Space Hulk – Review (PC)

Space Hulk is a Turn-based Strategy game for PC. The game is developed by Full Control Studios who previously developed Frontline Tactics and TouchWars.

Space Hulk is set in the Warhammer 40k universe. 40k is set in the far future where mankind has settled a large portion of the galaxy under the banner of the God-Emperor. The God-Emperor sits upon his Golden Throne above the pillars known as the Space Marines – Elite units of the Imperium of Man. Space Marines are split into Chapters, which were founded by the Primarchs. Each Chapter has a home planet. The events of Space Hulk take place near Baal, the home planet of the Blood Angels.

The prologue details the decimation of the Blood Angels on an un-named Space Hulk – 1000 deployed and only 50 returned. Six-hundred years later, having re-built the Chapter, the Space Hulk Sin of Damnation is spotted near Baal and the Blood Angels set out on a mission of revenge and honour. This time, the elite-of-the-elite are sent forth. The Terminators. These are heavily-armoured and equally well-armed brothers. But being well-armed alone doesn’t automatically secure victory. Their opponent is fierce, fast and deadly – Genestealers. These Tyranids can rip through Terminator Armour like a Chainblade through a Gaunt. Suffice to say, these Xenos scum cannot be allowed to live. Eradicate them all. For the Emperor!

Space Hulk 01Space Hulk is based on a 1989 Board-game of the same name. I should note I haven’t played it – but that’s part of why I’m glad this video-game exists. The board-game is in high demand and low supply, so forking out a bit of coin is expected.

In Space Hulk you control Blood Angel Terminators. Each Terminator has their own set of four Action Points which can be spent on movement, firing, melee, overwatch, guarding, move-firing or opening a door. It’s worth noting that move-firing doesn’t cost any extra AP over just moving, so it should be utilised well. You also have a pool of up to six Command Points which are rolled at the start of each turn (if your Sergeant is alive) and don’t carry over to the next turn. These points can be used for any unit in the squad or left at the end of your turn for un-jamming bolters. If you know anything about 40k or Space Hulk, you probably know that not all units carry bolters. Other than the vanilla Terminator, there are also Sergeants, a Librarian and Special Marines. The Sergeants are: Lorenzo – Power Sword – and Gideon – Thunder Hammer/Storm Shield. The special units are: Heavy Flamers, Assault Cannon, Chain Blade and Thunder Claws. Each of these units are stronger than a regular terminator. The Heavy Flamer can be used to block off areas of the map to both teams. The Assault Cannon is unlikely to miss its target, but it only has two clips of ten rounds and a tendency to explode in your face. The Chain Blade and Thunder Claws are both more useful in melee combat. It goes without saying that Sergeants are even more useful than this, each Sergeant has strong equipment and a +1 to close assault. More useful than even Sergeants is the Librarian. The Librarian is a Psyker, which means he has psychic abilities and also receives the same +1 to close assault. The Librarian’s Psyker abilities allow him to convert Psi – of which he has twenty – to CP, block a tile for a single Genestealer turn or directly kill a unit/group of Genestealers. Each Psyker skill costs Psi and shouldn’t be used lightly.

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In multi-player modes of Space Hulk, you can play as the Xenos. As Genestealers, you place two blips of random value between one and three per turn. These can be placed in any entry-zone and will be marked with a corresponding number. After placing your blips, you’re then able to move them. They will remain hidden until revealed manually or they enter Terminator line-of-sight. When revealed, the blip will split into the number of Genestealers marked on it. If the blip is marked as three, it may instead reveal as a Broodlord. These Xenos are much stronger than Genestealers and are even immune to flames and the Librarian’s Psychic Storm. The Xenos are fun to play for a change of pace, but I much prefer playing as Space Marines. For the Emperor!

In the Single-player Campaign, you play as Blood Angel Terminators. There are twelve missions, each with their own unique objectives which range from reaching a destination to eliminating all of the present Genestealers. There’s a good variety of missions-types and there is an announced (free) editor being made along with promises of more campaigns.

The online mode of Space Hulk is where things get masochistic. Play as Blood Angels and you can expect to receive a firm beating or a close match. Compared to playing the AI, playing a human controlling the Xenos is much more ruthless and deadly – much more like the Xenos should be. You’ll find players flooding your goal area with Genestealers and generally making it difficult to move forward. This is both the best and worst part of asymmetrical multi-player.

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Hotseat mode allows two players on the same system to play against each other. Obviously there are some inherent problems with the mode. Both players using the same screen requires trusting your friend enough for them to face away during the Genestealer turn as info about blips is displayed then. Each players takes their turn and at the end of it, it has a prompt which has to be clicked to play the next turn. This gives players enough time to turn away.

Space Hulk‘s visuals are dark. The game takes place almost exclusively in thin one-man-wide corridors and the darkness helps to assist in the feeling of claustrophobia. Terminators are hulking 7-feet-tall genetically-modified space-warriors in thick, heavy servo-assisted power armour. As you can imagine, things get pretty cramped, so the Terminators don’t have much room to move. Personally, I find the slow movement of the game to accent this – though that’s no excuse for it being un-skippable. Each Terminator has a shoulder-cam which shows their perspective of the tight tunnels in the Sin of Damnation, and honestly, this is my favourite part of the game. That’s not to say the rest of the game is bad, I just appreciate the feature and find it interesting to observe – it also lends to that theme I was talking about.

The music and ambient sounds are excellent, the latter helping to expand on the closed-in theme. The in-game audio – bolters, steps, flamers and such – is great – when it works. This is probably the bug that’s the most off-putting right now; sometimes the audio just dies for a few turns and you’re just left listening to ambient sounds. But Full Control have already released two patches which have fixed a number of bugs and will continue to release more. It’s great to see a developer that is passionate about supporting their game.

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It’s worth noting that there’s a three chapter mini-campaign which acts as a tutorial, but the majority of the game systems are explained in the Librarium – A menu in the game in which you can buy DLC, update your banner, check achievements and the game rules – The problem there is that all the text is far too small to read. It’s an easy fix, though.

I always become a bit wary when a DLC-purchase-option is built-in to the game itself, it either means it’s going to be bombarded with two-bit DLC or that the developer intends to support the game with further campaigns and content. Full Control have detailed some of what they plan on the Steam Community FAQ and it all sounds fine to me – if it’s priced well.

In terms of options, Space Hulk has quite a few. All keys can be re-bound, kill-cams can be turned off, the Genestealer skin can be changed and multiple UI elements can be disabled: Shoulder-cam, Battle-log and Objectives List. The hard-mode timer can also be turned on. The only graphical settings are Resolution, Quality, Anti-aliasing, Vsync and window mode.

Space Hulk is a video-game based on an old board-game which is both expensive and difficult to find in complete condition. While it does have some problems like the un-skippable turn movement, the core of the game is fun. With some streamlining aimed at allowing players to more quickly complete their turns and tighten the controls a bit, they’ll definitely have something here. Space Hulk is fun, tense and really likes to mess with you. If you’re looking for a solid and somewhat different strategy game, Space Hulk is a good place to look.