As some of you may know, board games have become a new fascination for me. I’ve been reviewing them over at MMGN.com on a monthly basis, and the deeper I fall into the rabbit hole, the more enamoured I become with their mechanics.
Space Hulk was the beginning of the popular Warhammer 40K series, and is revered as one the most mechanically sound board games of all time. Unfortunately it’s super rare, with copies running $200 and upwards these days. Thankfully a friend of mine at the office had his copy handy directly from the 80s, so I was able to get some tabletop time with the franchise before jumping into Full Control video game adaptation.
As far re-creating the tabletop experience digitally, Space Hulk does an admirable job. As a fun and strategic video game however, it fails to deliver much needed pace for the digital age.
Space Hulk pits two factions against each other in a variety of scenarios. The Terminators are hulking space marines, armed to the teeth with guns, flamethrowers and swords. They may be slow, but they can pack a punch and pick off their enemies at a distance. The Genestealers are fast and furious, mauling anything at close range but have no ranged attacks. They rely on pack numbers to surround their foes, and once they corner The Terminators, the fight is well and truly on.
The missions are carbon-copy lifted from the board game, featuring a number of objectives such as reach point A with your squad, or destroy a computer lab before the Genestealers can stop you. Each scenario is carefully laid out to provide a number of strategic points of contention for both teams, and it’s great to see what worked almost thirty years ago is still thrilling today. A skilled player will develop a different strategy, for each scenario, for each faction, and that makes for some interesting battles online.
Mechanically the game is sound. During each turn the player has a pool of Action Points that can be used to move spaces, cover an area or attack a unit. Each action is clearly labelled and explained well, which makes the learning curve simple enough for newcomers like myself.
Perhaps the hardest thing to wrap your head around when playing for the first time is how the Genestealers spawn on the map. They appear as unknown blips, which could be hiding one, two or three units underneath. Your opponent can choose to reveal how many of his units are barraging a certain corridor at will, but the most frightening prospect is when you have a Terminator on overwatch and an unknown blip is running towards you. Is it three baddies ready to rip your face off? Is it one that you can easily pick off at range, providing your gun doesn’t jam? Space Hulk recreates the tense battles from the tabletop version with ease, raising the adrenaline levels to a new high.
Unfortunately, those adrenaline levels fall surprisingly fast after just a few rounds. Space Hulk is considerably let down by a lack of pace. The Terminators are huge, hulking combatants, that are slow and powerful. I get that, but watching a fifteen to twenty second animation of one dude walking around gets tiring and ruins the fluidity of the experience. It perplexes me that there isn’t an option to skip these long-winded animations; considering the meticulous replication of the tabletop experience, surely the developers could appreciate that units can be moved from one space to the next in half a second when playing the board game. It becomes a frustration, one that almost drove me away from the game entirely.
Online lag hits Space Hulk hard, especially when playing online with friends. The game is eventually going to support cross-platform play between PC and tablet devices, and as a result you will be required to create an in-game user account to facilitate such services. Unfortunately it seems the servers cannot handle the traffic of the game right now, with several of my multiplayer matches dropping out or not registering the correct moves when playing. The lag also hits with the controls. I lost count of how many times I accidentally used an Action Point turning my space marine rather than moving him.
Space Hulk allows you to run five games at once, which comes in handy when playing with friends on a time budget. I’ll often have my windows open while working away, and when a friend has made their move, I can quickly log in and retaliate. This makes me more excited for the tablet version to arrive, so I can check in on my game while on public transport and when I’m out and about.
THE FINAL VERDICT
If you’re looking for a faithful re-creation of the 80s board game, this version of Space Hulk will more than suffice. If you can deal with staggeringly slow animation times, and more than your fair share of multiplayer hiccups, you’ll find a decent strategic game that is truly going to flourish once the kinks are ironed out and the tablet version arrives. It’s fun, it’s frantic, but it’s also flawed.
Proceed with caution
If you like Space Hulk you may like: Hearthstone, Scrolls, Card Hunter.