Space Hulk holds a special place in many a board gamer's heart. Set in the Warhammer 40k universe, its tile-based system set in a confined environment was a break from the more traditional free-roaming tabletop style. There have been a number of Space Hulk-themed titles over the years, even an FPS version recently, but none have quite captured the magic of the experience... until now.
Space Hulk: Tactics is a pretty faithful recreation of the experience, but that does come with a few downsides. The whole game is built around a group of elite Space Marine Terminators tasked with ridding an abandoned ship of its alien infestation. Much like the board game itself, the turn-based action is viewed from a top-down perspective. Any players of the latest Xcom games will feel very much at home. However, it comes without the open maps of Xcom and instead replaces them with a more claustrophobic environment to explore.
There's a fair bit of content for you to get your teeth stuck into. First off, there's the campaign. Here you can play as both the Space Marines and as the Tyranids. The most famous of their number is the Genestealer. Don't worry about hiding your Levi's, though, as they only seem interested in stealing your life.
In the Space Marine campaign, you're limited to following the story of the Blood Angels, with other factions like Space Wolves being available in the Skirmish and Multiplayer modes. The Terminator is a slow-moving soldier equipped with huge armour. However, this thick outer shell also means that they're very slow. Each unit only has four moves per turn, which can be spent on things like opening doors, moving, and even turning to face a different direction.
You can also put your warriors on overwatch, which you will for the majority of the time. This means that during the Tyranid turn, anything that crosses their path will be fired upon. There is a range of different units such as the psychic-powered Librarians and Heavy Terminators. It needs to be said, that compared with their opponents, they felt a little weak, and certainly more vulnerable than their armour would suggest.
These heavily-armed soldiers seemed to die all too quickly or get overwhelmed too easily by groups of enemies. They have objectives to accomplish on each level, such as activating a console, escaping an area, or aiding a fallen comrade. While there's nothing particularly original about any of these assignments, the main problem with the Space Marines was the pace of progress and the fact the narrow corridors saw you walking single file towards your objective, always on overwatch. There's a dichotomy in the sense that if you walk slowly and safely you will probably get overwhelmed, but extend yourself too far and you may well get picked off.
We had much more fun with the Tyranids. It was much more enjoyable having a range of different aliens at your disposal in order to swarm your opponents, throwing endless waves to their death until everyone was dead. During their campaign, most of the time we were tasked with slaughtering opponents or defending a certain point on the map. Along with the classic Genestealers, there was a range of enemy types such as an armour-plated variant and another that leaves a biohazard behind after death, slowing anyone who moves through it.
The Tyranids are faster than their humanoid opponents, and, in contrast with the Space Marines, they're effectively unlimited. This endless supply makes you think about how to flank the Terminators and put them out of their misery. With five of them to kill, all of them usually bunched together for safety, we typically ended up trying to build up around them and swarm.
As we wrote before this is all played from a top-down perspective, like the board game, and it looks and feels great. There is, however, also a first-person view, but it seemed like a gimmick and didn't really seem to add much to the overall experience, even when you were looking directly at your opponent. That said, it did seem to offer a slightly more cinematic view of certain clashes. Overall, the animations and the graphics are pretty decent and the sound effects also help to establish a strong atmosphere. The claustrophobic feel is captured to stunning effect, and it's clear that the developers were real fans of the original tabletop game.
The AI seemed a little on the slow side and you're often left waiting a fair amount of time before the PS4 makes its mind up, and that can be infuriating. Along with the slow movement, it sucks the pace out of the game somewhat. While they did end up making some pretty good decisions, it just took a wee bit too long considering the pacing elsewhere in the game.
That slow pace also made us think that this was a good game to be played online, rather than against the computer. In fact, we had a Gamereactor editorial fight to the death (rematch, Mike?). That was a lot more fun, but it still felt a bit too slow. We often found ourselves eagerly waiting for our opponent's turn to hurry up and end so we could get back to it. Thank goodness for the time limit.
Outside of the main campaign and multiplayer, there are a number of skirmish modes, and these can be played on both user-created and official maps. You can create a map in around 15 minutes and publish it for all the world to play. It was very similar to the way in which the board game worked, where you created a map from pieces rather than playing on a fixed board. Then, when you get playing, each map will take you around 20-30 minutes to play, so don't expect to be able to put in a quick five minutes here and there.
You will have noticed that the title includes the word Tactics. Not only is this tactical element related to the deliberate and limited movement of your characters, but there are also cards to be played. These can let you close doors and reduce dice rolls. A lot of things in the combat system rely heavily on these rolls, and while that feels pretty accurate when compared to our memories of the board game, the number of times we missed was a little infuriating. The cards can also be converted into extra Tyranids or more moves for the Terminators. Extra aliens appear as blips that can contain anywhere between one and three units, or there could even be something larger lurking. The Space Marines have no idea what's coming until it hits.
All in all, what we have here is a pretty faithful adaption. It looks and feels great and gives you many hours of content to battle through. If you're a fan of tactics games then you might want to take a closer look at this, especially if you love the 40K universe. Be warned, however, as the pacing is slow, and for that reason, it's not going to be for everyone. The atmosphere of the board game is captured pretty well, but that means that you spend most of your time bunched up and funnelled into tight corridors. This is a good game, but it could have been a great one if the devs had risked making a few minor tweaks to the classic formula.
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