I said in my review for This is the Police 2 that it’d been a while since I’d played a tactical adventure, and was disappointed when there wasn’t much in that game. So colour me surprised when this was offered to us for review, as my slightly rekindled spark for this style of game was flaring into life. It’s just a shame it’s so friggin’ difficult…
Alright, alright. I realise that sounds like a cop out for giving it a bad review, but that’s not the case. This isn’t going to end negatively. It’s actually a very good, intricately detailed and faithful recreation of the Warhammer lore and universe, albeit just a difficult one. However, to those familiar with the Space Hulk lineage, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. I remember inheriting an Amiga from my uncle when I were a wee lad, and the original was in there. Suffice to say, I couldn’t do it. I was young, couldn’t comprehend it. I then remember playing the jazzed up version on the PSone, and it still being an absolutely nails game. So why should this one be any different, and why should I be surprised?
If you are familiar with the older games, the above screenshot should be what you’re used to: a first-person, turn-based grid adventure, with set move and action points available. Mission objectives usually involve getting from A to B in a set amount of turns, with the occasional deviating objective to spice it up a bit from time to time.
However, instead of just being a spit and polish remake of the older versions in first person, fans of the board game will be pleased to know it can be played as an isometric grid based game too. Well, I say can, the game insists you do more often than you’d like to. Whilst both are equally viable ways to play, having the game constantly remind you with “Return to isometric view to see your enemy movements” does get annoying at times. Maybe I want to be seeing through the eyes of my Sergeant, maybe I like the immersion. Conversely, it’s nice to be able to switch between the two on the fly, so mine is just a personal grumble.
Tactics, being the latest iteration of the battle between a squad of Blood Angels, a division of the Space Marines and the Genestealers, a hive-like savage alien horde, takes place on the titular Space Hulk: a derelict space station reportedly missing after many years. Whilst this may seem the normal course of action for the series, there’s a more fleshed out story going on behind the scenes. After the first mission, an Inquisitor of the Ordo Xenos establishes that he has been aware of the Hulk’s return, but it is merely observing the proceedings. If you’ve played the criminally underrated Warhammer: Space Marine a few years back, you’ll know that there’s always ambiguity when the Order of Inquisition are about.
Genestealers, on the other hand, don’t have much of a story. Theirs is more a “kill all the big things in armour” variety, but with that comes a new style of gameplay. The Space Marines are a hardcore, precision-trained mobile unit. They move methodically as one, a tight squad. Genestealers move independently, covering more distance but are more vulnerable when attempting head-on attacks.
Now, as you may have gathered with the game having the word ‘Tactics’ in its title, there’s a fair bit of strategy involved with each side, and a bit of foresight won’t go amiss. Marines can move up to four spaces on the “board”, if you will, at the expense of one Action Point (AP) per space. If there’s an enemy in range, you can take a shot at them for one AP, which a percentage chance of hit. Units can be put into Overwatch mode, at the cost of two AP, which has them guard their line of sight and shoot anything that moves. Genestealers, being both a hive unit and individual pawn, can move further on the grid, but favour melee attacks. If you’re playing the Marine campaign, you have to position your squad at bottlenecks covering angles whilst proceeding towards your objective. As the alien horde, you have to consider how to get around the flanks of the squad and pick them off one at a time.
It adds an unstable element of tactic on both parts, as you can only move where you think they enemy will go and wait for their turn. Do you keep two of your heavy terminator units covering the rear, or have them take the lead and hope your back is covered? Do you expend one of your xenomorphic shock troops at the hopes of taking one or more of the armoured brutes out? You can always up the ante and use cards (as the Marines) that can add single-use buffs, like a guaranteed attack or be converted to double the AP of a unit, effectively giving you a second go.
It’s in these elements that the game really harkens back to its board game roots, which is both good and bad. It’s not a game for those with short attention spans. You really need to invest time in a mission, and prepare yourself for the possibility of a costly mistake causing a restart. Whilst not necessarily a negative if you know what you’re buying, it might put off the faint hearted.
It’s also got some insanely small on-screen text. I suppose it’s keeping with the theme of Warhammer miniatures, but even playing on a 43″ HDTV had me sitting closer to see what my instructions were. In a game that requires you to see what’s going happening on a battlefield, having to focus on tiny portions of text takes the immersion away slightly.
But, that’s not a detriment to the core game. They’re two small niggles on an otherwise unblemished entry in the Warhammer gaming universe. Two lengthy campaigns to play from both perspectives shall keep you going for a while in the main game, and if you’re feeling creative, you can set up your own maps for others to download and try.
If you’re also wanting to flex your tactical muscle against human opponents, you can take the battle online in ranked matches. As well as the Blood Angels, you can play as other Space Marine factions; the Space Wolves, Dark Angels and the standard Ultramarines. Squads are customisable, allowing you to change your units and weaponry to suit your play style. Leaderboards let you see how you’re fairing against your friends and the rest of the world, and created maps can add new variety to the proceedings.
So overall, then, I’d heartily recommend Space Hulk Tactics if you’re a fan of Warhammer, or you’ve looking for something to fill that XCOM void, or maybe even both. Or perhaps you’ve not heard of the franchise, in which case you could do far worse than this. Campaign replayability, online play and map creation will make this a worthwhile investment.
Space Hulk Tactics is out now on Steam, Xbox One and PS4 (reviewed on Base PS4)
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code from the publisher. For our full review policy please go here.