Space Crusade was the first video game based on Warhammer 40,000 universe, a conversion of a popular board game of the same name. It was also the first game I professionally reviewed back in 1992, so Space Hulk: Tactics, another conversion of a successful board game, got me all nostalgic. After all, the games are almost identical in their presentation and how they play. Space Crusade had me rocking with Emperor’s Terminators extinguishing alien scum on board a derelict space vessel. Space Hulk: Tactics, on the other hand, not so much.
Basically, Space Hulk: Tactics is the same as the board game. You have two teams, Imperial Terminators and hideous Genestealers, fighting against each other. Funnily enough, after numerous Warhammer 40,000 games in the past two decades, Space Hulk: Tactics marks the first time you can actually play as the enemy. The game takes place inside space hulk, a coalition of derelict spaceships, debris, and meteors all mangled together to create a massive floating piece of junk. Terminators and Genestealers have their own objectives; Imperial forces usually place bombs, escort or protect targets, and activate consoles while aliens have it simple – kill all enemies. Terminators are either Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Space Wolves or Ultramarines, the famous factions you can choose between in missions, while Genestealers have many subspecies. Both parties have some differences depending who (or what) they are, but not too much, as most of the available actions are identical.
After choosing a mission in campaign, skirmish or online modes, you begin by placing your troops on an isometric mission map. Each Terminator has only four action points to move, shoot, melee attack, defend or interact with environment. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s more than enough as the pace of the game is very slow and needs meticulous play. Still, there’s a kind of hurry as you can’t waste too many moves. Each mission has a strict turn limit in which to accomplish the goals and the instances when you’re on your last turn while attaining the mission objective are numerous. Playing as Genestealers is more finicky because they can either move in undetected blips or emerge to make other actions, dividing their turn into two phases. Agile and fearless, they have six action points to spend on to chew on Terminator armor.
For Terminators, it’s imperative to leave two action points to activate an overwatch. If a genestealer enters overwatching Terminator’s field of vision, he shoots at the enemy at the first sight. Otherwise, idly standing Terminators are as good as snacks for Genestealers. They don’t need something like overwatch as they can compensate their lack of defense with mobility. All in all, it’s like moving your miniature figures on a game board in the real life. Luckily, the video game adaptation has a trick up its to sleeve to shake up things a bit, namely playing cards. Each card has an action to it, like giving bonuses to a next shot or granting a successful melee hit, and it costs a certain amount of command points to play them. However, you can choose not to play the card but flip it to gain additional action points, a critical asset when the turn limit is getting closer and you know there are Genestealers lurking around the next corner.
Aliens have cards too, and it actually takes flipping them to be able to place blips on the map that hide Genestealers in them. That’s followed by an action phase where Genestealers are moved one after another. Each turn must be individually ended until the next alien can be selected, unlike Terminators who you can switch between as you like, as long as they have action points. It makes no sense why playing with Genestealers is so complicated. It’s pretty intuitive to move and act with Terminators but with aliens, you need to often rethink your options.
Genestealers notwithstanding, the rules are simple and soon you can move your Terminators about with ease. However, Space Hulk: Tactics don’t do anything extra than just convert the tried and trusted board game. There’s not enough eye candy or gameplay hooks to keep up the attention for a video game. The isometric game screen is cluttered, needing a look or two to make things out of it. There’s an option for parts of the game being viewed from a first-person view but it’s practically useless. Playing cards is a nice addition to the rules, but all the missions and their settings are basically repeating themselves. A simple and easy-to-use mission editor actually shows how little it takes to create a functional mission.
What’s bugging me more than it maybe should, though, comes from a lack of interaction with throwing dice. Dice rolls are shown in detail as they automatically roll, leaving you out of the process. Because you’re playing the game, there should at least be an option to let you toss the dice, even if it is just for show. Te end result is random either way but it takes something out of the experience.
I reckon Space Hulk: Tactics sinks well with the target demographic but it makes no effort to convert non-believers to join the Imperial cause. The fact that it works as well as it does, goes solely down to the original board game. Outside it, it’s just not attractive or appealing enough. Maybe that’s the reason there was no online activity going on during the review period, no matter what time of day I tried to seek out opponents. Playing Space Hulk in the real life with local opponents is a true social occasion - something that Space Hulk: Tactics can’t achieve.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.