Space Hulk was originally a board game set in the Warhammer 40k universe. The game featured a focus on stressful situations where your soldiers were constantly outnumbered by an alien menace. Then came a PC version of the board game, released in 1993. This summer, a new Space Hulk has been released on Steam (rather quietly). This newest iteration feels like a decent enough digital version of the board game, though it has a few minor issues.
In Space Hulk, you control squads of Terminators (basically super soldiers in powerful but cumbersome suits of armor) trapped in the confines of wrecked space ships. Stalking you in the narrow hallways are Genestealers, who are both faster and more numerous than the Terminators. As you play from mission to mission, you’ll have to manage your six or so Terminators as well, as the endless onslaught of Genestealers, while you try to complete specific objectives.
Being a franchise notorious for its unforgiving difficulty, this version of Space Hulk holds nothing back in stacking the odds against you. Each Terminator in your squad has four action points to use during each turn, and every little action will use up a point. For example, if you want to walk forward three spaces and turn 90 degrees, that would use up all four of your action points. It’s typically worth saving two action points per turn so that you can put your Terminator in “overwatch,” which basically means he’ll automatically shoot at any Genestealers he sees. As you can imagine, saving two points for overwatch means that you’ll only have 2 free points for movement, turning, etc. As such, it’s to your benefit to move very slowly and carefully through each mission.
Genestealers aren’t so restricted. They have more action points per turn than Terminators, and if they get right up next to you the odds of your Terminator surviving in melee are slim to none (even with special melee weapons equipped). So, the aforementioned overwatch mechanic is an absolute necessity. However, every time a Terminator fires his gun, there’s a chance that it’ll jam. If a gun jams, you better not have used all your command points (a universal resource that all of your Terminators can use) during your turn because they’re also used to clear jams in the heat of the enemy turn.
It all sounds very complex, but it’s not so bad. There are only a handful of mechanics at work in the game and they’re explained fairly well. A lot of the time, the difficulty will stem from pure luck. I’ve had missions where I gunned down dozens of Genestealers and never suffered a single jam. In other missions, I’ve seen jams occur every time a Terminator takes a shot.
As far as presentation goes, Space Hulk is passable. The overhead view of each mission gives you a good angle on the action and the UI is easy to follow, if a little barebones. Sometimes, when you kill a Genestealer, the camera will zoom into a close-up view of the action, but it really shouldn’t. The close-up view just brings out how unremarkable and stiff the game’s animations are. You can actually turn this feature off in the options, which I fully recommend. Also, it’ll save you the time of having to watch repetitive animations each time you get a kill. One thing that I do really like is the helmet cam view shown in the corner of the screen. It basically shows an Aliens-esque view of whatever the selected Terminator is looking at and helps provide a bit of atmosphere.
I haven’t had a chance to dive into the multiplayer yet, but the prospect of one player as Terminators and one as Genestealers seems promising (and probably super difficult for the Terminator player). The single player missions have been varied enough from what I’ve seen, tasking you with protecting certain characters, searching for fallen comrades, holding back the tides of aliens, and more. I will say that it looks like the single player campaign is a little on the short side, and the game seems to have no sort of random map generator (which would work really well in this case, I think).
Space Hulk is certainly a little rough around the edges. There are numerous spelling and punctuation errors in the UI text and subtitles. The animations are clunkier than you’d like, even for massive space soldiers in bulky suits of armor. At $30 it feels a little steep for the content you get, but I can’t say that for sure until I check out the multiplayer. But the core experience is fun, challenging, and stressful enough to pull you in. I suppose it wouldn’t be a Warhammer 40k product if it weren’t a little overpriced, but if you’re only after single player I’d grab it during a Steam sale.