Space Hulk - Lightning Claws Are Still Overpowered

By Kristian Fischer 19 Aug 2013 0

Say ?Space Hulk? to a certain subset of gamer (usually 35 years+) and they'll give you a knowing look whilst mentally drifting off to a world of claustrophobic corridors, six-limbed horrors in the shadows, overpowered lightning claws, and desk-chewing frustration. 

The first edition of this cult classic boardgame set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe was released in 1989. In it, one player takes control of Imperial Space Marine Terminators of the Blood Angels Chapter as they assault the Space Hulk ?Sin of Damnation? (a conglomerate of wrecked starships and other space debris). The other player controls the Genestealers, a species of predatory alien monsters present on the hulk in effectively infinite numbers. 

The first attempt at a computer version of the game was released by Electronic Arts in 1993 for MS-DOS and the Amiga. Another one, also by Electronic Arts, came out in 1995. Both of these games were adaptations of the boardgame, being shooters rather than pure top-down tactical command games. 

Now we have a third game, also called Space Hulk, developed by Danish indie studio Full Control, out on PC and Mac, with an iOS version due later this year. 600 years after suffering a humiliating defeat aboard the Sin of Damnation, the Blood Angels are back to avenge their fallen battle-brothers. 

This product is a carbon copy of the original boardgame, right down to displaying the dice rolls for you on the screen. It comes with 15 single-player missions (with the AI taking control of the Genestealers) and a multiplayer mode that lets two human players battle it out. This review will focus on the single-player campaign. 

The game is turn-based and is played in a top-down view that can be zoomed in and out with the mouse wheel. You'll be spending most of your time in about mid-zoom, but should occasionally zoom all the way out to get your bearings. Zooming all the way in, conversely, is a good way to lose said bearings and get your men killed. The parts of the map where you can move your Terminators is split into squares, as seen in the screenshot below (screenshot is a thumbnail, please click on it for a larger image).

 

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Additionally, hitting ?m? gives you a strategic view, which is the best way to see any geographic objectives which are very easy to lose track of on the battle map. You can't make move in the strategic view, however. 

For each mission, you control a small number of Blood Angel Space Marines, genetically-enhanced super soldiers clad in massive suits of powered Terminator armour. 

Carrying a selection of oversized firearms, most notably the double-barrelled Storm Bolters, as well as crushing Powerfists for close combats, the Terminators are basically walking tanks and very, very, very slow. The bulk of the armour combines with the long, narrow corridors that comprise 90% of the maps to create a highly claustrophobic experience. 

On the other side are the Genestealers. These aliens are much faster than the player-controlled Terminators and spawn incessantly from points around the edges of the map. For most of the single-player missions, their numbers are literally endless. Unlike the Terminators, the Genestealers have no ranged attacks, but make up for this by being superior in melee. 

Each of your Terminators gets four  Action Points (AP) per game turn, and can also draw on a common pool of Command Points (CP), which you get from 1 to 6 of per turn. The AP's and CP's are used for everything your Terminators do to accomplish their mission, from moving to shooting to opening doors. Your Genestealer foes get six Action Points per turn, and pay only a single AP for all actions they take. 

There are a number of basic rules that you must be aware of to play this game: 

-        Use your firepower: the Genestealers have no ranged attacks, so you need to kill them before they get close to you.

-        Move S-L-O-W-L-Y: while it can be frustrating to watch your little red-clad puppets plod sooooo sloooowly along the corridors of the Space Hulk, do NOT spend all your AP's on movement. Also learn to move backwards.

-        Use Overwatch: this ability is your best friend. For 2 AP/CP, you position your Terminator so he covers a bit of real estate (preferably a long corridor), and everything that enters his field of fire during the next turn will be fired upon.

-        The battlefield is 360 degrees. The Genestealers will come from all around you, and while the map will give you a visual cue when they're about to spawn, you won't know how many will arrive, or which route they'll take. They can, and will, come through doors. 

Space Hulk is a game of choke points. If you find a good spot to place a Terminator, you can hold a corner of the map for many, many turns, piling up dead Genestealers (if you're lucky). Then the rest of your squad can be elsewhere, accomplishing the mission in relative safety. 

At least until the dice decide to screw you over. Space Hulk is a brutal, heartless game. Since you're invariably outnumbered by your enemy, the loss of a single Terminator can often mean the difference between success and failure. Once one of your men goes down, he gets teleported off the map, so he's gone for the rest of the mission. 

In combat, your Storm Bolters will jam, and your precious few heavy weapons will run out of ammunition, all whilst 82 Genestealers are running up to munch on your genetically enhanced physique. This can lead to some very tense moments, especially when melee combat is joined. You get a few Terminators who are specially equipped for melee, but your average guys are at a disadvantage. 

On the technical side, the game installation is quite small (around 1.5 Gb) and ran without any glitches on my PC. The graphics and sound can best be described as ?utilitarian?, that is, they do their job without being superlative. If you keep your zoom level sensible, you should have no trouble. 

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My only technical issue with the game lies with the overly-sensitive mouse controlled movement. It is too easy to mis-click when directing your men, resulting in them getting turned around to have their backs to the enemy (BAD IDEA), or charging forward when you want them to only move one square. Again, move one square at a time, even though it's very slow. A mission might take over an hour to finish, but going slowly helps you win. 

So in conclusion, is Space Hulk worth your time? At the risk of readers yelling at their screens, the answer is ?it depends?. 

If you're a fan of the board game, then this game was made FOR you. You know exactly what you're getting with this product, it'll always be ready to rip your face off when your friends aren't around to play the boardgame, and it's a lot cheaper and easier to get hold off than a copy of said boardgame (which has been out of print for years). On the minus side, the number of single-player missions is relatively small, and there is no editor provided with the game, so keep that in mind before spending your money. 

If you're new to Space Hulk, there's plenty of tension and frustration to be had here, not because of shoddy programming or glitches, but because the dice in Space Hulk hate your guts. The AI-controlled enemy has only one job, swarming into melee range, so it's super aggressive, and it can be irritating to start the same mission for the tenth time because one Terminator got shredded. 

If you still want to give it a shot, but find the price tag (around 30 dollars) too steep, I honestly can't blame you. For what you get, the game is probably too expensive. If you want it, wait for the inevitable Steam sale. 

Full Control's Space Hulk is an acquired taste, but I like it. 

(NB: this review was based on the initial release version 1.0, patched to 1.01, live on Steam since 15 August).

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