Space Hulk: Tactics Review
Platforms: PlayStation 4 [reviewed], Xbox One, PC
Release Date: October 9, 2018
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
My Sergeant emptied his clip into the slavering jaws of the Genestealer menace which threatened his squad. He was holding back the numerous foes so that they could escape, but it was a high risk strategy. He was skilled and his suppressive fire was providing valuable time to move the squad further towards the exit. Without his bravery and zeal for the emperor, the multi-limbed xenos would tear his battle brothers apart. As this strategy progressed I inched my most valuable warrior down the corridors, the other members had been evacuated and I almost thought he was make it out as well. An ambush of slavering jaws destroyed this dream and I still have nightmares about his last moments. This intense and enjoyable experience sums up what makes Space Hulk: Tactics such a fantastic and engrossing title.
I have been in love with the Warhammer universe since I played the board game Space Crusade in the early 90’s. This was Warhammer-lite for those wishing to dip their toes into the expansive and alluring lore of the universe. Space Hulk was the second board game I bought having become enamored with the conflict between the powerful Space Marines and their chaotic foes. The new video game from Cyanide follows and updates the board games compelling mechanics, pitting the slow moving Space Marines (in this case the Blood Angel chapter) with their devastating firepower against the swift and deadly Genestealers. The title features incredibly detailed environments filled with the gloomy atmosphere that the Warhammer universe is famous for. The terrain is filled with pain staking detail, the power armor of the Blood Angels and the disgustingly glorious Genestealers all contain small details which help project the compulsive atmosphere which makes the Warhammer universe unique.
Everything about this turn based strategy title is superbly balanced and quickly became my favorite Warhammer experiences. The gameplay will feel very familiar to players of the XCom series. The player must break up their limited action points between movement, adjusting where you face (important for line of sight), shooting at the enemy, and covering approaches with overwatch. This mechanic provides a satisfying and significant challenge. The Space Marines move slower than their Genestealer enemies, but with clever strategic foresight they can advance quickly to their objective at the cost of the safety of covering fire. Some missions have timers which force more emphasis on moving around the map this way, which makes the player adjust their strategy accordingly. If you play too conservatively in these situations, you risk failing reaching the objective in time. This brings a fantastic tension to the game and some missions will be required to be played multiple times before finding the best solution.
You can also play as the Genestealers, and this turns the gameplay around by requiring a more stealthy stratagem to succeed. You have more information regarding the level environment compared to the Space Marines, but any attempt at a direct assault is likely to fail. Finding the element of weakness in the Space Marine’s formations is a lot of fun. The ability to draw enemy units using decoys also brings some psychological warfare tactics to bear. There’s also a wonderful ability to play in first person mode that is a nod to the original Space Hulk game. It’s a nice inclusion, but unfortunately a bit of a faux pas gameplay wise. Beautifully crisp and detailed visuals help you become immersed in this terrifying environment while in first person mode, but some actions like moving diagonally seem difficult to execute, and it’s difficult to plan ahead as you can’t see the entirety of the battlefield in this mode. However, I do recommend dipping in and out of this mode, especially after you have moved your Space Marine or Genestealer on the map view. I felt a chill of fear as my marine rounded a corner in First Person Mode and glimpsed a waiting Xeno ready to tear him apart.
As well as the Skirmish and Ranked matches, which work incredibly well, there are expansive campaigns for each faction. The Space Marines get 13 missions across a dynamic map with events and collectible loot. The story is entrenched in the hopeless, violent world which fans of the Warhammer universe have fallen in love with for decades. The Genestealer menace receives 9 missions and correlates well with the Space Marines campaign. In each campaign, both factions can unlock new unit types, abilities, power cards (which can be played for extra turns or abilities on the board) and specialized gear. There’s also a map editor with an incredible level of customization available. You have full control over the map layout, spawn points, and objectives. There’s also the ability to craft unique rules for the map, which range from tweaking the amount of Psy points a Librarian can have, to preventing Genestealers from respawning.
The challenge and depth of the game are satisfying, the characters and the environments look incredibly detailed, and the atmosphere is authentic. The maps are crafted to force the player to make difficult in-game choices. At times the difficulty can become frustrating, but for those gamers looking for the next challenge after XCOM2, this comes highly recommended.
This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.