Terminators and Genestealers are not far off being each other’s worst nightmares. For the Space Marines, they’re decked out in armour as thick as a tank, bristling with heavy weaponry and comically large melee weapons, making them ideal for setting foot on and battling xeno threats, but less good for fighting nimble, fast moving targets. Enter the Genestealer; they’re fast and they’re nimble, but they don’t have any ranged weaponry or armour, instead relying on their weight of numbers, speed and agility to get up close and claw at things until they’re dead.
Putting them together in the classic Space Hulk board game had more than a few shades of Alien and Aliens, from the motion tracking ‘blips’ that the Stealers first spawn as, disguising their true numbers until they come into sight of the Terminators. Their speed makes them difficult to tackle, as they can quickly sprint round corners and get up close, but then they can also very easily find themselves being funnelled into a corridor full of bullets.
For various reasons, many of the Space Hulk video game adaptions just haven’t been very good, but Space Hulk: Tactics seems to get the fundamentals down pat. Behind the scenes of Space Hulk: Tactics, everything is still calculated using the percentages of dice rolls, which will certainly lead to those moments of frustration when your Terminator’s gun jams, or you try to go for melee combat, only to realise that the odds are stacked so heavily in the Genestealers’ favour and you should always fire your guns.
It can be brutally difficult at times, in keeping with the original board game, as every successful attack is deadly, meaning it needs just one roll to go in favour of the Genestealers to reduce the numbers of the Terminators. When a good run at a particular mission quickly goes downhill, it can be immensely frustrating, but that’s part of the survival horror of the game.
However, Cyanide have looked to tweak the formula and add another layer to the game with a system of playable cards. You customise your deck through the chapter of Space Marine you choose and then the various classes of Terminator that you take into battle, whether it’s a standard Assault trooper or one of the Librarians and their psyker attacks. They can be incredibly useful, giving you a +1 to all melee attack rolls, preventing weapon jams, letting you re-roll a failed saving throw. They’re not guarantees, but they can shift the odds in your favour. Naturally, as soon as I tried to buff my Terminator guarding the rear for improved melee, the next attack took him out…
You have a deck of thirty and your hand is topped up to three cards at the start of each turn. These can then be played using action points, or you can burn one card per turn in order to add to a pool of team-wide action points, which can play cards or be used to let your characters perform extra actions, like sprinting away from danger or continuing to send a hail of bullets down a corridor.
The game looks good, with three different styles of ship having smashed into the Forsaken Doom space hulk over the millennia, so you’ll be tramping through Imperium, Ork and Eldar ships at various points. If you want, you can zoom right in with the camera to see the impressively customisable Terminators, going way beyond just picking a Space Marine chapter, and delving into swapping out individual pieces of armour. And if you want to be right in the thick of it, a first person view is a nice way of seeing some of the detail in the world, even if it’s quite useless for having an understanding of the overarching situation.
From a usability perspective, you can issue orders in quick succession and have your squad of Terminators carry them out in sequence. You do still have to wait through the animations, and the enemy turns can be a bit overwrought with mini-cinematics as Genestealers pop out of vents or dodge incoming gunfire, but hopefully those can be tweaked and adjusted prior to launch.
There’s more interesting things in the campaign map, which has you moving between various nodes, perhaps taking different paths through the Hulk, aiming for side missions to find better gear for your Terminators, and all the while keeping a beady eye on the threat meter down the side of the screen, where additional broods might pop up to attack. That gets flipped on its head when playing the Genestealer campaign, a first for a Space Hulk video game, with the story told there set before the Blood Angels come along to try and clear the hulk. It’s sadly not told with psychic screaming from the Hive Mind, but rather through the perspective of the Terminators sent from other chapters that failed in their mission.
In combat, the Stealers also have access to the same kind of cards as the Terminators, and it’s through here that Cyanide are introducing different Genestealer variants, by applying cards to the various blips you spawn in. There’s perhaps ones that have got tougher exoskeletons, leave puddles of acid when they’ve fallen, race through vents, or could even be the imposing Broodlord, which can spawn more Genestealers nearby.
Space Hulk: Tactics is shaping up rather well, ahead of its release on PS4, Xbox One and PC in early October. At the fundamental level, it replicates the board game, makes it look pretty, and has it feel good as a video game. Cyanide’s additions with the cards though brings an extra tactical layer to proceedings, helping to up the pace of the game just that little bit, adding more flexibility in your actions and making it just that little bit easier to survive the endless waves of claws and teeth heading your way.