In the grim darkness of the 41s millennium there is only war and jammed weapons… a shit-ton of jammed weapons. I mean, you’d think they’d have a hold on projectile firing technology by then, but it’s ridiculously common. Anyway, these are my thoughts on Space Hulk.
Talking about anything taking place in the Warhammer 40k universe, or the Warhammer universe in general, comes with a bit of a difficulty. The title has been around for a long time and it has had, and still has, an important say in the realm of miniature wargaming.
But all of the lore of the past almost-30 years doesn’t come into play in this circumstance a lot since we’re dealing with the video game variant of an already existing boardgame.
The original Space Hulk boardgame was released back in 1989, and it has seen four reprints – the most recent one being in 2014, so we can assume it’s pretty well-liked in the boardgame playing community.
This isn’t even the first video game adaptation of the boardgame, there’s a 1993 version which was quite lauded at the time. But how does this video game adaptation of Space Hulk fare?
It could’ve been much better, from all points of view.
Warhammer 40K setting
Let’s start with the basics since not everyone of you will have even the tiniest inkling of the Warhammer 40k universe.
In Space Hulk you will be commanding a squadron of Terminators – no, not THAT sort of Terminator – from the Blood Angels Chapter, which will vary in make-up from mission to mission.
They are called Terminators because that is the name of the incredibly heavy and bulky armor they wear. This type of armor is only available to the elite troops from the best and most experienced of each Space Marine Chapter. These will be your soldiers, your units throughout the game.
You’ll be setting on missions through a gigantic amalgam of various stuck together space ships – called a Space Hulk – to search for whatever McGuffin the game considers relevant. Whilst doing so, you’ll have to fight through waves upon waves of xenomorphs – heavily inspired by the Alien designs – called genestealers.
To be incredibly honest, the gameplay mechanics seem to be as clunky and as sluggish as your Terminators will be. Since their suits are so heavy and the spaces are so confined they feel the need to move like a tank turret, and trust me, this will fuck you over when you least wish it to – isn’t that generally the case anyway? – because if you’re not careful, when ordering them to move back, they might find it necessary to waste 2 action points in order to face the direction that they’d be going to, when you actually intended them to move backwards. However, after that happens to you a few times you start being a bit more careful with your clicking. After some trial and error you can use this limitation of the game somewhat to your advantage, when you manage to get them to move backwards.
When you start a mission, you cannot choose what types of units you take with you however, you can choose the order in which they’ll be lined up at the start. This might not sound like much, but it will prove to be very important for the beginning parts of missions which are often-times crucial to ensuring the longest life out of your units because positioning is pretty much everything in this game.
Action Points are life
Calling back to the problem with moving backwards, the game does feature a couple of very useful abilities that your units have, and you should learn to use them properly as early in the game as possible. The abilities being Overwatch and Move and Fire.
Action Points are your main resource, besides the actual units and ammo for special weapons, and each unit only gets four. You will also get a random number between one and six each turn as a communal pool of APs, which in some circumstances you’ll be able to re-roll, but this means that you have to be extremely sure how much you move and how much you shoot each turn.
Space Hulk Survival tips
Use Overwatch, can’t stress this enough, overuse Overwatch. It does what you might think it does, or what you’ve already experienced in the most recent X-COM title. For the cost of 2 Action Points, your unit will shoot at any enemy that moves into or in his field of view.
Move and Fire is pretty self explanatory, it’s a good way of making the most out of your Action Points by moving and also firing at the motherfucking xenos.
And since I’m offering tips to conserve APs, I cannot NOT mention the thing that will indiscriminately eat up a lot of them: weapon jamming.
I understand the game mechanics behind it and as a random resource expenditure it does the job well, it’s very thematic and relates to real life, but the thing is, this isn’t real life. (it actually truly is, fantasy 😉 )
From a universe building standpoint it doesn’t make sense. I mean, we’re talking about a civilization that has managed to find a method to engage in faster than light space travel, amongst a crapload of other super-sciency shit, and they did this without doing away with weapon jamming?
Anyway, weird geeky discussions aside, the game makes it very unclear as to how the fights are resolved. You get so idea if you read the combat log but there’s no real explanation in the game as to how many dice are rolled in which case by what party when some action is taking place.
Your main focus should be to set up a crossfire situation as much as possible so that the xenos can come through it like a meatgrinder. Besides the real-world and time-tested importance of this approach, having two dudes aiming at the same enemies as often as possible is great because sometimes, they’ll give Storm Troopers a run for their money in regards to hitting targets, whilst some other times, a single Terminator will kill five consecutive zerglings *ahem* I mean, genestealers.
There are also melee options here and there but from my experience these are to be avoided at all times, except if that unit is wielding a shield and/or a melee weapon, in those circumstances that unit will be a bit more adept at melee combat, otherwise, if you can shoot, shoot and then overwatch, much better chances of survival.
Graphics and sound
There could’ve been better ways of transferring this particular boardgame, to the medium of video games.
The game looks very static anyway because of the drab, narrow and monotonous corridors, and the overall design doesn’t do anything to counteract that. It’s more of the same all the time and it get annoying. Similarly, the overall models, animations and camera use could have done with a bit more polish.
The sound is nothing to write home about, it does a pretty good enough job, but nothing spectacular. Also you’ll get to hate hearing your guys saying their weapon has jammed, it happens that often. I mean, there’s an achievement in the game, related to unjamming your weapon.
Warhammer 40K Trivia
Here’s a piece of gaming history trivia. You know they were working on a WH40k RTS a while back? You know who “they” were? A then still-young company called Blizzard, but there were some issues with the rights and they couldn’t finish that game. Instead, they took the assets they were building and with some slight modifications here and there, as well as changing the names and setting, they created a new game. A game you might know by the name of Starcraft. And now that you know that you can trace some very clear lines between the Starcraft races and Warhammer 40k ones, as well as various design choices here and there.
The biggest issue I see with the game is that a large chunk, the largest chunk to be honest, of Space Hulk’s appeal stems from its setting, the Warhammer 40K universe. And if that doesn’t do it for you, then you won’t be able to get over the sluggish mechanics and lack of diversity in terms of mission objectives.
And I just can’t shake the feeling that this exact setting – that of a Space Hulk – would be much better suited to something like a first person shooter, or a survival horror game. And it so happens that such a game is in the works and will see release rather soon, it’s called Spacehulk Deathwing.
There’s another Warhammer title in the works, this time the initial Fantasy version, and it comes part of an already existing and well established gaming franchise, Total War: Warhammer. This one is a bit farther out than Deathwing but it will definitely see some play-time, if my laptop can handle it.
Well that’s about it about Space Hulk from me, but i’m quite curious to hear what you guys thought of the game. Let me know in the comments.
Seeya next time, again in the past.