Games Workshop and its myriad partners have cranked out a huge assortment of different games over the years, but for board-gamers of a certain age, few will hold quite the same place in their catalogue of unfulfilled dreams as the Warhammer 40K-set Space Hulk. The game focusses on a team of Space Marine Terminators as they attempt to rid a decaying space ship of its alien infestation, and while other developers have tried to capture the claustrophobic feel of the tactical board game, none have really succeeded. Space Hulk: Tactics is an incredibly loyal adaptation, but with that come a few problems.
Limping home from a bloody campaign, your Blood Angel chapter is waylaid by a distress call from the Forge World Gorgonum. A huge Space Hulk – a derelict conglomeration of shattered spaceships and wrecks – has appeared from a Warp Storm and is now set on a collision course with the planet. Only one squad of Space Marines remains, and it’s up to you to lead them to victory as they infiltrate the Hulk in an effort to destroy it from within, while also tackling its vicious and deadly alien inhabitants.
Those inhabitants are the Tyranids, a race of exoskeleton-sporting aliens who owe one or two nods to HR Giger’s finest efforts. The most common of these, the foot soldiers, are the Genestealers, who with their six limbs and razor-sharp claws are more than capable of eviscerating your marines, even if they are encased in ultra-tough Terminator armour. The trick is not to let them get anywhere near you, but Space Hulk doesn’t always give you that option.
The option it does give you is being able to play a full campaign as either the Marines or the Genestealers, with the addition of the alien’s point of view a first for the digital versions of the board game. The races feel distinct and play very differently from one another, with the ponderous, heavily armed Terminators making a clear counterpoint to the horde of skittering aliens. The campaign has actually been penned by Games Workshop writers, and though it’s often doled out by talking heads, there’s enough intrigue and machinations to keep fans happy, while the voice acting is excellent.
The Terminators deploy into a mission area, bracing themselves to fight onrushing Genestealers as they turn from motion tracking blips into physical enemies. The Terminators receive four action points at the beginning of each turn, which you can then use to perform tasks and actions like moving, interacting with objects, or shooting the hell out of the terrifying Xenos. One thing that Space Hulk: Tactics does a fantastic job of is recreating the feel of the board game, though admittedly the characters seem a bit more robust than the plastic ones you got in the box.
Any fan of the board game will appreciate just how good Space Hulk Tactics: looks, with a few very cool animated sections appearing for certain actions. The Genestealers in particular look suitably menacing, while the Terminators command a real sense of authority. What isn’t so effective are the different viewpoints, with the first person view more or less tactically useless compared to the isometric one. You’ll probably forget it exists soon enough, but you wonder how much effort went into its creation.
Command cards are an addition unique to Space Hulk: Tactics and give you some additional options, as they’ll either provide some much needed stat boosts to your ailing squad or can be traded in for extra Action Points to keep things moving. You’ll need Command Points to play them from your hand, and can only use one per turn, so while they do affect play in quite a major way you can’t go crazy with them. They do improve the overall flow of the game though, giving you the chance to rush someone forward, or take one more chance at taking out a Genestealer. When playing as the Xenos meanwhile you’ll use your cards to spawn as many Genestealers as humanly – alien-y? – possible, before moving your radar blips menacingly towards those uptight Marines.
The game actually feels as though it’s been really optimised well for console, and if anything the controls felt a lot more intuitive with a pad than they do a mouse. If you’re playing on PC everything just feels clunky, with even the simplest thing – movement – proving to be a chore with additional mouse clicks and button presses just to move your chosen character into the correct place. For once, this is a tactical game that feels more at home on a console.
On the other hand, while it’s not a problem when playing on PC, the console version of the game suffers from small text-itis, and if you’re sat at any real distance with an average sized screen you may find yourself struggling. There’s a raft of further minor annoyances that appear on both platforms, including an inability to move through the map system at anything above a snail’s pace, but they’re all just about liveable.
There’s certainly enough here to keep you going for a very long time indeed, with the dual campaigns giving way to a multiplayer mode and their prerequisite leaderboards. Perhaps most exciting for stalwart fans is the inclusion of a mission editor which allows you to construct your own labyrinth. It doesn’t make it too difficult, though it perhaps highlights the fundamental limitations of the game as a whole.
The problem with Space Hulk is one of speed and scope. The enclosed corridors of the drifting spaceship dictate that you can generally only advance in single file, and as the Marines it’s mostly safer to edge closer and closer to an object while leaving your team in Overwatch at the end of every turn, while on the other side you throw Genestealers repeatedly against them. When you then find the computer AI isn’t immediately sorting their own move, you’ll likely be more than a little perturbed by the game’s laconic pace.
Space Hulk: Tactics is certainly true to the ethos of the original board game, with some smart card-based additions, a full Genestealer campaign and a full on level editor. That said, it’s only liable to be long-serving franchise fans that get the most out of it.
Versions tested: Xbox One, PC – Also available on PS4