Considering how utterly iconic the Space Hulk board game is, it’s so rarely been given the treatment it deserves as a video game. In fact, you might have to look back to the ’90s before you find a gaming adaptation of this beloved classic that could actually be called good for its time. Thankfully, based on what we’ve seen so far, Space Hulk: Tactics might just make it so you don’t have to dust off that mouldy Amiga in your parents’ attic.
Classic Board Gaming
Space Hulk: Tactics aims to be faithful to the board game, so this is still the classic set up of throwing a handful of ludicrously well armoured Space Marine Terminators into a series of tight, cramped corridors where Genestealers can pop out from around the corner at almost any moment.
Though it’s a turn-based game, there’s a real mixture of tension and dread as you see the blips of alien motion getting closer and closer, before revealing themselves to be sprinting alien menaces covered in claws, teeth and freakishly long tongues. They’re the polar opposite of the slow, heavily armoured Terminators that have to inch their way across the map in order to reach safety.
It’s a gloriously lopsided set up, with just five Terminators trying to cover every corner, every doorway, while the Genestealers try to catch them off guard, making full use of their endless stream of bodies to try and overwhelm their prey. There’s always a chance that something will go wrong for the Terminators. In classic turn-based fashion, it’s a percentage game that you’re playing with every attack. Sometimes that means things can go terribly wrong with your weapon jamming or that Plasma Cannon exploding on its first use. It’s pretty brutal at times.
It’s built upon familiar foundations, but Tactics doesn’t stick rigidly to the board game’s rules and introduces just a handful of new ideas to spice up the action and add a little more tactical variation. The flashiest of these is an optional first-person view which is atmospheric and a great way to show off the detail in the game world, but definitely nowhere near as flexible as the fully controllable top-down camera. No, a much bigger deal is adding cards into the mix.
Play Your Cards Right
Every turn gives you a certain number of action points to spend to make your Terminators or Genestealers move, turn and attack, but cards are a separate layer on top of this. You can hold three cards at a time and choose to use them or burn them to create action points for your entire team, with each card having different values for these two options. Burn a card and it adds a few extra points to a pool that can be used to play other cards or let your characters do more in a given turn. You can keep your Terminator firing at a corridor of enemies, have them sprint away from danger, use the psyker abilities on the Librarian again.
Playing card can also be immensely powerful, depending on the situation you face. One card gives your Terminator another behind the scenes dice throw if they would have failed, another gives +1 to all melee rolls, or you can preventing weapon jams and failures for a turn. You build your deck through picking different characters classes for your squad and the Space Marine chapter you want to play as – there’s also a baffling array of visual customisations, if you want.
Of course, things can still go wrong, and in Space Hulk that means they go very wrong indeed. Having just boosted my stalwart Terminator’s melee with a card and backed up to perform a rearguard action, he was immediately clawed to pieces by the next Stealer to come round the corner… I may have ragequit at that point.
For the first time in a Space Hulk video game, you actually get to play as the Genestealers in the campaign. You’ve got the randomised blips spawning and the fast-moving Genestealer to attack with, but there’s also the new card system as well. It’s through playing these cards that Cyanide are adding new types of Stealer into the game, letting you pick a blip you have on the board and boosting their toughness, have them move through vents, and even spawning a Broodlord, which can spawn more Genestealers nearby.
But how do you tell a story when one of the races communicates via psychic screeching? The story is split into two halves, one following the Blood Angels Terminators and the other the following brood of Genestealers that they’re trying to wipe out. The Genestealer story is actually set before the Blood Angels, told from the perspective of the various Terminator parties sent from other Space Marine chapters. So no, there’s no screeching with subtitles, I’m afraid.
The campaign map does look really interesting, as a kind of turn-based metagame in its own right. You move your party through the Space Hulk one section at a time, sometimes encountering events and decisions to make or taking on side battles to hunt for upgrades, all the while keeping an eye on the threat level as you head toward the next main story mission.
Build a Space Hulk
Speaking of missions, Tactics features a fully fledged level designer, stocked with all the same building blocks that you would find in the board game. There’s three different tile sets for Imperial, Ork and Eldar ships, each of which have their own particular quirks, like the Eldar ships having teleporters and Orks having never heard of health and safety. The trick for Cyanide will be in trying to help players make good levels and not just the most appalling meat grinders possible!
Like a Genestealer waiting to claw at your face, Space Hulk: Tactics is just around the corner, and it’s looking really promising. On the one hand, it’s a faithful recreation of the board game’s slow-paced tension, but the cards system adds something new and interesting on top of that, boosting your tactical possibilities and slightly improving your odds of survival.