Published on August 27th, 2013 | by Don Parsons1
Space Hulk Review
Summary: A thought-provoking but slow paced strategy game without the greedy world conquest approach, Space Hulk shines as a relaxing and deep experience that I could enjoy even when I was too tired to play games.
My objective was just down the corridor. Initially, I had a crew of five terminators, but the enemy genestealers were relentlessly assaulting us, causing us to lose one brother already. We had slowly progressed down the hall, one troop watching the rear, while the remaining three moved forward. The pacing was slow and steady because for every few steps, my forward position had to mow down more genestealers. They littered the halls, both behind and ahead of us. In a desperate attempt to get to the room we had to cleanse, our group of three split into two, one continuing ahead and the other two sweeping into an adjacent hall. Things started to look up. The team of two briskly made it to the room as the two defensive terminators kept the genestealers back from both directions. I flamed the room and sighed with relief as the victory screen appeared.
Space Hulk is a very different turn-based strategy game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. It’s based on a popular board game released by Games Workshop back in 1989, but also had a few video game incarnations on the Sega Saturn, PC, Amiga, 3DO, and Playstation in the 1990’s. Fast forward to 2013, and Space Hulk makes a return to PC on the Steam platform.
What sets Space Hulk apart from most turn-based strategy games is the map, or board, design. Instead of a rather open, broad field of play, I was forced down hallways and faced with branching paths to take. The mission could look very simple, but be very deceiving. As I made my way down the hallways, the enemy genestealers would spawn in various places on the map.
Each turn, I had to decide how far forward to advance. Most of the time, I would move one unit as far forward as possible to scout ahead, with my main pack moving two forward and using the overwatch command. This meant that even if my scout died, any further movement by the enemy would be countered by my terminator overwatch shooting at them. Actually, a lot of my play time consisted of this methodical approach. In most cases, it worked if I found the perfect balance of defense and offense. The scenario at the opening of this review actually ended very differently my first time playing it, because I played too conservatively. I got overwhelmed after 15 minutes of very slow forward movement.
The tutorial makes everything look easy if you play conservative, and it does work quite well in some cases. But the wrench that Space Hulk throws into this play style is gun jams. On occasion, either when attacking or in overwatch mode, your gun can jam. If I didn’t have any remaining AP, this resulted in the genestealers closing the gap between us. It made me sweat more than once, and I ended up losing a handful of times because of this.
It strengthens that board game feeling and shows its roots as a board game, especially coupled with the dice rolls when attacking. A text window on the right hand side shows the dice rolls along with the action.
By far my favorite part of Space Hulk was some of the sprawling maps designs. At times, I had to lead more than one squad of five and had to pick between a few different spawn points. Placing your units plays a big role through the course of the game, too. Certain troops have different weapons. Putting a melee unit in the lead can have devastating effects when you come into a long hall and see the enemy at the end.
In fact, probably my main and biggest complaint is the lack of being able to swap unit positions in those situations. Faithful to the original, maybe, but it was still a rather frustrating mechanic. Leading with a melee unit in the short halls, the tables could quickly turn once I came to the home stretch if that home stretch was a long hall.
It may sound like a bland game, but each level is designed with a different objective in mind. One board may be as simple as getting to a specific room and teleporting out, while the next map may force you to kill 40 or so genestealers. That last level I mentioned was actually a lot of fun, albeit easy.
The game has a very slow and plodding pace, but it was refreshing. It took just enough thought and planning to scratch that tactical itch, but it was still kind of relaxing. It was more akin to a deep game of chess, if you situated the squares differently and gave your pieces guns and hulking armor. It was a nice change to escape those epic games that have you micromanaging a hundred moving parts. I highly recommend it for a nice, thought provoking palate cleanser.
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