Space Hulk Review

Its tense missions retain the spirit of the board game, but Space Hulk is ultimately a disappointing take on the Games Workshop classic.

by

Adapting a board game for the PC is a tough task. Developers are faced with two big questions. Do we play it straight and narrow and just port the basic game? Or do we take advantage of all that the computer has to offer and rev things up with glitzy graphics and new features? You either play up to diehard fans who want nothing but a buttoned-down tribute or go after a wider audience that wants something more involved than the pixelated rehashing of an experience best had on the dining room table.

The number of Genestealer enemies makes smart unit positioning far more important than sheer firepower.

Full Control Studios went with the "straight and narrow" option in its take on the classic cardboarder Space Hulk. This version of the legendary Games Workshop release from the late 1980s is so locked into re-creating the ancient original that you might as well have dug the game out of a time capsule. The tension and strategic challenge that the original game did so well have weathered the years just fine, proving that the age-old Warhammer 40,000 battle between space marines and rampaging aliens is as compelling today as it was nearly 25 years ago. But the simplistic gameplay lacks the complexity and replayability of contemporary squad-based tactical sims, and the bottom-drawer production values are hardly befitting of such a great license. There is something dissatisfying about most everything here.

Still, this is Space Hulk. It may seem a little cheap, but all of the core elements of the board game are here. You get most of what was included in the box when the first edition hit stores in 1989. What's here also closely resembles the two Space Hulk games that were released for both the PC and consoles back in the mid-'90s. This is still a tactical game pitting the genetically augmented space marines of the Blood Angels chapter against hordes of Genestealer aliens who populate a mass of spaceship garbage, known as a space hulk, roaming the treacherous Warp.

You need some knowledge of Warhammer 40K mythology to understand the previous sentence, but all you really need to know is that one side is composed of the good guys clad in battle armor, and the other side consists of the Genestealers, monstrous killing machines equipped with bulbous purple heads, four arms, and butcher-knife claws.

Most of the scenarios are spent studying the overhead map and strategizing ways to shred Genestealers from a safe distance.

The gameplay is straightforward. Mission scenarios have all been inspired by those included with the board game and have all been set in the narrow corridors of the space hulk. Solo play sees you commanding the space marines against AI Genestealers, while in the hot seat and online options, one player takes charge of the space marines and the other looks after the big bad ETs. All of the action is turn-based. Each space marine gets four action points along with access to a pool of one to six command points each turn. All of these points are used by marines to move and turn; fire off a weapon like a chaingun, bolter, or flamethrower; or engage in melee combat with power fists or something more intimidating, like a giant power hammer or Wolverine-style lightning claws. Marines vary a little in terms of loadout. Some are basic grunts with bolter guns, others are sergeants with power swords, and the librarian comes with a range of psychic powers that can fry enemies from a distance.

Every space marine is something of a one-man army. But the Genestealers have the numbers, and they can cover ground faster than space marines. They swarm your position in each scenario from spawn points designated by radar blips. Make a couple of missteps, and Genestealers can overwhelm you very quickly. Marines, on the other hand, are ponderous. One action point is needed just to turn around. An action point is needed for basic attacks like shooting a bolter or using a melee weapon, but two are needed to fire the heavy flamer, and you need four to reload the powerhouse assault cannon. Two points are required to go into guard mode or the all-important overwatch sentry position that lets you automatically open up on moving Genestealers during their turn. And another single point is required to unjam a weapon, which is needed depressingly often during firefights.

So it should come as no surprise that it is imperative to make good use of every single action point. You need to plan out movements in advance, making sure that you have enough action points to get where you need to go and to finish off rounds by setting troops on overwatch or guard. Fail to do this, and you're soon shredded by rampaging Genestealers, who are very deadly in melee combat. You also have to save a point or three whenever you're expecting to open fire during the enemy's turn, since you inevitably need to use them to unjam weapons. Life as a space marine is not easy. You are constantly challenged with tough decisions, such as how to use your action points, how to divvy up command points, whether or not you're going to try to save a marine or leave him back as cannon fodder providing covering fire as everybody else streams for the exit, and so forth.

Sergeant Lorenzo can deal with his alien pals by bolter or by sword.

Matters are complicated by the ingeniously designed mission maps. Corridors are so narrow that you can only walk through most of them single file. Genestealer spawn points can be so numerous and so close by that you find yourself battling waves of aliens coming from all directions. Mission objectives and map size gradually increase in complexity. In the beginning, you're running squads of five marines on jobs like finding an exit or sneaking some sort of gadget away from the Genestealers. Later on, you're running two full squads ranging over huge sections of the space hulk looking for an artifact, killing a few dozen of the monster aliens, or something equally suicidal.

The difficulty can be extreme. Maps have to be looked at as puzzles, although there are no single solutions to victory. There is a fair bit of room for creative thinking, especially when it comes to how you employ your marines. Sometimes, for example, you can get away with blasting to an objective with your chaingun and flamer, while at other times you can move a main force ahead slowly while troops keep an eye on your vulnerable flanks with overwatch enabled each and every turn.

It also sounds exactly like what a Space Hulk game should be. And it is, for the most part. But this is where the game stops. Instead of using these basics as a foundation for a new Space Hulk experience, the game settles for re-creating that original game. So things can get repetitive. Missions are tough, yes, but you use the same handful of tactics to get through each one. Watch the flanks, always use overwatch, keep a few points in reserve at the end of every turn to deal with jammed weapons, don't rush things, and so on. Once you wrap a mission, chances are good that you won't feel much of an urge to replay it anytime soon, and there are just 12 missions in total.

Overwatch is your best friend.

Granted, they're pretty good assignments, with a lot of white-knuckle moments, especially after you hit mission six and beyond. But there just aren't enough of them. There is no level editor, either, so when you're done, you're done. By comparison, the Space Hulk PC games released 20 years ago included dozens of missions apiece with story-based campaigns.

All of these limitations stand out when compared to modern tactical games, which offer more depth, more role-playing with squad members, and more missions. There is no leveling up here, for example, no skills to boost, and no experience points to earn. Even the first Space Hulk video game way back in 1993 included the ability to gain experience during its campaign. Here, without any sort of extra RPG layer, there is no bond between you and your marines. You can't build them up to carry a maturing team into new missions. Troops are totally expendable. Marines die in one mission and are resurrected in the next. There is no sense of playing through a campaign or following a story. You're just moving through disconnected scenarios, none of which have any impact on the others, even though missions do build to a crescendo.

Luck is also something of an annoyance. Dice rolling is a huge part of the board game, but the sheer randomness of so many key elements here can be hard to take. Missions can and will be lost on bad dice rolls, and not just in combat. Screw up too many times trying to smash open a door, and you can get delayed long enough that the Genestealers ruin your day. Rolls for command points are equally random. Missions can be won or lost in the final moments depending solely on whether you roll something like a one or a two or luck out with a five or a six.

Do you know what happens when a Genestealer catches on fire? The same thing that happens to everything else.

Production problems cause further issues. Multiplayer hasn't been fully developed. This is the sort of head-to-head game that should thrive online, but it's tough to get into matches because you're stuck with a poor interface where you are limited to setting up one-off matches with random opponents. More features, such as a browser and a chat window, are desperately needed to help re-create the tabletop atmosphere that a game like this has to have to truly come into its own.

Genestealer AI is hit-and-miss. Sometimes they are smartly deployed and work to flank and cut you off. Other times they volunteer themselves for cannon fodder and flood out in a steady stream all following the same routes, making nice target practice for a marine or two on overwatch. Missions move slowly. Scenarios can take up to an hour or more to finish. On the surface, this isn't cause for complaint, since the bread and butter of this precise tactical game is the steadily growing tension. But here you're not so much held in thrall by lengthy, nerve-racking battles as you are gradually annoyed by how slowly marines turn and walk, and how almost every battle is accompanied by canned, unskippable cutscenes featuring close-ups of weapons firing and Genestealers exploding into goo.

Having to look so closely at the action so often is further hampered by how ugly the game is when you're not examining everything from the top-down camera over the tactical map. Animations are jerky, the artwork is lacking in fine detail, and there are tons of fit-and-finish problems like marines killing Genestealers through closed doors and animations clipping through one another. Even little touches are lacking; one actor voices all of the space marine dialogue, for example. And there is little in the way of Warhammer 40K frills, aside from short one-liner factoids on loading screens. Very little atmosphere of the grim universe where "there is only war" is present, aside from the iconic look of the Blood Angels while they're unloading their weapons against Genestealers in the bowels of the space hulk.

When evil aliens are hurt, do they not bleed?

As enjoyable as this new take on Space Hulk can be at times, especially if you're nostalgic for the board game, the developers missed out on a big opportunity here. Such a straight remake of the original game has its pluses with easy-to-understand rules and intense tactical challenges. But additions like skill progression and map editing could have deepened the game and extended its replayability. This is a satisfying game--especially to the longtime Warhammer 40K devotees who have been waiting for a new Space Hulk video game for nearly two decades--but it could have been so much more.

The Good
Design is true to the original Space Hulk board game
Great tactical depth due to the smart core rules system
Tense and absorbing mission design
The Bad
Very slow moving with unskippable animations
Rules overly dependent on limited movement and attack options
Second-rate production values
Limited multiplayer options
6
Fair
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

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Brett Todd has reviewed more bad games for GameSpot--and awesome ones too--than he cares to admit.

Discussion

39 comments
HapiJoel
HapiJoel

And I was so looking forward to this...

When will we finally get a truly decent Space Marines game?!

pitosga
pitosga

Funny, it's not part of "The Bad" nor is it even mentioned, the $30 price tag. I find it to be the worst con of the game. It's far too steep for what's offered, even if they were to fix the most glaring oversights and bugs.

jamesjgraham
jamesjgraham

Game companies have to stop making PC games that cater only to the vanilla ice-cream eaters (those who don't like change or willing to try something new). The PC has so much to offer in terms of options that it's a wonder game designers don't take advantage of it. 

Space Hulk is a great boardgame that would certainly rock on the PC if the right game designer came along (multiplayer, co-op, able to switch from a 3rd person perspective to first person (it's been done in older game ie. Spellforce...)

Converting a boardgame to the PC so that the PC version is the same as the boardgame with nothing much new added, is a poor choice IMO. 

charlieboomboom
charlieboomboom

great year first a shadowrun game now this!!!! now we just need a decent ad&d game ;)

Caldrin
Caldrin

Wil prob pick this up in a steam sale at some point.

InquisitorCrox
InquisitorCrox

This game is a pure recreation of the tabletop game.

Other variants pre-existed and in the near fututre more variants will appear, this game is for the pure fans, who have complained that the new additions bring inbalancies and imperfections to the core rules.


GW have instructed them to create a very accurate recreation of the tabletop SH and it should be criticized as such.


Considering this and the very tight budget, the producers have done an exceptional work. Of course being an indie small time studio, they dont have the luxury to pay off game reviewers, like other games and have those favorable reviews. Just like at the screens, in many ways the graphics and animations top the DOW2 series and can easily match the X-com one. The double standard appear for the obvious above mentioned reasons, if you are a fan of the 40k universe, who have missed out the opportunity to buy the aniversary Space Hulk box, dont hesitate, this is the real deal, in a much smaller price tag and you can play it by your self, if you cant find a friend available, pause and continue without having to put away and reset the whole table...

MoonAchilles
MoonAchilles

I've spent about 7 hours with this game so far, and I like it alot,  and I'm not really a WH40K fan, nor have I played the boardgame.  I'm thankful that I don't have to care about leveling up, resource management, etc and just enjoy every mission for what is it: a fun tactical challenge that doesn't take itself too seriously(as the dice play a big part) 

There's a multiplayer patch coming on Monday, and an editor is also in the works. Considering the supposedly small budget, the graphics and sound is great. The voice over doesn't bother me at all, it fits rather nicely into the setting, and considering this is done by a non-professional voice actor(and WH40K-fan), they are excellent. 

For those who are thinking on getting the game, here are some things that are planned, taken from the Steam forums:

- Coop and new campaign
No surprise as its been talked about a lot. Will add a coop campaign for up to 3 players to play a terminator squad each against the AI. Campaign also playable by a single person.

- New Space Marine chapter
We are not yet ready to announce which, but its in the works and might be a little surprising to people. As soon as we have the first Terminator ready to show, we are announcing what it is. Will come with a small "chapter only" campaign

- Squad/Unit customization
With the new chapter pack above, we are planning to add a squad customizer so you can build , name and field your own Terminators. The exact way this is going to work is still being designed.

- Several new campaign packs
We have a selection of old White Dwarf missions as well as brand new original designed missions/campaigns in the works. These will be released over the next months as fast as we can produce them

- Localization
German, Italian, Spanish, French and Russian translations of all text is in the early stages

- Level editor
Over the next months we will improve our internal tool chain to be usable by end users. Most likely there will be a series of releases increasing what you can do with the editor, how it integrates with Steam Workshop and upload/download/rating/filtering of content.

- AI and Multiplayer improvements
We want to make the AI harder and more intelligent as well as at the same time improve the multiplayer experience. These are short term top priority for us.

- New rules
Moving forward we are going to add new and original stuff into the mix. We are working on Genestealer variants (NOT hybrids) and other cool stuff that we want to get in to expand Space Hulk in new directions. These things will most likely be integrated parts of the new campaigns.

UnclePuddle
UnclePuddle

This is the curse of almost all the Warhammer (be it fantasy or 40k) video games: whenever a new game is published, there is a good 80% of chances that it will be either crap or a halfly finished job. Let's hope that DoW 3 will be better....

Vambran
Vambran

Played the first 3 missions. Got bored to tears from the slow pace and lack of RPG elements or story.


mariocerame
mariocerame

I'd probably give the game a 7.0. 

The review could mention the price--it's $30, which is less than the AAA titles these days.  And it is something less than a AAA game, and it knows it is, which is fine.

I think "slavishly" reproducing the board game was the right design decision else people would have complained ad nauseum that the game didn't follow the board game "which was so much more hardcore" and "so much less forgiving."  Sure, maybe the game could have had two modes, but it wasn't in the budget apparently, which was not especially large it seems.

I felt some of the production values were stronger than the reviewer.  The corner "camera" view is nifty.  I do agree that animations are ponderous and can make it really hard to meet the timer sometimes.  I wish the blips were green blippy things like the board game. Sometimes the interface is tricky to use, and a misclick can doom the whole mission.  The clipping problems are there--also sometimes in XCOM, which is shadowing this whole review.  But as a recovering GW fanboy, I think the game captures the 40k atmosphere rather well.  The graphics are generally quite solid and cool and dark and grim.  The briefings remind me of those in Chaos Gate, which was a great game.  

I  was not disappointed with spending my $30 on this game, but, yeah, there are things that could have been better. I suspect it wasn't in the budget.

SecularSage
SecularSage

It's disappointing, but not altogether surprising, because the Blood Bowl games have been victims of the same sorts of slavish interpretations. Why the devs can't craft an actual video game using the board game mechanics and then include a strict "board game" mode for the faithful as a bonus feature is beyond me.

Relic is, so far, the only developer to take the time and energy to figure out how to adapt the Games Workshop experience to the world of video gaming, much like Bioware did for AD&D with Baldur's Gate. Tabletop games and video games have some overlap, but they're not the same experience, and being too slavish in trying to adapt one experience to suit the other can make for a dull game... especially when all that slavishness is bogged down by bad multiplayer support (which could otherwise be the redeeming quality for the people who really love the board game but who can't get together for a board game night.)

Board games that translate well to video games are games like Smallworld or Ticket to Ride, where the gameplay is more abstract and there's more of a puzzler/strategy quality than an action/strategy quality. 

duderdave
duderdave

First of all, good review. It is accurate in almost every respect - except it takes 2 points to turn around iirc, not 1.

I agree entirely about the missing multiplayer opportunities here. For example, it is on Steam, but I have to "create" a new SH account to play with friends? I can "create" a random game in an invisible lobby, but I have no earthly idea who may join or even when, and no way to join others' games because I can't see them. The dev working on this part must have gone on vacation way before he finished the job.

Another stinker is the view - you can't really change it. You can rotate 45 degrees left or right at a time and sort of scroll in and out a little, but there is NO FREE CAMERA option. That is simply an inexcusable oversight for a miniatures-based game like this. Just allow us to move the camera around like in any modern RTS-style game so we can "take in the view".

duderdave
duderdave

The tutorials are a MUST for newcomers to the game. I would also recommend pushing the gamma way up - it is just too dark to enjoy what view you do have on "normal" imo.

All this is really a shame because I played the original and the computer versions, and I would unfortunately have to recommend the actual board game over this if you have a kitchen table and friends to play it with.

They did a great job porting a board game to PC. They just needed to do more because it is entirely too dry and overall uninviting the way they did it, and they totally missed the mark for online multiplayer.

They should also have included an optional campaign game with rpg-style elements as suggested in the review.

Ballock
Ballock

Don't know I'm still waiting on a remake of space crusade...maybe I'll buy this

willzihang
willzihang

I read this far "disappointing take on the Games Workshop classic.". How can you think Space Hulk a classic, and not like this?

It's the board game-- that's what the designers intended from the go, and that's what they have created. Nothing more, and nothing less.

How the can you complain about the rules being limited - within the context of this game - when you just noted that it's a faithful 'port' of the board game, and those rules are like this because it's, well. Space Hulk.

It seems like many forum-people you want to have your cake and eat it. i.e criticise this game for being 'minimal' and then say you like the board game.

"the game settles for re-creating that original game" Yes, that was always the intention, and I don't think you're looking at this fact objectively enough as a reviewer; and yes it is expected of a reviewer to also look at it as a product aimed at its target audience-- i.e people who want the true board game.

How can you even draw comparisons to the 90s Space Hulk games? They were strategic-action games, not pure strategy; they were both also in real-time; they never intended to make a pure Space Hulk experience. You can't compare apples with oranges.

Skill progression has never been part of Space Hulk, why would you expect it in a game that absolutely intends to be a direct remake of the tabletop? No, the target audience and passion in making this game explicitly goes against these tired new game mechanics. 'levelling up', this isn't an RPG you know...

bloody-hell
bloody-hell

I'd rather play the good old DOS version of "Space Crusade" which you can get here for free : http://www.abandonia.com/games/928

It's vastly superior compared to this new "all bling bling shiny" remake.
If that won't run, you can use WinUAE (Amiga Emulator) and find yourself the 2 .ADF disk files instead.

Thinking about the same developers working on another Jagged Alliance remake too gives me the chills.
Just let it be, don't even try to destroy another game, ok ? Thanks.

All pretty (debatable), but no substance and these 1 tile wide corridors that all look the same must be getting boring real quick. (as in, after a few minutes of zapping through a gameplay video already)

Sixmoons
Sixmoons

I'll give the game a shot, but "unskippable animations" is gonna annoy me.

/rant enable

Personally I feel cinematic scenes and such are getting overused in games these days. I understand its part of story telling but these days some games are becoming less game and more movie. It's as if the developers are trying to squeeze in as much cheap content as possible to increase the 'hours of play' statistic. And I don't like games that advertise their game with animations and cinematic scenes. A trailer is fine, but stills from a cinematic sequence plastered over the game box cover and other advertisements doesn't give me a good idea on the game itself. 

/rant disable

anaxim777
anaxim777

For people that havent played the board game and like the idea of playing it (the board game i mean) this title is almost a must.(it is kind of slow thought compared with other turn based computer games)

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

Can anyone tell me whether the Blood Angels exhibit their Black Rage or not in this game?

gut_eater
gut_eater

I've heard mixed reviews for this. I wouldn't put all my eggs in one basket based on gamespot's review. Some people have written that they really enjoyed it.

Amdisity
Amdisity

What a pity!   Was trying to look forward to this game, but even the previews, demos and dev diaries made the game look like it were put together by a buncha 19 year old 3D graphic students at University.  I don't think going down this kind of 3D graphical perspective works for this kinda game;  See "Card Hunter"s graphical style, THAT'S how this game should've been made.

Lets hope second iteration of Games Workshops 'Blood Bowl' doesn't suffer like this one has, looking forward to that too.

tonyukuk
tonyukuk

@mariocerame irrelevant, 30 is very high price for a game, this small. Baldur's Gate I alone had thousands of dialog aside from well-crafted RPG elements and other tons of stuff which was at time 40 dollar or something.

On the other hand what do you get after paying 30 bucks? Repetitive, crappy gameplay, no, word "indie" wont be enough to save the day in this case.

Why? Simple, if you don't have MONEY you put new creative ideas not expensive and empty graphics and thus end up dull, repetitive missions. 

6.0 is only because it is Warhammer game nothing else.

mariocerame
mariocerame

@SecularSage Relic games also have much higher budgets.  Two modes would require more of a budget than this game likely had.  You can see the budget tightness in the nooks and crannies.

mariocerame
mariocerame

@willzihang I think you make a very good point that the designers likely wrestled with heavily. 

carlsheppards
carlsheppards

"It's the board game-- that's what the designers intended from the go, and that's what they have created. Nothing more, and nothing less."

That's exactly the problem, my friend. Space Hulk itself is quite a limited board-game. No skills, no characters progression, no variety in enemies, limited weapons and background.

I can understand and appreciate the faithfulness to the original, in some cases, but with this kind of game is a bad mistake, and a wasted chance. Just think how the game could have been good with all those missing things which, okay, weren't present in the original too, but nonetheless they would add immensely to the experience.

For those who seek a great W40k turn based game, look for W40K: Chaos Gate. You won't be disappointed.

ps: Gelugoon_Baat, I have to thank you for your Act of War Direct Action review, which gave me the right impulse to buy it, and it's just GREAT!

Draken_Domingo
Draken_Domingo

@Gelugon_baat If it's like the board game, then no they don't. The game's pretty simplistic compared to 40k's rules (still, very very fun to play)

willzihang
willzihang

@masterhound @willzihang I read all of it-- and it's the same as I've been reading over the Steam forums. 

It's not just a simple case of not liking the game; it's also a case of misunderstanding it, to varying degrees (this reviewer is nothing like as bad as some of course)

willzihang
willzihang

@carlsheppards I played Chaos Gate when it first came out. It's very good, and I'm constantly annoyed by the fact that I can no longer play it because of stupid Windows 7 64-bit.

I knew exactly what I was buying into with this; so should anyone else who has an interest in buying this game. 

It must be said: there is a double-standard in people to claim to love the boardgame, and at the same time state to dislike this game; because people DO say "ooh, it's boring. LImited rules.. the Terminators are slow and die too easily."

All those other 40k games are interpretations - with perhaps the exception of the 90s Space Crusade and Blood Bowl - they aren't actually true at all to the rulesets.

A game ought to be reviewed, surely, by how it will be received by its target audience-- i.e those who want a pure Soace Hulk experience (indeed that was precisely what the devs intended). One couldn't exactly have someone who hates platformers to review a Mario game; so games need to be scored with consideration to its audience.

willzihang
willzihang

@pitosga It was a windows 95 game I believe, it wasn't a dos game at all.

pitosga
pitosga

Regarding not being able to play it on Win7 64bit:
Try looking up if it's playable via DOSBox. Say, google the name of the game plus "dosbox", see what comes up. Happy gaming, if it leads you to what you desire.

Space Hulk More Info

  • Released
    • iPhone/iPod
    • Macintosh
    • + 2 more
    • PC
    • Unix/Linux
    Space Hulk is a 3D digital turn-based strategy game that re-creates the board game experience for single-player and multiplayer cross-platform play between PC and Mac and on iOS.
    6.4
    Average User RatingOut of 38 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate Space Hulk
    Developed by:
    Full Control ApS
    Published by:
    Full Control ApS
    Genres:
    Strategy