Games Workshop’s popular tabletop game has been seen many times in game form. Now it goes back to its roots for the very boardgame-like Space Hulk Tactics.
Get tactical marines
First, I say that Space Hulk Tactics is “board game like”, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. It has a slower pace that’s meant to give it the tactical air that the name implies. It’s actually a lot more traditional when you’re talking Space Hulk in general, so it’s cool.
Not that I don’t like games like Deathwing, that make Space Hulk Tactics into a more action-oriented affair. I actually dig that stuff a lot, and find it easier and more fun to play for me personally. But there’s something about returning the game to its roots, and taking it to a more cerebral place that I really enjoy too. Not that I’m in any way good at it.
If you’re unfamiliar, Space Hulk started life as a tabletop strategy game. Players would move mini-models around a board that was laid out in the now-familiar tight hallways of a derelict Hulk.
It was, and remains, an extremely cool game. And it translates very well indeed to the realm of electronic entertainment.
Most typically used by the Imperium of Man (humans), the Warp is the space within folded space that makes faster-than-light travel work. Some other races in the WH40K U have other means of traversing the spaceways, but for humanity, it’s the only way to fly. It’s also not safe by any means.
The Warp plays host to all kinds of inter-dimensional nasties like the dark gods of Chaos and the alien menace of the Genestealers. As such, ships passing through it have to have special shields active. If they don’t… well, they’re all but lost. And that’s one of the ways Space Hulks are created.
In the Warhammer 40k universe, Space Hulks are relics. They are amalgamations of many different spacecraft that have been lost across the eons, in the Warp. They’re twisted and fused in strange ways, and usually play host to some very bad beasties.
Space Hulk Tactics sets gamers to task against a Hulk that’s infested with Genestealers. These creatures are xenomorphic in makeup, and can shred Space Marine armor in no time flat. You might be wondering why you need to bother with them at all, if they’re stowed away on a Hulk.
The answer is that this particular Hulk has emerged from the Warp, and it is careening towards an Imperial colony. Your job is to detonate bombs across the Hulk’s interior to blast it to pieces. Of course, once you board the massive homunculus, you and your marines start to learn that there might be more at work than previously thought.
The gameplay is straightforward in Space Hulk Tactics, and yet there’s a lot to it. What’s great is that everything is easy to use and is well laid out. So you’ll never really find yourself scrambling to remember how to do something.
This is a turn-based strategy game though, so that kind of thing is rare anyway since you have plenty of time to plan out what you want to do. And that’s a good thing, because Tactics isn’t easy.
You move your Space Marines around a board that should be very familiar to anyone who’s played a round of the tabletop game, or watched an Aliens movie. Tight corridors and small, yet terrifyingly-open junctions make up the lay of the land. Each Marine can work control panels, blast doors to pieces, etc.
You’ll notice that I didn’t say you could run anywhere in there. There’s a good reason for that – you can’t. Space Marines in Terminator armor are plodding. They’re almost like walking tanks and can’t really move all that well. This isn’t an odd design choice either folks, that’s 100% true to the fiction. On the flip side though, at least the Genestealers are lighting quick.
Controlling your squad
The differences between the opposing forces are stark. How that shakes out in-game is that the xenos can make up larger distances than the Marines. So you have to plan and plot your way through the maps in Tactics, staying alive until you complete your objective or find the exit. It’s not easy.
Each individual marine has a set of action points, which is pretty typical for the genre (and again, the tabletop game). Managing those is easier said, since moving and performing any action eats up points. Even turning around costs points. Good thing then that you have cards to play.
Your squad comes complete with a deck of cards that can be played during your turn. Cards have different effects, like making a trooper more deadly in close quarters for a turn. But they can do something else too – they can be cashed in.
Instead of playing a card, you can cash it in to give a chosen marine more action points. This is incredibly useful, and became a staple part of pretty much every game I played in Tactics. As I said, this game is far from easy, and every advantage has to be exploited. That goes for the lowest difficulty setting too by the way.
In addition to the actual turn-based strategy play, Tactics also offers an overworld. This is an expanded view of the Hulk, showing your team’s actual progression through it. Not every point on the ‘board’ is a level, some are just items you an pick up and some are nothing. You don’t have to play even all the levels that you come across. Leaving a Marine to stand guard works just fine most fo the time.
I love the graphics in this game, and I mean that in pretty much every way.
The tactical segments are terrific looking, and since they make up the vast majority of the play, that’s a very good thing. Yes, the maps are dark and claustrophobic, but they’re supposed to be, and the look of everything carries those themes beautifully.
When new enemies appear on the board, Space Hulk Tactics gives you a nice up close and personal view of them. It honestly kind of made me wish I was playing a more action-oriented game, since these closeups are stunning.
I will also point out here that you can indeed switch to a first-person viewpoint, but it’s not as much fun as the standard, isometric tactical view. Still, it’s fun to flip into that mode just to look around at times.
What’s not so good looking though is the overworld. The larger map of the Hulk is dull and oddly lifeless, lacking any real detail. It’s the complete opposite of the maps, and while I understand why the developers didn’t really pour all that much into it, I still don’t like it.
Space Hulk Tactics has its problems. Aside from the nitpicking comments about the overworld map, it might be a little too tough and unforgiving for newcomers to the genre… or those who just aren’t that good at it *cough.*
But what it does offer, makes it a “one more try” type of game. Look, I stink at this stuff, and I replayed levels piles of times till I beat them, and honestly didn’t really get tired of it. And if I did I took a break and then went back later. It’s a pretty fun time.
Combine that addictiveness with a great look and excellent controls, and you have a strategy game that I think most fans will dig. Just maybe consider it a bit before you bite if you’re not a hardcore strat fan.
Space Hulk Tactics
Release Date: October 9th, 2018
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
MSRP: $39.99 USD