We already had a glimpse of Space Hulk Tactics a few months ago during the What's Next event held by the publisher Focus Home Interactive in France, but more recently we were again invited to their offices in Paris to get our hands on the titles they're about to release. Among them was the next game from Cyanide studio, which will once again throw us into the world of Warhammer 40,000 this October, when Space Hulk: Tactics will release on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
If you're a fan of the Xcom style of tactical games, then you'll definitely enjoy this title and its turn-based gameplay. Here you have the choice of two races to lead - the Space Marines and the Genestealers, although we were sad to see we couldn't try the latter in our demonstration. Each of these two camps is divided into several factions, like the Bloods Angels, the Space Wolves, or the Dark Angels - to cite a few for the Marines (the developers say that others will be added over time) - and all are looking to take possession of an abandoned ship called The Hive.
The maps are like rooms and long corridors where you'll be able to move your units to clean the premises or achieve your objectives. It really does feel like a board game at times, as your soldiers move and can perform actions using a card system, and these cards not only allow the movements and actions to be undertaken, but also determine the position to adopt (like being on the defensive or ready to fire). They do, however, have cost points to your units, and are renewed at the beginning of each turn, so you're limited, and some actions are excessively expensive. Turning to the right or left costs just as much as taking a step forward, for example, although since the Marines wear enormous armour we didn't expect them to be very agile. It's therefore essential to choose the positions in which you will deploy your pieces early in the game, and anticipate your game plan before starting to play.
To give your instructions, you have a little more than a minute, which is enough to take in the game at first, but that quickly feels too long once you've gotten used to the controls. These commands are pretty basic: you can end your turn before the end of the counter, select your units, choose the action card to perform, and switch to FPS view.
This FPS view is also one of the key aspects of this opus, as you can put yourself directly in the skin of the unit you lead, which makes the game a little more immersive. This makes it more difficult for you to view the field entirely, despite the presence of an X-ray vision, but on the other hand allows you to better gauge the positions of your enemies. It's also clear that this makes the game a little more scary, as you can find yourself in the silence of a crumbling spaceship, where an enemy can pop up at any moment.
You have the opportunity to pick the five members of your squad, and there are different classes, such as the commander, the sergeant, or the Librarian (a kind of priest of the Empire with skills that puts him between a magician and a mechanic). Each of them has their own weapons and skills, which will obviously have an impact on the actions they can take during a game, but that's not all, since you also have the ability to customise the avatar of your units. You can change the style of their armour, the symbols, and colours, and while it has no effect in a game, there is a wide choice to build a squad to your liking. Who doesn't love customisation, after all?
The visuals are what you'd expect with an Xcom-style game, although details shine thanks to the FPS view. There's also an animation that appears with each fight and interaction as well as at the beginning of your opponent's turn, revealing the movements of enemy units. During the different campaigns you'll also be brought to ships with different scenery, and while Orks, Imperium, and Eldars are the only available environments right now, others are expected in the future. However, this has a simple aesthetic aspect, and impacts only the design of walls, floors, and lights.
This is a choice that you also have the opportunity to make when you're in the map creation tab; a tool which is simple and quick to learn. You can lay corridors and rooms on a grid, and also add doors or computer stations to enhance the gameplay opportunities of the map. You have the choice to decide the spawn zones of your units, but also of your allies too, so there's every reason to play around with this.
We mainly played with a controller, and we enjoyed this experience, although it's not all fun and games; if you lose too many units, the game is over. However, by doing and redoing the same mission again and again, and adapting the strategy, one gets closer and closer to the goal.
We were able to try Space Hulk Tactics for an hour, and while there were some niggles, like the FPS view not being ideal for seeing the whole map, and the number of actions achievable per unit being too limited in our eyes (it's sometimes necessary to spend all the points of the turn of a unit to make it turn back), the hour we had with the game flew by. It's a good thing, then, that we'll be seeing more of the title at Gamescom this week, as we want to take on the tactical combat once more, and take our squad on one more mission.