In the past decade, several titles have been made under Games Workshop’s name for their respective tabletop gaming franchises. Titles such as Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, arguably the greatest RTS of all time, have expanded the series onto a new platform. It can also be seen as an introduction to the tabletop game for those unfamiliar with the games vast universe. Two other games worth mentioning are Blood Bowl and Space Hulk. I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone unfamiliar with Games Workshop and their products hadn’t heard of these titles. Nevertheless, I can also imagine seasoned players being unfamiliar with them as well, as the two board games have been unsupported for quite some time, Space Hulk being completely unavailable on the Games Workshop website. Maybe Games Workshop are getting lazy, commissioning completely unoriginal ports of their games to help cash in on beloved franchises, or it might be that they are just taking steps to help recover them from their inevitable deaths.
Set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the story follows an elite squad of Terminator Space Marines from the Blood Ravens chapter, and their invasion of a spaceship wreck or Space Hulk. The derelict vessel, Sin of Damnation, once belonging to the protagonistic Blood Ravens, is overrun by Tyranids, the 40k equivalent to the Xenomorphs of Aliens fame. It is the job of the Terminators to cleanse the ship of this alien threat and recover an artefact crucial to the Blood Ravens. With its fast and deadly creatures, and claustrophobic and abandoned setting, one wouldn’t be wrong to assume Ridley Scott’s vision of extraterrestrial encounters was the inspiration for this game. The campaign itself will seem quite familiar to a select few as it’s the same one that appears in the third edition of the board game, quite unfortunate for those dedicated players looking for an original story and gameplay.
Mechanically, Space Hulk succeeds in being a faithful reincarnation of the original game, and I personally think the board game itself translates into a video game very well. It plays like a fairly streamlined turn based strategy; each unit is assigned a set number of Action Points (AP) which are used for movement, combat, opening doors and other actions. To help emulate their sluggishness, Terminators can only move forwards at the cost of one AP and backwards at the cost of two, with turning the unit 90 degrees costing one AP. The player is also assigned Command Points, which are the same as Action Points except shared throughout the squad and acquired at the start of each turn by throwing a six sided die. These can dramatically affect the outcome of a game, especially when you are rushing your guys to the exit or unloading rounds upon a corridor of swarming Tyranids, and are in dire need of those extra actions.
Most actions in the game are handled with the throw of dice, another example of this is combat. A normal Terminator, equipped with a standard issue Storm Bolter, can fire at any enemy in its line of sight. To hit and kill the target the player must roll a six with one of two dice, regardless of range. These seem quite low odds, and it will sometimes seem your elite fighting force has the accuracy of Stormtroopers, although a second roll is available if they do miss, and this only requires a five or more to be rolled. What I personally found really helpful and lacking in similar games such as Blood Bowl, is the console on the bottom right of the screen, which clearly displays the requirements and results of your rolls.
There are more weapons, actions and game mechanics that are introduced throughout the game. A three level prologue campaign is available for those who are unfamiliar with the rules or just need a recap, and a helpful interactive manual is available within the main menu in case anything was missed. Space Hulk’s interface gives the game a striking resemblance to XCOM, using very similar icons and layouts, but due to its board game roots, limitations such as one hit deaths, the small arsenal of weapons and inexistent range modifiers will produce a lack in depth for those who expect that level of Turn Based Strategy.
You would probably think that being an adaptation of a board game, it has the resources to make the game more aesthetically pleasing and ultimately more enjoyable. However, because levels are made of small rooms and tight passages, there’s really not much to look at in the first place. On top of this, while the character models aren’t not the worst looking I’ve seen recently; the game suffers from terrible frame rates, even when executing a simple movement animation. Without the option to skip or disable animations completely, waiting for every Terminator to dawdle to its destination meaninglessly lengthens turns, disturbing the pace and ruining the frantic mood.
The soundtrack for Warhammer 40k games have always succeeded in capturing the feel of conflict in a sci-fi-fantasy setting, Space Hulks menu theme makes no exception. It’s a dark orchestral piece, akin to Dawn of War, that suits the menacing insidiousness of the Tyranids and dogmatic ruthlessness of the Space Marines. The soundtrack is replaced by ambience in-game, which while it suits the isolated feeling you might get at the start of a level, it does nothing to support the pace of the fights with overwhelming numbers.
I don’t think there’s that many people I would recommend this game to. Hardcore Space Hulk players and those who own the latest instalment of the board game will be more than disappointed in its lack of uniqueness. Whereas, those who are not into Warhammer 40k or Space Hulk will find much larger Turn Based Strategy titles around the same price. Retailing at £22.99 ($29.99) on Steam, I would only suggest getting this game as a more accessible alternative to the board game, which currently goes for around £150 on popular auction sites. The convenience that might come from the online multiplayer also makes this game a little more purchasable. At the moment though I think the game is still a little too expensive for its size, although it does seem apparent that extra campaigns will be released for it. Let us hope that if Games Workshop ever attempt to put Battlefleet Gothic on our computers, they do a slightly better job of it than they did with this.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.