Space Hulk Tactics Review – Grim, not so dark
Over two decades ago, a young boy received a large wrapped box for his birthday. As he excitedly ripped off the wrapping paper his eyes widened as he read the words SPACE HULK in all caps written across the top.
A Duke Nukem looking dude in red armour was the focal point of the box art as he fired a double-barreled machine gun with one hand and swung a lightning sword with the other.
“HELL YEAH!” he shouted before being scolded by his parents for ‘swearing’.
But the excitement was very much real and he was invested in this awesome new world of Space Marines that he had been introduced to and would be for a long time.
Space Hulk Tactics Review
A History of Flops
It’s no secret that Games Workshop has a real hit and miss relationship with video game adaptions of its IP. Dawn of War 1 and Space Marine stand as genre-defining titles. They accurately portrayed the grim darkness of the 41st millennium but were light enough that anyone could enjoy them.
Then games like Space Hulk: Deathwing, Eternal Crusade and — shudder — Firewarrior go and drag the IP through the mud. These games feature what feels like low budget rushed gameplay that’s fun for about ten minutes.
Unfortunately, Space Hulk: Tactics on PS4 falls into the latter category.
Space Hulk Tactics is a safe attempt to capture the nostalgia and action of the tabletop game whilst adding a small flare only available in video games. It succeeds in doing exactly this but as a gaming experience, it still feels hollow.
There’s no option to play through the ‘old content’ in the form of missions from the tabletop Space Hulk game and the levels it does include feel recycled and uninspired.
During the first chapter of the campaign, I played the same ‘Take & Hold’ objective on the exact same map three times. For reference, the first chapter has about six missions.
On the surface, the game is what you’d expect from a Games Workshop tactical turn-based game adapted to console. The art and animation are is not AAA quality but accurately portrays the units from the tabletop game.
The environment feels menacing and bleak and the odds are stacked high as the doomclock is set to 11:59. The fate of a world rests on the shoulders of the Blood Angel Space Marines. Can they stop this Hulk hurtling towards a planet I didn’t catch the name of, to save some people I’ve never met, for a reason that was never made clear?
Probably… I mean, they are Space Marines.
The mechanics of the gameplay is identical to the most recent release of the board game, as well as the 2013 release of Space Hulk on PC with a few other bits bolted on. Gone is the random ‘tactical die’ that gives the player extra action points each turn.
Now we have ‘tactical cards’ which is where I assume the ‘Tactics’ part of the name comes from. Players upgrade their Marines or Genestealers like in an RPG, which unlocks more cards as well as gear or powers. Fit out your team and away you go.
Build your Roster and Deck
The tactic cards add another element to the game for variety and add some life and balance to the multiplayer facet of Space Hulk Tactics, but still feel quite bland. You can now play a card to guarantee your next shot or melee will hit its target.
Alternatively, the Genestealers can ‘de-buff’ the marines so they miss shots, allowing the melee only aliens to get into the face of their enemy. These cards can also be converted into extra action points, allowing your Marine to do extra actions. If that sounds simple, it’s because it is.
Only I found the action point bonus was almost always better and more useful than whatever random cards I drew that turn, so I stopped reading them and just turned them into action points.
The Genestealer card mechanics are more complex, allowing you to reduce the chance of a Marine shooting you but also adding more Genestealers to the board. Again, I usually found myself adding more units to the board instead of what the other card text was.
More units on the board mean more pressure, means more likely a Marine’s bolter will jam or run out of ammo. Drown them in bodies until they reach their kill limit.
Zapp Brannigan would be proud.
The other features of Space Hulk Tactics are cobbled together from the 2013 PC release and a handful of things. There’first-personrson mode and ‘tactical vision’, a near useless addition to a game that doesn’t really make sense.
It’s clear the first person view mode is simply ported across from Deathwing, making use of art and 3D modelling assets you already have complete isn’t a crime but when it makes an already awkward control system feel more cumbersome then the question has to be asked. What does it add to the game? In short, nothing.
Slapped onto this first person view mode is ‘tactical vision’ which allows you to see through walls and gives a blueprint style overlay to the map. This is very useful in a first-person shooter but the alternative is pressing up on the D-Pad to get a ‘top down’ view of the battle map.
So, again I ask what does it add? Again, nothing really. The tutorial focused on it kind of heavily so I assumed it would be more important but it was made redundant by changing the view mode to isometric.
The campaign feels fresh and allows the player to play through as the Genestealers. You get to use the bad guys and help their mission succeed. But it’s all a bit too easy.
The campaign takes you by the hand and if you have a bit of strategic acumen about yourself, you’ll fly through the missions and wonder what all the fuss is about. On two missions back to back, I had such a solid defensive setup with my Space Marines covering all the approaches the game didn’t even bother to attack me.
The missions were to hold a room for eight turns so I fan out, set up and then pass the next six turns without ever seeing an enemy.
It’s like the AI called ‘GG,’ packed up their models and went and sat in their car until the next game started. I guess they were aiming to provide an authentic Warhammer tournament experience?
This campaign mode is bundled up with a rather needless campaign map that has you click through different nodes or locations of the Hulk. Some of them have resources, some have a cryptic clue as to what the plot of the game is, and other nodes are clearly marked as encounters.
It’s important to note you can ignore these encounters by leaving a Space Marine behind to lay down covering fire, he is removed from your roster temporarily and you move on. Yep, you can skip the missions that aren’t story points, which is all but about two per chapter.
Sadly it feels like the campaign is another feature that was bolted onto the game as an afterthought and like most titles today, it’s simply a tutorial for the multiplayer modes.
Esports Ready? Probably Not
The multiplayer has a list and deck building facet to it. Working out the best combo of Marines/Aliens and cards then queuing against other people is how it goes down. Like a lot of modern games, this is where the life and replay potential will come from, but Space Hulk never really worked as a competitive game.
It’s weighted towards the Space Marines. They’re the heroes and the heroes are meant to win. As a result,t very few people are queueing up to play Genestealers, I had to wait nearly twenty minutes to get a game with my Space Wolf squad and the game insta-popped when I queued as Tyranids.
Marines comfortably won both times at which point I decided I’ve had enough of ‘competitive’ Space Hulk, logged back into the campaign and knocked it over in about another ninety minutes.
Sadly, I think the only real substance to Space Hulk Tactics is its Mission Editor mode and playing scenarios of your own creation with friends. This aspect of the game mirrors very closely what was so fun about tabletop Space Hulk, perhaps there’s enough meat on the Mission Editor bones to keep Space Hulk alive for a while.
The map creator is probably the most intuitive and interesting thing about Space Hulk Tactics too. It feels as free form and fun as the days of building your own skate park in Tony Hawk. If players are prepared to put in the work there is a ton of potential for the game. If there is an easy way to share maps with other players then I can see Space Hulk Tactics sticking around amongst the fans.
However, it more feels like a tool to later sell map packs and other DLC such as schemes and weapon packs down the road. Ultimately I think Space Hulk Tactics goes down as another Games Workshop video game disappointment.
The promise is there, but the execution leaves something to be desired.
Space Hulk Tactics was reviewed on PS4 using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Game title: Space Hulk: Tactics
Art and Environmental Design - 8/10
Gameplay and Campaign - 4/10
Multiplayer Features - 2/10