New Game Review

Review – Space Hulk: Tactics (PC)

Stomping out Heresy, one Xeno at a time.

There is an unbelievable number of Space Hulk video games in the world currently. The last 3 years have seen a Space Hulk game released with Ascension, a streamlined version of the board game, then Deathwing, a first person shooter set upon 1 for 1 adaptations of Space Hulks, and now Tactics which is a bit of both. As it was, Warhammer 40k’s first venture into the gaming world was rough after the talks with Blizzard fell through for a RTS, which would later become StarCraft. It’s not hard to understand the prevalence, but there has to come a point where someone makes a Space Hulk game that is definitive enough to be the last. I believe that if any game could do that, Space Hulk: Tactics is the one.

The premise is the same as every other game to bear the name; whether it be board game, card game, mobile game, video game, or choose your own adventure gamebook. I’m not joking about that last one, it actually exists. You play as a group of Space Marines aboard a Space Hulk, an ancient conglomeration of massive abandoned and wrecked ships all melded together into one enormous behemoth. A nesting ground for Genestealers and other dark forces, your job is to kill everything and destroy the ship before it can do any damage to the mighty Imperium of Man.

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Someone keeps thinking that 40k games need obscenely blocky UI’s. I wish they wouldn’t.

Even the gameplay is basically the same. It’s turn-based set across a usually isometric plane and if you’ve played XCOM or any of those derivatives, you have the basic gameplay down. Move from square to square, kill enemies, open doors, and head for the exit after completing your objective. However, that isn’t all there is this time, there are some new additions. One of them is a first-person camera view for Space Marine gameplay, fully playable through map UI’s, an interesting way to play a strategy game like this.

Last year’s Deathwing showed how majestic a Space Hulk looked from a first person viewpoint, and though the scale isn’t QUITE the same here, it still looks great. The graphics are certainly a step-up from other board game adaptations. Not just texture work either, but models for Marines and Genestealers, along with small animations throughout the levels (bursting vents, steam rising from marine armor, etc) that all serve to make the game feel whole.

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First-Person view allows you to experience the glory of Xeno splattering in the Emperor’s name.

The other interesting addition to the base gameplay experience is a card system. You get one card per turn from a pool of cards you unlock through an upgrade tree in the campaign, or choose from a selection in skirmish. Each card has an effect of some sort; usually a buff or a debuff for a single enemy or ally. Or you could discard the card in exchange for 1-4 Action Points to be used across your entire squad. This provides an extra level of strategy, as well as a get out of jail free card for when things go bad (and they will, frequently).

The game comes with a variety of modes and playstyles, more than any other Space Hulk game released. There are two campaigns. One is a traditional, where you play as a squad of Blood Angel Space Marines trying to save the Forge-World of Gorgonum from a collision with the Space Hulk known as The Forsaken Doom, filled with festering Genestealers. Taking place across a branching node map filled with resources to upgrade your forces, optional maps to weaken the Hordes, and main story missions as you attempt to destroy the infamous behemoth once and for all.

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There’s a succession of four of these, each one bigger and twistier then the last. It’s pretty lengthy, but can get to feel long towards the end.

The second campaign brings back a feature not seen since a mobile game released in 2005; a prequel campaign that allows you to play as the Genestealer horde. Set during the thousands of years, The Forsaken Doom has floated through the vast empty reaches of space, Genestealers play almost exactly the same as Space Marines do. The main difference is a strong emphasis on Zerging tactics, by overwhelming the map through unending numbers of fodder. Cards mean even more here, as your main method of recruiting more Genestealers is to discard cards every turn. Your card pool is built from a similar set of upgrades that the Space Marine campaign features, along with a similar campaign map filled with branching paths allowing you to develop your horde through specialized tactics, usually either stealth or total extermination.

The campaign isn’t the only mode on offer here. There’s the Skirmish mode, which lets you set a custom made Genestealer/Space Marine squad (from a choice between four Chapters/Hordes) against another custom squad. This can either be player made or an AI squad, across a variety of maps made by either other players or the studio. This mode is a lot of fun, with a plethora of upgrades and Chapter/Horde variations for a lot of squad building potential. The only problem is that the multiplayer aspect is basically dead. When you do get a game, there is at least no netcode issues, nor lag or other problems that plague other multiplayer games. Fortunately the AI is half decent and manages to throw some creative squads at you that put your team to the test.

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There’s a shocking amount of customization for each of your squad members. Or you could choose the right answer, and go Space Wolves. For the Allfather!

All in all, Space Hulk: Tactics is the same game that’s been released again and again in some way or another for the last 25+ years. This time, it comes with a wide variety of modes, the ability to play as both Marines and Genestealers, across multiple Chapters and Broods. This might not revolutionize the Space Hulk brand, but it is the definitive way to experience this staple of the grim darkness of the future, where there is only war.

 

Graphics: 6.0

They aren’t pretty. While they also aren’t ugly by any means either, with impressive enough model work for the Genestealers especially, they are a far cry from what’s expected from this day and age. Especially when compared to last year’s Space Hulk: Deathwing, the game lacks punch graphically.

Gameplay: 9.0

The gameplay is extremely solid, across both Genestealer and Space Marine playstyles. The cards add to the game well and don’t feel like they were just added on top, allowing you for some nice clutch plays for when you’re losing badly, or when you are so close to victory and just need a little more assistance. The campaign map can be a bit dull, with repetitive nodes, but the actual game makes up for it.

Sound: 7.0

The sound is largely passable, except for some great atmospheric music and sound work that when combined with the first-person view, allow for an effectively creepy atmosphere. That and the snarling hissing of the hordes is as effective as ever.

Fun Factor: 8.0

The game is a lot of fun, especially the Skirmish mode where you get to build and customize your own private squad. Sadly, the current multiplayer is low in player count and though the AI provides some challenge, along with a variety of maps, it could be better. Similarly the Campaigns are great, but can suffer from some repetitiveness, especially the Space Marines.

Final Verdict: 7.5

Space Hulk: Tactics is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and Steam.

A copy of Space Hulk: Tactics was provided by the publisher.

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A proud native Californian, I was introduced to gaming through the many nights long ago I spent playing Diablo and haven't looked back since. These days, when not playing, I enjoy reading a decent book, playing soccer (football to all the non-Americans), and hanging out with the sorry saps that I consider friends. Some of my favorite games are Baldur’s Gate II, Total War Warhammer, Final Fantasy Tactics, and basically anything Chris Avellone has ever touched.

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