Blood Angels are the more tactical and methodical faction in this title. Their gameplay is based around slow, planned-out movement and decision-making. Due to their bulky frame, mobility is the biggest hurdle to overcome in order to use them to their full potential. Every action, whether it’s moving, firing a weapon, or opening a door uses up an action point from your reserve. Even turning your character to face a certain direction will use up action points, so Space Marines oftentimes don’t move very far. When engaging an enemy, they have the advantage of long-range weaponry and there are also some units that can move and fire without using action points. This is the side that requires the most thought put into their moves and actions. You’re constantly being hunted and are never fast enough to outrun your opponents. Constantly changing and moving your defensive lines is the name of the game for the Blood Angels.
The Genestealers on the other hand are almost the exact opposite from the Blood Angels. Playing as them, you have an infinite amount of units at your disposal and you’re much more agile than the Space Marines. The goal playing as the Genestealers is to stop the Blood Angels from escaping the cold confides of the Space Hulk. The Genestealers spawn in bulk and this is necessary as you are required to get in close to attack since they can only attack through melee. You’re meant to lose expendable units and keep rushing the enemy until they break. The gameplay is very different from the Space Marines and can almost seem braindead against the somewhat lacking AI. But the experience is very unique and once the challenge is there, you end up feeling less like a part of a zerg rush and more like a hoard of Xenomorphs, stalking your prey and striking where they least expect.
"Maneuvering around this limited area becomes increasingly difficult the more units you accumulate and it oftentimes leads to awkward moments where you have to waste turns just rearranging them."
After a successful mission, your team can get outfitted with new and improved weapons as well, incentivising smart play. Keeping units alive from mission to mission suddenly becomes much more important when the chances of giving your Marine a drill fist. Units are all customizable and everything from their class to their shin guard color is up to your preference. There are also cards in place that you can utilize on your turns. These cards are used to give boosted stats or guaranteed hits on any given turn. Or you can forgo the benefits and just convert them into more action points. Finding this balance is something that adds a bit of depth beyond the positioning of units and the utilizing of skills.
Gameplay can be a mixed bag. Your team will require a lot of proper planning and positioning in order to cover each other’s weaknesses. Environments in this title subsist of series of linear hallways and chokepoints, which gives it a style of its own but can become samey after extended amounts of play. Coming from another tactical title like XCOM will require a little bit of adjustment if you don’t know what you’re getting into. And unlike that title, Space Hunk: Tactics doesn’t have any health bar in place. In this title, if you get hit, you die. There’s a definite rush from holding out with your team of marines against an encroaching horde and beating them back, barely making it to your objective. But when things go wrong, it can sometimes feels unfair.
The Blood Angels especially have a rough time. When holding down a position, all it takes is one bad dice roll for an entire squad to get easily get swarmed. Considering their limited mobility, it’s also no small task to make their way through a map to get to their objective. Considering that the Genestealers have an infinite stock of mooks to throw at you and also excel in close-quarters, all it takes is one break in the defensive line for tons of aliens to flood in and start hacking up Space Marines. However, the Genestealers have their own problems as well. With the cramped corridors of the Space Hulk, you oftentimes end up with a large number of units that get in each other’s way as you try to maneuver around and flank the Space Marines. Maneuvering around this limited area becomes increasingly difficult the more units you accumulate and it oftentimes leads to awkward moments where you have to waste turns just rearranging them.
"If you’ve ever been curious about the Space Hulk franchise and have wanted a good jumping-in point, this is a very welcoming experience for newcomers as well."
The game looks great though. In terms of presentation, every aspect of Space Hulk: Tactics is pristine. The look and feel of this title was obviously created with a lot of care put into it. The campaign has enough production value put into it that the dialogue is worth experiencing, although it is strictly aimed at players already familiar with the 40K lore. Environments and models are also rendered in a good amount of detail, something that is doubly apparent if you go into the first-person mode and start clunking around the Space Hulk as a Terminator. Though this isn’t really feasible from a tactical point of view, it is a great experience if you commit to a first-person only run.
Space Hulk: Tactics is a title that I’m sure would grow a faithful following regardless of its quality. Thankfully for Space Hulk fans, this title is worth their time and is an enjoyable game on its own merits. While there are a few setbacks that end up hampering the experience, the game gives players tools to create the kind of experience they want or to seek out fresh challenges other people have created. If you’ve ever been curious about the Space Hulk franchise and have wanted a good jumping-in point, this is a very welcoming experience for newcomers as well. You may not understand the significance of some characters or what they’re saying, but as long as you give your all for the emperor, you’re on the right track.
This game was reviewed on a Playstation 4.
Accurate representation of the board game, great presentation, many gameplay options available to players.
Somewhat braindead AI, odds can be slanted towards the Genestealers, multiplayer matches can be hard to find.
Space Hulk: Tactics is a more deliberate and slower-paced game than its contemporaries but is a solid experience and a definite play for those with interest in the Space Hulk property.