They say in space no one can hear you scream. But amidst the confines of my computer chair, you certainly can.
Space Hulk is a game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe and based on the best selling board game of the same name created by Games Workshop. In Space Hulk you assume the role of several Space Marine Terminators against their fight with the alien like Genestealers. Every which way you look at this game, it feels as if you are playing a board game, and that is a good thing. The reward you get from making correct tactical decisions pays off in a big way since wrong tactical decisions hurt a lot. The game plays as a turn based strategy game where correctly placing, positioning and managing your squads will either lead you to victory or result in total group annihilation. The sense of anxiety felt from the game is not due to it being an overall scary game, but from the pressure of trying to do the best for your squad. You never get a sense of, “Oh, these squads are just in a game, they are expendable,” but rather, “I must protect my Terminators and make sure everyone gets out alive.” As you play on, you begin to develop a sense of respect for your marines and strive to lose as little as possible as you complete the various missions.
The story is a pretty compelling one. Stationed on a space hulk, or wrecked vessel in space, you are tasked with various things such as purging the enemies from the ship or recovering various bits of data. What makes the story so compelling to play through is that every mission gives you a different challenge and you feel more connected with the story as a whole when you play through it. The missions ramp up in difficulty as well, which makes the narrative of the story even more integral. In earlier parts of the game you may only be recovering objects or cleansing Genestealers, but later on you may be rescuing or escorting your marines to safety. With the strategic nature of the game you really feel like you are a commander ordering your squads to safety which makes you feel like a greater part of the story.
The gameplay and design is core to the experience. While the story plays an integral part of the game and gives you a sense of purpose, it is the gameplay and challenges that will keep you coming back for more. The game takes place on narrow corridors of a wrecked space vessel and most spaces are only one square wide. This means that more often than not, your marines will be lined up in a row or positioned at intersections of corridors. Depending on the current mission you may be moving your marines forward in a single file line, or leaving several marines at intersections watching for all possible signs of enemy movement. Even though you can see the enemy movements each time they move on their turn, your marines can not and so proper position of your marines is key to the survival of the squad.
You begin to learn things like long stretches of corridors are optimal places to place marines due to the fact that they have line of sight the entire way down the hall and have more chances to eliminate the enemy. You also learn that as a Terminator, avoiding close quarters combat with the Genestealers is a really, really good idea. Each turn you are presented with a plethora of different options to do. Each member of your squad is allocated four AP or “ability points” needed to perform various actions each turn. Your squad also has “group points” that are randomly allocated between 1-6 points each turn. These group points can be used in addition to or in place of the AP used by a particular individual each turn. So if one of your terminators runs out of AP to perform a particular action, they can draw upon the group cache to still perform an action. The basic actions you can perform each turn are move, attack, guard and overwatch. Each unit moves in the same way. Moving forward requires 1 AP per space, while moving backwards requires 2 AP. Shooting your gun or melee attacking an enemy generally requires 1 AP and determines the success of your attacks by “rolling” several dice.
The game does a good job at listing what has occurred in the game on the right side of the screen in a chat log so you can clearly see what numbers you have rolled when you attack. Guarding costs 2 AP, but allows you to re-roll a melee roll should you be attacked during your opponent’s turn. Overwatch is by far my favorite skill to use in the game next to the flamers heavy flame special attack. Overwatch allows you to “watch” a particular area during your opponents turn for 2 AP. When setting up marines at strategic points such as long corridors, Overwatch can be your best friend as your marine will shoot at the enemy each time it moves within your line of sight. If a Genestealer is rushing at your marine in a long hallway and your marine has overwatch on him, you are able to get free attacks in on your enemy for each space they have moved during their turn. The downside to Overwatch however is the fact that your marines weapons can jam and if you don’t have any group points left over from the previous turn to unjam you gun, you can be in for a world of hurt.
The AI in the game is pretty intelligent. They won’t move into bad positions often and will flank your marines any chance that they get. While the campaign move is the main focus of the game, the multiplayer and local play is worth talking about due to the fact that you can play against a friend on the same computer and not just online. Likewise during these multiplayer sessions you can choose to play as either the Terminators or the Genestealers. Playing as the Genestealers gives a different feeling to the game as it is less about using your abilities to your advantage, but rather overwhelming your enemies with extreme force and numbers.
The game is great to look at and makes you feel like you are truly on a wrecked space vessel. Although in top down view most of the time, the game will occasionally show a close up view of the action when two units are fighting each other. Additionally there is a small screen in the top right of the HUD that shows the corridors from the marine’s point of view. This screen is a nice addition to add some perspective to the game, but it is overall unnecessary and the picture quality comes out grainy which serves to detract from the experience more than adding to.
I wish that the game included more music, but the use of overall ambiatic noise is excellent. The area hums, the Terminators boots clang on the ground, and the Genestealers scream wonderfully when you shoot them. It is all really well polished in the sound department. I only experienced a few minor delays where the sound would not synch up with the video, but those were minor and did not detract from the overall experience.
If you are a fan of tactical games, then definitely check this game out. Likewise if you enjoy board games you should also check it out. The game takes a bit to learn in the way of managing your squad and allocating your resources, but once you get the hang of it you will be making strategic plays that will shock even yourself. The story is compelling and the inclusion of multiplayer modes and the promise of future DLC and map editors gives you almost a limitless amount of replayability that will keep you coming back for more whether you love the single player or dabble in the multiplayer realm. The game isn’t for everyone, but if you have interest in these types of games or in the Warhammer 40,000 universe then this game is a good introduction and will make you want to go out and start playing the actual board game. You can go and check out me playing the first 30 minutes of the game over on our Youtube channel to get a better feel for the game.
(Reviewed on PC. Thank you to Full Control for the review code.)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 8/10
Gameplay/Design – 9/10
Visuals – 7/10
Sound – 7/10
Lasting Appeal – 9/10
Overall – 8/10
(Not an average)
Platform: Available on PC, Mac and iOS with cross platform multiplayer
Developer: Full Control