Monday 9 December 2013

Space Hulk Review (PC)

Space Hulk started life as a table top board game where heavily armoured Terminator marines from the Warhammer 40,000 universe, pitted themselves against the multi-clawed Genestealers aboard massive drifting freighters known as ‘Hulks’. The tight corridors meant it turned into a battle of the strong and slow versus the quick and deadly. 

Space Hulk has been adapted in video game form before in two titles that tried to merge action with semi-turn based gameplay. Now we have a new version of the game which takes a different approach and tries to replicate the board game in a much more precise and faithful way.

At this point I feel it's fair to share with you all that we are pretty well acquainted with the board game and we like it a lot. It’s important to bring this up as it’s likely to have a fairly large bearing on if you are going to like this. It’s clear the developers had a specific target audience in mind and there are few concessions to people expecting something similar to the last couple of PC games.

Space Hulk is turn based and relies on dice rolls to carry out actions. At the start of each turn you can move your terminators and set them to guard or go into over watch to scan for enemy movement. At the end of the turn the Genestealers then do the same. Firing weapons and close combat is carried out on the role of dice which means that there is a certain random element to it. This can be frustrating when you are one dice roll away from the success or failure but sound strategy and careful planning does tend to weigh the odds in your favour.

You are going to have to plan you moves carefully as the terminators only have four action points and even turning to face a certain direction requires the use of them. The game is also pretty tough and on the normal setting it took a number of attempts to even get through the second tutorial level. A single mistake of movement can spell disaster in a mission stretching into an hour of more in length so it is advised to save often.

As such, the game plays out more like a slow and thoughtful game of chess than an all guns blazing space shooter, but it certainly draws you in. The presentation is basic and the first thing you’ll likely do is head to the menu to turn off the shoulder cameras and death animations. Your next step will be to set movement to the fastest setting or you’ll be playing this until the rapture. 

However, once you’ve got that simple top down/isometric view, the sound of the engines and the cries of victory or defeat coming from your marines it all starts to click and draw you in. It feels claustrophobic and dangerous and the fact a wrong move is so costly certainly adds buckets of tension and atmosphere. A cry of "Bolter Jammed" has never caused such terror.

The levels are mainly based on the original games maps and as such it brings a wonderful authenticity for anyone not wanting to pay the huge sum of money required to find a decent condition version of the table top game. There are a few weapons and tricks taken from the Deathwing and Genestealer expansions but we would have liked to see a bit more of this added to give some variety as the game progressed.

Multiplayer is also here and there is a hot seat option to allow players to take turns on the same device. It’s a little unwieldy for the Genestealer player but it does work once you get the hang of it. Weirdly, you have to play through the main campaign to unlock levels in multiplayer which is something the game could really have done without. It’s not as gratifying as it should be, which is a shame as this is one of the key features that should make the game a must have title.

What we have is an authentic Space Hulk table top experience with some rough presentation brought to life digitally. Many may be disappointed, but fans of the board game will find this really draws you in. Yes, there could be more options and it could look better but it’s solid and enjoyable and a highly competent strategy title. The rule set is also solid and if you want to recreate some table top fun or take on one tough turn based strategy then this is the game for you. Those looking for fast paced action should look to something else to get their kicks.

Overall 7/10

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