Posted on 20 Oct 2018 by Jay Shaw

Space Hulk: Tactics

The Defence

Developer: Cyanide Studios
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Genre: Strategy, Turn-Based
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: No data.

The Prosecution

Minimum
Recommended
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i3 3220 @3.3 GHz
AMD FX 4200 @3.3 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 660 2GB
AMD Radeon R7 370 2GB
RAM: 8 GB
HDD: 5 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: None
Mod Support: Unknown
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 4690K @3.5 GHz
AMD FX 8300 @3.3 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 960 4GB
AMD Radeon R9 380 4GB
RAM: 8 GB
HDD: 5 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: None
Mod Support: Unknown
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+

The Case

Space Hulk: Tactics is the latest digital edition of the venerable Space Hulk board game. This time we’ve got campaign outings for both the Space Marines and Genestealers, as well as online play, map editor, and squad customisation. The question remains though – does it roll a natural 6 or get teleported back to the Battle Barge in defeat?

The Trial

For many players the meat of Space Hulk: Tactics will lay in the two campaigns on offer; tactics between the two vary wildly with the stompy Terminator squad requiring smart use of overwatch and the environment while the Genestealers can take a more brute force approach in many cases due to their numerical and speed advantage. The game balances the difference between the two factions well. The Terminators are slower and weak in melee but offer good ranged power and the ability to overwatch which allows them to essentially take multiple shots at an incoming Genestealer within a fixed area. Genestealers on the other hand have more action points (AP), are deadly in melee, and can use their deployment blips as diversionary tactics but have no ranged capability.

While the tactical opportunities offered by the campaign’s excellent maps and design are well done, I unfortunately can’t say the same for the bland story. Presented in snippets of conversation between various members of your squad and an arrogant Inquisitor, it’s standard Warhammer 40K banter that could probably be replaced a conversation about how long to steep tea and have zero impact on proceedings. Thankfully, the Genestealer campaign offers a historic account of the Space Hulk’s encounters with the Imperium of Man; a human narrator recalls the many failed historical expeditions into the conglomeration of vessels that’s a refreshing way to present the setting.

The campaign structure is also more open than previous Space Hulk games with a map consisting of various nodes making up each campaign chapter. You can move around freely to pick up clues and resources with some light puzzle solving required to make the correct moves to acquire some of the items. Completing the chapter story mission will unlock the next section of the map. Take too long and a xeno activity gauge will fill and spawn more encounters onto the map, forcing you to either temporarily sacrifice a unit to bypass them or take your time to complete the skirmish. Genestealers meanwhile have a more basic campaign structure, largely just jumping from battle to battle, but the brisk pace is refreshing from the ponderous and often laborious Terminator venture.

Remind us to never let Gene Simmons star in sci-fi ever again.

The AI is unfortunately rather varied in quality too. In the time I’ve spent with the two campaigns I’ve seen the Genestealer AI do incredibly smart things like use diversionary tactics and scatter from an overwatch area. I’ve also seen it rush unit after unit into flames like it has some kind of pyrophilia. The Space Marine AI meanwhile will pursue its objectives to a decent degree though it occasionally arrives at a switch it needs to activate only to walk away to pursue a nearby Genestealer. The Terminators make good use of overwatch and will spread out effectively to cover larger areas and leave few openings for a Genestealer player to exploit but is easily tricked with basic fake blips or a sacrificial unit.

Providing more variety is the inclusion of cards: each unit in your squad will add a small number of cards to your deck. You draw cards every turn and can either convert them for an amount of action points or activate them for the effect stated on the card. These can range from minor but helpful like adding +1 to a melee roll, to cards powerful enough to turn the tide of battle such as converting a Genestealer blip to deploy three Genestealers. Activating a card however requires a certain amount of a resource of which you only gain one per turn so you won’t be spamming powerful cards. On the other hand you may not be converting them every turn either if you get a hand full of cards you plan on using later.

Also on offer are the standard online and local skirmish modes which allow you to play both factions against other players or the AI. You can also customise your squads with various Space Marine chapters available along with a decent amount of cosmetics and adornment variants to let you feel like you’ve made a group of units your own. Once you’ve burned through all that there’s a built-in editor where you can create your own maps to play on which offers a decent way to live out your ideal Space Hulk incursion fantasies.

The early campaign map. Still has lots to do but opens up considerably in short order.

Perhaps more inspired is the game’s dual presentation visually while playing the Terminators; with the press of a key you can flip between first-person view and the typical top-down map. You can even use the keyboard to move and rotate your Terminators without leaving first-person. Genestealers have no such luxuries however and are restricted to the map view. Attacks are also given plenty of flair via a short in-engine cutscene that will play showing the outcome of the action from a dramatic camera angle. Unique animations for the different weapons and angles of attack can result in some spectacular views of xeno filth being impaled on a force sword.

The UI is also quite busy: There’s a lot of information to present for a Space Hulk game and so some clutter is to be expected but the chunky UI elements take up a considerable amount of screen real estate and some elements (namely on-unit AP displays) can encroach on other useful information, a frustration that will pop up at least every other mission. Display modes help by allowing some information to be summoned up on demand but there’s still room for improvement and optimisation in displaying this info.

Sound and graphical design are well done if not stand-out. You won’t be blown away by the thump of a bolter or the ravening of a crazed Genestealer. Environmental effects like dust hanging in the air, heavy use of electrical sounds, and spraying particles from the rocket propelled projectiles your Terminators carry will help treat you to shiny sights regularly. Interior designs of the various ships of the Hulk could perhaps have been more varied – one Imperial vessel is as grey and brown as any other – but differing environmental items such as Ork spore pods and Eldar portals add some much needed variety.

The Verdict

Space Hulk: Tactics is easily the best digital rendition of the board game to date. The card system is genius and can make you feel like a tactical genius when you use them to escape a sticky situation or take a huge gamble. That said, the slow pace of play isn’t conducive to long play sessions and bland sound design will probably have you reaching for a playlist to keep your ears occupied. Tension is high as you wait for the outcome of a move or attack to be revealed and can provide a genuine thrill for fans of turn based strategy. If you’ve not played a version of Space Hulk before, or are looking to jump into it digitally there’s no better place to start.

Case Review

  • Campaign structure: The node map for the Space Marines provides some much needed player agency between missions.

  • A View To A Kill: Combat actions playing out up-close and personal are a treat.

  • Forsaken Doom: It literally crashes into, and annihilates a planet.

  • Rowboat Gullyman: Guilliman is mentioned. Love it or hate it.

  • Noise Marines: Terminators should be loud and stompy, hulks should be groaning and echoing with the hidden Genestealer menace.

  • Blur: There’s too much of it in the combat cinematics. Plain and simple.

4 Score: 4/5
Slowly, a solid Space Hulk game is emerging from the Warp.

Evidence

  • Graphics: Resolution selection, Vsync toggle, full screen, borderless, and windowed modes are supported and option sliders for gamma, global quality, anti-aliasing, post processing, effects, model details, textures, shadows, and resolution scale are all present.
  • Sound: Sliders for global, voices, sound effects, and music. Basic but functional.
  • Controls: Fully rebindable keyboard controls with basic notation to describing each key's function makes rebinding easy.

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