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Space Hulk Review

Plodding, ponderous and not-quite polished. Space Hulk could have been so good.

By Cassandra Khaw. Published 7 months ago

Cassandra Khaw Primary Reviewer

Brother Goriel can't hit the broad side of a door.

No, really. He can't. This is the third time I've shot at the malfunctioning portal and my Terminator has missed every single time. In frustration, I decide to switch tactics. I have him take a swing with a Power Fist. The door barely bats a hypothetical eyelash.

Under other circumstances, I'd probably have been more forgiving. This is a door, after all, that we're talking about. Those things are built to take a beating. But, Brother Goriel is a Space Marine veteran who has earned the right to wear the Tactical Dreadnaught Armour. He's a genetically-modified, musclebound 8' freak who is essentially a walking tank. He has two hearts. How can a popular architectural feature be so much more bad-ass? ARGH.

Goddamn dice rolls. This is why I don't gamble.

Somewhere in between, there are a myriad of objectives to fulfill. Space Hulk boasts all twelve of the missions in the board game and a trio of introductory sequences for good measure. Much of those levels consist of sheperding your bipedal behemoths, turn by turn, through maze-like corridors and dying. Lots of dying. The amount of modulated carnage that happens in Space Hulk could bleed a tear from a roguelike's eye. Space Hulk's RNG is understandably unkind; weighted dice would stir up fisticuffs if they made an appearance at a physical game. Yet, it's hard to not want to flip the proverbial board every now and then. In the last few hours I've played Space Hulk, my Terminators have only survived direct combat with a Genestealer thrice. Frackin' dice. I think the computer cheats.

The lighting effects are decent, but the characters don't feel fully integrated into the environment. More effective shadowing would have helped anchor them to the ground, and indeed given the game a little more atmosphere.

But, let's put that aside for the moment. To distill it further, every mission is made out of a number of turns. How much you can do in a single turn is governed by the number of Action Points and Command Points you possess. The former are unique to individual characters, while the latter is shared between all your units, thereafter providing a bit more flexibility to your decision-making. With these points, you get your Terminators to perform a whole variety of actions. You can put them on guard (it bolsters their rolls in hand-to-hand combat), have them shoot at things, operate doors, pass each other objects, make use of what special abilities (caution: only the most basic weapons have unlimited ammo. I learned that the hard way) they might have and more.

On top of ensuring that you have enough points to contend with the Genestealer assault, you're going to want to ration them for movement purposes. Because of their elephantine stature, Terminators aren't particularly dexterous. Turning and back-pedaling can and will cost you. Were this some other game where a big gun is tantamount to having the upper hand, this might not be such a big deal. Positioning in Space Hulk, however, can make all the difference.Though the Terminators might have technological superiority, the Genestealers have numbers (and claws). Let even a single Tyranid creep within melee range and chances are you'll be short one Terminator. Make too many mistakes and a do-over will become inevitable. Space Hulk doesn't like you a lot. But it does love the Genestealers. (Of which there are always an unlimited supply, but that's how it has always been.)

Speaking of the cast itself, Space Hulk isn't a bombshell pin-up. Tongues will not hang and stars will not dim in shame beside it. But that doesn't mean it has audiovisuals only a programmer could love. While the models could use more polish and the 'kill scenes' a little more pizzazz, Space Hulk succeeds at the essentials. The raspy, metallic voices of the Terminators and the video feed from their HUDs help the atmosphere almost as much as the moodily-lit, dilapidated interiors and clank of armored boots.

Space Hulk looks best from a distance, where the lack of character detail and odd clipping are less obvious.

At its best, Space Hulk is dark and oppressive and anxiety-inducing. Which is awesome because that is precisely the tone it should be setting. However, circumstances take a turn for the worse when the focus is tightened around the action. There, where it's supposed to be at its most dramatic, Space Hulk kinda .. droops. Pinioned by the cinematic microscope, Genestealers look more like bobble-headed, multi-limbed Martians in tight indigo suits than harbingers of mortal terror. They die in a spray of blood stolen from the set of a 90's video game. The animated confrontations between Terminator and Genestealer are incredibly lackluster, more stilted stage play than desperate fight between titans.

When Space Hulk works, it works. The campaign, especially on hard, can have you snarling and hissing at the screen, ever-vigilant for a way to manipulate the odds in your favor. Multiplayer, when it's not off falling over itself, is sometimes an intense experience. Playing against someone across the Internet can be a heart-stopping game of asynchronous bluff. The A.I, though a punishing opponent to work against, is usually straightforward in its advance. Humans, on the other hand, are not. Knowing that a flesh-and-blood hand is responsible for the reddish 'blips' (You won't know how many Genestealers are in a 'blip' until the player or the computer chooses to divulge that secret) encircling your two-man squadron can be absolutely terrifying. Where the computer might just want you dead, your fellow man may want to play a game.

Sadly, Space Hulk misfires more often than it should have. Players disconnect at random, games crash. Glitches happen and the occasional typo will surface like a bashful shark. Still, it can be an engrossing few hours in spite of the lack of polish. Were this a $10 game, I might heartily recommend it but Space Hulk is far too short and a little too rough around the edges to fully warrant its $30 price tag. Worthy diversion but wait for the inevitable Steam sale, won't you?

Jaz Rignall Secondary Reviewer

Having played the Space Hulk board game many times over the years, I’ve been really looking forward to playing this digital version ever since it was first announced. And now I’ve got it, I’m somewhat, but not entirely satisfied with the end product.

The good news is that the board game's rules and machinations have not been screwed with, so top marks, thumbs aloft and jolly good indeed. This is classic, turn-based gaming that’s slow, steady and deliberate, just like the original. There's plenty of tension and excitement, and you'll be swearing at your bad “dice rolls” and laughing at your odds-defyingly good ones in true old-fashioned style. The missions echo the original game very well, which is exactly what my inner Space Hulk purist was hoping for. While some might want a mission editor, or perhaps new scenarios, I don't mind the fact that this has taken the authentic route. It's Space Hulk, plain and simple, with no extra frills.

But while the game's fundamentals are solid, its cosmetics are a little less so. Considering the fact that Space Hulk doesn’t contain a huge amount of graphical elements, I’m disappointed that more love wasn’t put into the modeling of the characters and maps. They’re fine, but lack finesse. How about some weathering on the armor to make things feel a little grittier and textured? Or more detail to make the genestealers look more organic, slimy and menacing? The lighting effects are okay, but don't have the kind of visual richness that really brings the game to life. And the characters just don't feel fully integrated into their environment. It just feels like the art was developed to be good enough, but nothing more. In Warhammer speak, it’s “tabletop quality” – but certainly is not for the display case.

The sound follows the same pattern. It's good, but not great. The ambient effects could have been layered to dial up and down the tension, but they just hum away. The sound effects do their job, but again, just don't feel particularly imaginative or sophisticated. Like someone went through a bunch of sound effects CDs to find the right noises, but didn't bother to figure out ways to dynamically mix them to create something that feels more natural and nuanced.

Movement and game cadence is slow and stead. Yet while it does sometimes feel clumsy, the action nevertheless has tension and excitement. Just not in the usual way that video games tend to deliver them.

The presentation layer is generally good, and while it sometimes feels a little slow and clumsy to use, it nevertheless facilitates the game well. It's just not particularly fancy or impressive. What did get a bit old, though, was having to watch the Terminators trudge to their designated spot each time I moved them. An option to pick up and place characters (like you do in the board game) would have been welcome, especially when the action begins to heat up and you want to keep things moving along. It’s particularly annoying in multiplayer mode when you have to watch it all play out while you’re waiting for your turn.

But cosmetic complaints and presentation nit-picks aside, this is still a fun game for Space Hulk aficionados. The price of entry does feel steep at $30, but if you are an old-school fan, it's just about worth it. It’s solid enough, and is still enjoyable – both as a one-player game, and particularly as an asynchronous multiplayer game. It’s just a shame that it feels like the developers stopped at “just about good enough” and didn’t spend the extra time layering in the kind of detail, polish and finesse that would have made this a complete package that you could really fall in love with.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Visuals: The game looks best from a more detached overhead view, where the lack of character detail is less noticable.
  • Music: The sound effects are workmanlike, and don't really add the kind of tension and atmosphere this game deserves.
  • Interface: Easy and intuitive to use, but sometimes feels a little clunky.
  • Lasting Appeal: Space Hulk delivers the best value to those who want to enjoy its multiplayer aspect. Single-player mode is fun, but doesn't have a huge amount of replay value and can be finished within a few sessions.

A faithful recreation of the classic Games Workshop board game that's best enjoyed by hardcore fans who are able to look beyond its rather disappointing cosmetics and sometimes clumsy interface.

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The best community comments so far 7 comments

  • JimmyDanger 7 months ago

    Release a downloadable version for consoles and I'd most likely take a bite.

    Release a mission construction kit/randomised mission generator/ expansion mission DLC - and I'd be overjoyed.

    Use the game mechanics/levels in a larger XCOM style strategic missions linked to larger metagame/campaign - and I'd buy the disc version with limited edition chotkes.

    Hopefully this leads to something bigger....

  • xapidytexuk01 7 months ago

    Deleted August 2013 by Unknown

  • RandomTerrain 7 months ago

    That's a shame, I do love the 40k universe so was hoping this would be really good. I remember playing Space Hulk on the PSone, that was excellent fun, although admittedly the replay value was a bit weak on that as well.

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