Warhammer 40K turn based combat, but what would the Emperor say?
Space Hulk has been around for quite a while. Full Control's new version isn't the first to try and recreate the board game, and thanks to the incredibly successful revival of XCOM last year, this turn based tactical combat game has been getting a lot of attention. Full Control promises a faithful adaptation of the rules that have kept fans playing for over two decades, but is that exactly what is needed?
After all, when Firaxis updated the old X-COM they realised that some things need to be left at the door and you can't be afraid to tweak things to suit a more modern market, or in this case the move from a board game to a computer screen. I think it's this realisation that is holding Full Control back.
The blood looks pretty decent here, in full motion not so much
You play as a squad of Space Marines from the Dark Angel chapter stampeding your way through a derelict spacecraft, the titular Space Hulk, eradicating an infestation of alien Genestealers aboard it. While I am going to throw XCOM's name around a lot in this review, the play style is quite different despite them both being turn based squad combat. Everything is broken down into Action Points, and you can use as many of them for moving or shooting as you like. What's really nice is the Command Points, extra Action Points that can be used by anyone in your squad, they offer a nice degree of flexibility to your tactics.
You'll also be struck that using all of your AP and CP up doesn't automatically end your turn, and it's an annoyance most of the time you play the game. You wonder why such an obvious thing was missed. Then you'll do something stupid with your last move of the round, like walk a Terminator out into a room all on his own and realise he's totally exposed. The game not automatically ending your turn is a god send because you can undo that move and make a more sensible one.
Yes, Space Hulk has an Undo command, which sort of feels like cheating I'll admit, but it can only be used on your last move. Think of it like keeping your hand on the chess piece after moving it, giving you the chance to make sure that is what you want to do. Think of all those times in XCOM where you've told a solider to run to cover and he stands just next to it because you apparently miss clicked. It's also open to huge abuse since you can undo an attack, and then try again and hope for a better result. Where it really comes in handy though, is with the slightly dodgy control scheme.
I've had numerous points where I've told a Terminator to shoot at a Genestealer, only for him to go running along the corridor, or tried to get one to turn on the spot only for him to take a step backwards instead. Space Hulk can be a bit woolly with how it copes with input, and you usually have to give the camera a nudge to get it working again. I can't help but wonder if the Undo function is there to help fight against this problem more than anything else.
Cover is unheard of too, but that's because the Space Marine Terminators are huge walking tanks, death on two legs. And anyway, the Genestealers don't shoot back, they just run straight for you. The trick here is to keep them at arms length, because if they get close enough they are going to rip you to shreds.
The hero shot of a Space Marine Terminator, two seconds later he probably complained about his gun jamming
It's a lot easier then you first think. If a Terminator can see an alien he's likely to shoot at it while performing any other action, and Overwatch isn't just getting a shot or two off but firing at every single alien that crosses their line of sight. These guys get through more ammo than your average 80s action flick.
The thing that genestealers have on their side is numbers, as they just keep coming, and eventually someone's gun will jam, and the corridors are only wide enough for one Marine at time. One gun jam and suddenly it's Game Over Man, Game Over!
They could also have a fair bit of tension from the Genestealers with how they arrive. Originally appearing on the map as just radar blips, representing one to three of the aliens, and the AI chooses when to reveal just how many is there. What would be sensible would be at the last possible second, you don't know how many are creeping up on you. What the AI tends to do though is show what he has straight away. This means I can not really panic if it's just one, or if it's three manoeuvre my squad to take them out without much hassle. The AI also tends to just swarm the same corridor rather than do anything clever like come at you from various angles all at once. Get a Terminator in the right position – and be lucky on the dice – and he can stay there all day holding them back, or better yet a flamer who will probably take them all out without even trying.
But considering how close the action is, models of the Genestealers are incredibly low quality, and the animations leave a lot to be desired. The Terminators move far more lumbering than you'd expect from the Space Marines' elite troops, to the point where it's almost comical. I've seen buses with better turning time too. Considering there's very few units in the game I'm surprised more attention wasn't given to them, because the result of your actions feels a little disappointing. Especially the death animations, the Genestealers just jerk about and explode in an incredibly poorly rendered blood spurt, while the Terminators just keel over after the hit has already taken place. Compare with how dynamic fighting XCOM's aliens felt, and Space Hulk pales in comparison.
Another area is the make up of the squad itself too. There's no progression for them, survivors don't get any benefit for making it through, and it leaves you not caring about anything but getting the bare minimum out of them. Only need the flamer to survive? Everyone else becomes sacrificial lambs to make sure he engulfs his target in flames. With the possible exception to the sergeants who offers the chance to re-roll your CP die, and you want to keep them alive for as long as possible. What's more, is that if someone does die, they just come back the next mission. Not even their names change.
This is as scary as a Genestealer will ever be
I realise that this is because it's based on the board game, but just tracking names would be a nice little nod to continuity, and make the player care for their squad a little more than just seeing them as disposable pieces. One of XCOM's greatest strengths was how much you cared for your squad. When someone died it really mattered. Space Hulk has none of that.
SPACE HULK (2013) VERDICT
Full Control have done a very faithful recreation of the board game, and with a few tweaks it could have been fairly decent. If they’d have dared to step outside of the restrictions of the original it could have been even better. It still is a fun game, but it is very rough around the edges. If you’re a 40K fan or someone looking for more turn based squad action, Space Hulk does deliver, just about. For anyone else, or those hoping for something a bit deeper, you probably want to look elsewhere.
TOP GAME MOMENT
A Space Marine holding a corridor mowing down alien after alien, it’s pretty sweet.