A pure adaption of the boardgame classic, Space Hulk comes with all you may be used to playing with on the tabletop, with none of the setup troubles, boxing the tiles and pieces after a long and tense session. It comes with an online multiplayer mode, which allows you to take the missions to the internet and test your wit against friends too far away to come over to sit around the table with you!
Full Control Studios are, without a doubt, fans of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and Space Hulk in particular. Despite the bumpy launch the game had, their dedication to the project shows.
Space Hulk is a turn-based strategy game involving two factions - the Space Marine Terminators and the alien Genestealers.
Both sides play vastly differently - from the amount of actions a unit can take per turn, to how it achieves its goals.
The Terminators are slow, hulking figures who rely on ranged weaponry, area denial and re-rolls to fight the Xenos, while the Genestealers are numerous, fast and require to close the distance to attack a Marine with their diamond-claws. They can easily outmaneuver the opponent, and receive reinforcements every turn.
To make things worse, the number of dice a normal Marine rolls against the 'stealers, is limited to one, against the aliens' three, and the highest result wins the combat - and kills the enemy. There are no life points in this game - if a character gets wounded, he is considered dead for the rest of the game.
To balance this out, the Space Marine player receives 1 to 6 Command Points per turn, determined by (virtual) dice. Those can be used to enact additional actions beyond the 4 allowed action points of a Terminator. Even though limited and unreliable, these points, if used well, will offer a lot of tactical flexibility to the player.
The inherent strength of the Terminators lies in their weaponry - their Storm Bolters are deadly and their close combat specialists allow them to deny the Genestealers the highest of their rolls or to re-roll one of their own. The flamer can bathe a whole room or section in fire, easily burning the aliens to ashes if stepped in, denying whole parts of the map. However, its use is limited to 6 shots per mission! The assault cannon is equally limited to 20 shots, and acts like a much stronger Storm Bolter.
Overwatch, costing 2 action points, will ensure that your Marines will also shoot on any enemy that crosses into line of sight, or moves within it, giving you an advantage over the enemy's fast tactics.
The objectives are determined by the mission. They may range from simple kill count goals to evacuating a certain amount of squad members. All the main missions are adapted from the boardgame.
Yes, Space Hulk had its share of problems at launch, and probably still has some of them, but more than a few can be attributed to just how close this video game adaption is to the boardgame it was meant to represent.
Bugs and performance issues have been significantly reduced by now, the game runs smooth, and a new, albeit short, campaign has been added to the game for free.
A criticism that was brought up a lot at launch was the "sluggish" movement of the player's Terminators.
While personally I very much enjoyed the hulking Space Marines move through the corridors like that, I can understand that not everybody has the same attention span and some may like to move on more quickly (although, once an order is issued, you can move ahead and issue another to the next Terminator of your choosing - they will enact them simultaneously).
Since then the developers have introduced a new setting to the options menu, allowing the player to toggle the animation speed, resulting in a good boost in unit movements.
Another criticism leveled was the lack of satisfying squad customization - one I can understand, but not feel quite as strongly about.
The characters in the game are directly inspired by the 3rd edition boardgame set, released in 2009, which I own. Having invested a lot of time in painting the miniatures of Sergeants Gideon and Lorenzo, Brothers Claudio, Zael, Omnio and all the rest, I can attest that the ingame models are very much like those little plastic figures. They are so faithfully modeled, I felt a bit sad that the boardgame miniatures are stuck with static (though dynamic) poses.
Customizing a squad's loadout also would not work with the way the missions are written. The game presents you with a short mission context and your objectives, all presented via Terminator-like voice acting (though not of the high standard of Relic's Dawn of War II games, it is still suitably grim), a neatly animated map and iconography.
What new players may not realize, however, is that the missions, have been written with certain restrictions and loadouts in mind. There are no differences between individual Terminators apart from their equipment - changing any one of the Power Fist + Storm Bolter Terminators to another Flamer, an Assault Cannon or close combat gear would undoubtedly unbalance the missions and remove a big part of the challenge.
Space Hulk is a challenging game. Some people, myself included, would even go as far as to call it a strategic puzzle game. Knowing your pieces is vital to success, being aware of all entry points of the enemy's Genestealers is crucial. A wrong move can easily unravel your whole deployment, and turn your structured progress into a desperate run for the exit.
The randomness of the dice adds a layer of unpredictability, but similar to Blood Bowl, minimizing the risks of the dice and thinking your moves through is the key to success. A dice roll may turn sour, but there are certain contingencies to make up for the randomness, if the player is smart enough to use them. In addition, the game itself takes care of all the manual tasks and notetaking of the tabletop version, keeping you informed of your resources at all times.
The learning curve may be a bit steep for some players, I admit, but unlike the boardgame, the video game adaption offers three short tutorial missions, which should do a lot of good in making you aware of the key strokes of the game.
Thankfully for new players, the 2 minute timer the Terminator player is subject to in the boardgame (unless the players decide not to use it to add even more pressure to the Space Marine's shoulders) is turned off by default and not enforced in singleplayer games. Purists can still play the game on hard difficulty and use the timer, but I am glad they made this optional.
The level editor is still in the making, I'm afraid.
If the current 18 missions (three tutorial missions, 12 for the classic Sin of Damnation Campaign and the 3 new missions on board of the Messenger of Purgatory) aren't enough to sate your appetite (which is unlikely, as missions are very replayable and usually not beaten on your first try), there are two new DLC Campaigns available right now (Sword of Halcyon and Defilement of Honour), both of which feature a set 5 missions each and are directly inspired from old first and second edition rules of the boardgame.
Squad customization may or may not be added in the future, but first I assume there will be the teased and promised Chapter Packs, introducing more than just the Blood Angels to the game - all neatly modeled according to lore and current miniature kits. Full Control have also said that they would include those Chapter Packs with new, Chapter-unique (historical) campaigns and flavor. This is DLC I can get behind and will support.
Considering that the first priority for Full Control was using the license to recreate the 3rd edition box set of Space Hulk, which was only produced in very limited quantities back then to begin with, I can acknowledge that they did an incredible job at capturing the game's aesthetic, tone, sound and, obviously, the rules.
This is, without a doubt, Space Hulk.
For the Emperor!