Warhammer 40k has been around for a while now and it’s a popular enough franchise that is hasn’t evaded my knowledge even if it wasn’t one that I followed closely. Space Hulk on the other hand I had almost no idea about before playing Tactics for this review. Space Hulk was originally a board game for two players in the Warhammer 40k universe and prior to this there have been quite a few iterations including a few video game spin offs.
Space Hulk Tactics remains true to the series allowing you to play as either the Space Marine Terminators or the Tyranid Genestealers in a series of missions that take place on the space hulk “Forsaken Doom”. For those of you who don’t know what a space hulk is, it is an amalgamation of derelict ships from each of the warring 40k factions to create a giant mass floating through space. A faithful adaptation of the board game, it is a grid based tactics game with customizable units which can move, attack, use special abilities, and interact with objects based on their action points per turn. There are 5 classes of units such as the Sergeant who specializes in defense and melee combat, Assault which is a rounded standard unit for both melee and ranged, Librarian, the caster of the group with spells for AoE, the Heavy, which has the best options for pure firepower, and the Apothecary who focuses on keeping other units alive.
To add more to the complexity there are cards which can be used to guarantee hits, slow enemy movement, and counter attack. Cards can also be burned to gain AP for the unit you’re currently using so there are plenty of options available. Units can also be customized with different weapons prior to battle allowing some extra strategy to be implemented in how you want your squad to deal with the scenario. On top of all this there are hundreds of cosmetic styles and colours that you can use to make sure your squad looks just right.
With two full campaigns, one from the perspective of the Blood Angels (a faction of space marines) and the other of the Genestealers there is a good amount of single player content to be had. Although not as good a story as some other strategy games say like Starcraft it still boasts full voiceover work and enough missions to keep you busy for a number of hours.
Multiplayer is where the action is though with three extra Space Marine factions to choose from, the Dark Angels, Ultramarines, and Space Wolves. You can play custom unranked matches as well as ranked ladder matches against the world at large though I did find matchmaking to be slow so get used to waiting.
Probably the biggest detraction from Space Hulk is its pace. With so few action points it felt as though each unit could only move a couple spaces before having to stop and set up an overwatch or defend so a genestealer won’t tear your face off. Even turning requires action points furthering the slowdown if you need to go around a corner. The controls are pretty awful with Tab, Space, and Enter being used way too often when control with the mouse would have been preferable, though I can see the reasoning behind this choice for consoles. I also found the learning curve to be quite stiff with little room for error even on the early missions. If you so much as turned the wrong way or ran out of action points before being able to defend or attack, a single mob would inevitably kill your unit.
Visually I thought the game looked great with grim, and dark textures, and models. Even going into the often jarring first person view still looked fantastic and took me back to the old dungeon crawl RPGs of yesteryear. Some of the cut scenes I found to be quite repetitive and often unnecessary considering the already molasses-like pace of play.
What I would have liked is if the controls were a little easier to maneuver maybe with a more concise HUD and more mouse control (at least for PC), a quicker pace of movement and combat, and a slightly more robust story with perspective from the three factions not currently in the campaign. Perhaps I was missing the point with how similar the gameplay should be to the board game. However if Games Workshop wants to reach a broader audience then I feel these changes, especially the first two, are necessary.
Considering that I’ve never been a huge fan of Warhammer or 40k I did find myself drawn to this title. Maybe it’s a love for strategy games as a whole that brought this to my attention. Although I can’t recommend this game to everyone as it’s likely only going to be for a 40k fan. It cannot be considered a bad game and shouldn’t be overlooked.